After navigating his way through two existential crises, Alabama native Abe Partridge has finally found his voice and the happiness that two former careers could never deliver.
The singer/songwriter has emerged in the last two years as a tour-de-force of a live act, with the DNA of folk heroes named Townes, Bob and John, combined with his own unique perspective of rock ’n’ roll and his Southern homeland.
No stranger to Savannah, Partridge last played The Jinx opening for Black Tusk in a thrilling, unorthodox bill that consisted of both country and metal acts — perfectly suited for his own aesthetic. He returns June 9 to play the Tybee Post Theater, where he’s played before and recorded a live album, with Savannah’s alt-country icons The Train Wrecks.
Partridge might fall in the country/singer/songwriter category neatly, but he’s no ordinary Americana framework. Throughout his three-plus decades of life, he’s been a preacher, a soldier and a punk-rock label owner, but mostly a songwriter.
His latest professional incarnation as a touring singer/songwriter is only a few years old, but he’s a tenacious worker who juggles a wife, three kids, a full-time job, a part-time military gig and a hefty touring schedule.
“I am the happiest I’ve ever been,” Partridge said. “I finally found what I am supposed to do. I don’t know how to define all of that. I don’t even know if people are supposed to do one thing. All I know is that I am happy. My relationship with my family is better than it ever has been.”
When he was 18, Partridge went off to divinity school, set on being a minister. After cycling through four theological schools in four years, he finally graduated. He married his wife the day after graduating and settled in north Georgia as an understudy in a church. In 2005, he was sent to Kentucky for his first pastoral job. He soon began to face a crisis.
“I was up there for a couple of years,” Partridge said. “Then I just kind of started, I guess you’d call it a mental breakdown or reevaluation, or depression. I am not sure what you’d call it. I am not a psychologist. I just didn’t want to live anymore. I didn’t want to wake up in the morning and do anything.”
After living most of his live in a religious bubble, Partridge found an unusual salvation in high-speed internet. He discovered YouTube, which gave him Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, John Prine, Steve Earle and Willie Nelson, music he had very little familiarity with prior to the crisis.
“I discovered that about the same time I was going through this mental breakdown of sorts,” Partridge said. “That music made me feel better. The sad songs somehow made me feel better. I started writing my own. I’d played guitar in bands in the church for years. I just started writing my own songs.
"I was never part of a community of artists. I was in a fundamentalist church community for nine years. It’s absolutely a bubble. It’s an echo chamber. Songwriting is not really something that those kind of people do or take interest in unless it’s a gospel song.”
Partridge resigned his station and moved home to Alabama, with his wife and children in tow. At 27, he joined the Air Force in order to provide for his family. He started writing a lot of songs as well. He deployed overseas and soon faced his second existential calamity.
“I have had two crises that defined my life,” Partridge said. “That was when I left the ministry and when I was over in the desert. After that realization, I just kind of purposed, prayed, Lord if you’ll just let me get home, I’ll do my best to bring beauty into the world.”
Once his deployment ended, Partridge returned to his native Alabama with new purpose. He started a punk-rock label, Alabama Astronaut. He released a number of albums on vinyl and cassette, the last of which, the eponymous "Sonic Graffiti," garnered attention from Jack White’s label Third Man Records.
“I have a real passion for punk rock,” Partridge said. “I grew up on punk rock and grunge. That was my first musical love. So I returned to that.”
Here’s where Partridge’s current story emerges. After spending years writing songs, he finally decided to share them with the world. He attended a songwriting contest with a high-dollar prize. It was his first live performance. He not only earned a standing ovation, but also won a prize and the attention of Nashville songwriter Shawn Byrne, who urged him to get into the studio.
Partridge recorded a batch of songs with Byrne that became his debut album, 2016’s “White Trash Lipstick.” His second album, “Cotton Fields and Blood for Days,” which was released in January of this year, was a complete accident, which encapsulates, in part, Partridge’s journey thus far.
“That whole record was an accident,” Partridge said. “I was in Nashville playing a gig. I was staying with Shawn. He was like, do you want to do some recording? I said, why not do a 7-inch? I recorded a couple of songs, 'Out of Alabama Blues,' and 'Color.'
"I was just going to put out a 7-inch. He was like, you want to do another? So we did another. We did another and we did another. And he said, come up next weekend and we’ll do another batch. It wasn’t planned. It just kind of fell into place.
"I recorded a bunch of songs I had been playing on the road. Some songs, I had never even played. I am always writing. I’ve been writing for over a decade now. I just write. I am always kind of listening for phrases and putting together songs. I’ve got a lot of songs. I am not saying they’re great, but I have got a lot of songs.”