The first song JD Fortune remembers ever singing on stage for anyone was Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel.
That was many years ago and the popular singer has lived a lifetime since then — a rock star’s lifetime, in fact — and he has come full circle back home.
Fortune will be performing Elvis songs on August 16 — the 40th anniversary of the death of ‘The King of Rock and Roll’ — at the deCoste Performing Arts Centre in Pictou.
“Elvis was always a passion,” the popular singer explained. But the way the upcoming show came about was rather haphazard.
“I was at Mike Freeman’s house and we were playing some songs and he said, do you remember any Elvis songs? It had been 20 years since I sang an Elvis song. I sang Blue Christmas. Mike stopped and said, You should do that on stage for people. He said, Did you ever think about doing a full Elvis show?”
Fortune said, “I went, hmmmm, I wouldn’t do it if I had to be in a jumpsuit and sunglasses… I’d do it if it was cool to be JD Fortune because I think I’ve earned the right to call myself JD Fortune (his given surname is Bennison). I’ve definitely paid my dues in rock and roll.”
And he certainly has paid his dues. He went from being raised in Salt Springs where “my grandfather had me cutting wood by the time I was 12” to touring the globe as lead singer with one of the world’s most popular rock bands. He earned the right to do so by using his raw talent and energy to best 14 other contestants in the first season reality TV show Rock Star: INXS in 2005. Through that show, anyone not previously acquainted with Fortune’s drive and passion got a front-row seat to the rising star.
Following the TV series, on November 29, 2005, the band released the studio album Switch with Fortune on lead vocals. He created the lyrics of the hit “Pretty Vegas” which became the first single from their new album. Switch peaked at number 17 on the Billboard 200 and appeared on the Canadian Hot 100 and Top Internet Albums charts at numbers two and 56, respectively. “Pretty Vegas” received gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). In Canada, both the album and the single went platinum and reached number one on the charts.
Fortune feels lucky and grateful for the opportunity to do the INXS show. Winning it was a matter of pure talent.
For seven and a half years, Fortune toured with the Australian rockers jetting from city to city: Hong Kong, Europe, Australia and New Zealand — you name the city and Fortune has rocked audiences there.
“I think I took it for granted and then when it was gone (when INXS ceased touring) I thought, wow, I really should have enjoyed those moments more. But at the same time I was in the moment of something else with INXS — it was all new. So I was never resting on my laurels. I was always thinking, what can I do to improve this? And those other little stop and smell the roses moments… I should have done in retrospect. Hindsight’s 20/20.
“Our last tour finished at the end of 2011. So from 2005 to 2011 I was rockin’ it all over the world with those guys!”
He wouldn’t trade that experience — or the band that made it possible. Speaking about his days with INXS, he reflected, “If I were to be in that band now, the performances, the energy and everything would be the same but just obviously, with 12 more years of experience under my belt, I would have a different approach to it… I think because of how the TV show was set up to be a competition, once I won it took me five years to start to just come down off of ‘you gotta be the best, you gotta get out there’ because I couldn’t turn it off, I always had to be ‘on’ because there was always another interview, another tour, another video…”
He is frank when he said he felt a certain amount of pressure as the lead singer of a world famous band.
“Each one of them (band members) deserves the success that they’ve received because they are without a doubt one of the hardest working bands in show business, one of the most professional bands I’ve ever worked with and one of the most talented group of guys I’ve ever been with and I would be more than happy to be at their service and be so grateful for another opportunity to play with them.” They became a travelling family and Fortune feels, well, fortunate, to have shared experiences and memories with them.
“And here’s what I’d like people to know: I’ve never been fired from INXS and I’ve never quit. That information is erroneous and it was started by a newspaper in a story saying I was sacked by the band. That’s not true. The band even posted a notice on their homepage that had this beautiful letter about my working with them that said, ‘At no time has JD ever been fired from this band and we hope all our fans understand we have finished our touring’ …”
The vocal powerhouse has been home in Pictou County for four years. His time away from the bright lights and big cities has found him continuing to focus on his talents.
“Since I’ve been home I’ve been really focused on writing new music. I met an artist that I really enjoy. Her name is Cameron Osgood. She’s 15 and she’ll be opening up for me on August 16 and I’ve written three songs that I want her to record.”
He describes her sound as: “soul, rock, classic top 40 voice with an edge. I would put her in the same category as Sarah McLachlan or at times, Amy Winehouse.”
Fortune will be backed by fellow musicians Mike Freeman, Art Coleman, John Muirhead, Ron MacDonald and Jason Bushett with Sandra DeCoste as backup singer. “We’re going to transport you in time,” he promised. “It sounds so thick and so great. I’m so proud to working with these great East Coast musicians,” he praised.
The show is not an Elvis impersonation. “For me, this was about all those people who wanted to see something different on the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ passing, other than another Elvis impersonator. No jumpsuits … I am literally coming out in black dress shirt and black pants and tattoos… I won’t be hiding behind anything. It’ll just be JD Fortune doing Elvis songs.”
Following the Pictou show, Fortune will be preparing to take a different stage — in Las Vegas. He has been offered a contract as part of the cast of Raiding the Rock Vault at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.
According to its website: “Raiding the Rock Vault brings the history of rock ‘n’ roll to life, featuring classic anthems by the biggest acts in music including The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix … Raiding the Rock Vault tells the story of classic rock from the 1960s to the 1980s and is performed by members of some of the greatest rock bands in history.”
It’s been a memorable summer for the engaging entertainer and he’s looking forward to returning to the deCoste stage. “It’s 30 years since I was Danny Zuko at the deCoste Centre in Grease. It was the summer of ‘87!
“I’ll be going away for a little while, but I’ll always consider Pictou County my home.”
Tickets for the August 16 show at the deCoste Centre are sold out.