Alhough she's a Nashville-based musician with a degree from the University of Florida, Amanda Page Cornett is still a Carolinian at heart.
Raised in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Cornett was surrounded by a culture of southern rock from local artists such as The Marshall Tucker Band – in fact, she grew up with many of their kids.
She was making up songs by the time she could talk and saving them on tape recorders by the age of 9. At 13, she began taking guitar lessons from Joe Bennett, whose song "Black Slacks" became a top 20 Billboard hit when he was not much older than her. It's from Bennett, she said, that she received the best lesson in songwriting and the assurance she could make a career out of music.
"He encouraged me to make writing songs a skill, not just a talent," Cornett said in an email. "He gave me a title and challenged me to write a song to it, When Love Kicks In. The next week, he said "oh that was probably a little much to give you." I promptly handed him the song."
In the years since, Cornett has come into her own as a musician, developing a unique style that pulls from an eclectic range of influences: Tanya Tucker, The Charlie Daniels Band, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band. Though drawn to the rebels of music, maturity has brought elements of blues into her sound.
"Now, I kind of describe my music as somewhere between the Judds and Janis Joplin," she said. "It's that southern rock/country blues mesh that I feel like fits perfectly with the Spartanburg heritage of all the many, many musicians out of that area."
Her latest album, 2018's "Front Porch Rebel," showcases these varied inspirations. "Can't Believe My Luck" has brass reminiscent of the 1950s, while "Judds & Joplin" leans toward classic rock. Both, as with the rest of the album, were recorded at The NuttHouse Recording Studio in the legendary Muscle Shoals area of Sheffield, Alabama.
Cornett hasn't been alone on this journey, however. She joined forces with sibling trio Almost Angels after collaborating on a project in 2011.
Cornett's guitar player, Randall Scott Peterson, co-produced "Front Porch Rebel." His younger sister, Sherry Peterson-Tenille, plays bass and keys, and her twin Shawn Peterson plays drums. According to Cornett, the twin rhythm section cannot be beat because they play so in sync.
"We all have very different personalities. If there were two of any of us, it wouldn't work," she said in an email. "As it is, I like to call myself their distant cousin, so we're a "family band.""
"Carolina Coast," the lead single from "Front Porch Rebel" released on July 19, brings Cornett back to her roots and serves as an ode to her home state.
She recalled the brutal winter that inspired her beach anthem, written alongside Tracey Colling and Kevin Robey. Like Cornett, Colling grew up in South Carolina.
“The two of us had a very deep connection to the Carolina coast and fond memories of being a child, going and playing on the Atlantic Ocean and in the sand, and, you know, hanging out on the boulevard at Myrtle Beach,” Cornett said of the inspiration behind her single. "Surface level, there’s no place better than the beach, but deeper, it’s definitely a wonderful compilation of our memories and just the beautiful, peaceful setting that the beach provides.”
As the musician continues to mature and perfect her craft, she makes occasional trips back to South Carolina. She volunteers regularly with the Salkehatchie Summer Service, a mission trip which restores dilapidated houses in low-income towns, and worked together with USC alumni Steven Tapp Hallman and Imari Anderson in producing a documentary on the mission trip.
With the release of "Front Porch Rebel," Cornett is once again looking to the Carolinas as she plans stops for an upcoming tour.