Since he was a young boy, people have told Nathan Collum he sounds like Elvis Presley when he sings.Contributed Photo
Nathan A. Cullom aka Smooth Country
* Hometown: Knoxville.
* Age: 54.
* Education: Associates degree from Clinton Junior College, Rockville, S.C., Cleveland State Police Academy.
* Vocation: Retired policeman.
* Movie: "An Officer and a Gentleman."
* Performer: Elvis Presley.
* Song: "Amazing Grace" and "My Way."
* Book: The Bible.
* Actor: Denzel Washington.
* Quotation: "If in your heart you believe and your mind receives it, you can achieve it."
Nathan Cullom admits that what he now views as a gift made for some awkward moments when he was a teenager.
Cullom has always been able to sing, and he has always been partial to country music, which was introduced to him by his father. Even as a youngster, Cullom sang in a style that reminded people of a certain superstar from Tupelo, Miss.
Cullom said people thought it was cute when a 10-year-old black boy living in Knoxville channeled a country song as Elvis, but it wasn't so cool when he did it a few years later. By college, however, Cullom was confident enough to be himself, and he's been singing his way ever since.
Today, he fronts a group called Spiritual Roots aka Smooth Country.
Q: How long have you been singing?
A: I've always sung. When I was 10, I sang a country song in a contest, and I won. That got me started as Smooth Country, I guess, though I didn't get the name till later.
Then, it was cute, but as a teenager and all that peer pressure, I had to let it go. My dad loved country, but growing up, I couldn't listen to it because of the peer pressure. I got into Motown and R&B like everybody else.
I also watched a lot of Elvis movies growing up. A lot of people said I sounded like him. A black lady at my dad's church came up to me and said you sing like Elvis, and that stuck with me.
I also always sang in church choirs in Knoxville, and I sang in the college chorus.
Q: When did you start singing professionally?
A: In 1997. I auditioned for a talent show in Nashville, and it went well. I got to record in a studio with some really professional people. The producer came up with Smooth Country. The bass player on my recording played with Elvis, and he said I sound like him. He also played with Ronnie Milsap.
From that I connected with Marty Martel. He worked with Johnny Paycheck. I performed for Marty, and he gave me high marks. That meant a lot.
Then I put a band together and continued as Smooth Country for about seven years. We did stuff in Knoxville, and I traveled up and down the road to Nashville. It was fun. I enjoyed it, but I wanted to try something different, so I came up with Spiritual Roots. It has guys from my church.
Q: Who is in the band?
A: David Dawson on guitar, Lance Scott on bass, Joel Sullivan on drums and Jean Booth on keyboards.
We do spiritual stuff with a base of gospel. We also do things like "Wind Beneath My Wings," and "In the Ghetto." A mix of Ray Charles, Nat "King" Cole and, of course, Elvis. We get a lot of requests for Elvis.
I know it's kind of strange when a black guy sounds like a white guy, but I'm serious when I say it comes naturally.
Q: People were often critical of Elvis for trying to sound black.
A: I know. When people see me they say, "You don't look anything like I thought you would." Even my choir director.
People know me as Smooth Country, so we put it back in the name and made it Spiritual Roots aka Smooth Country.
We've been doing stuff to help fight gang violence. We recorded a single with "Something Bigger Than You" on one side and "In the Ghetto" on the other. We like to perform live and talk about fighting gang violence.
I am most proud of this project.
Q: Do you have shows lined up?
A: We did one at Thanksgiving at Eastgate and a New Year's program. We had a pre-Valentine show at First- Centenary [United Methodist Church] and we have a show March 30 at Barking Legs [Theater].
Q: What is your dream when it comes to music?
A: My dream is to enjoy the music business and what we are doing as long as I can. At one time it was about getting a break, and I don't want to give up on that. I wouldn't turn down an opportunity by any means, but I'm having fun and have been these last 15 years.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...