Canadian country singer Tebey spent a decade following his 2003 hit We Shook Hands (Man to Man) writing songs for a string of other artists.
Among them are One Direction, Cher, Doc Walker, Chad Brownlee, Jimmy Rankin, Jason Blaine, Aaron Pritchett and Shane Yellowbird.
Several catchy Tebey tunes even became radio hits for others: Run for Rex Goudie, Let’s Go and Nobody Does It Like You for Shawn Desman, and When I See You Again, With You and Sleep It Off for Emerson Drive.
After watching singers of all genres (even rap star Flo Rida, who recorded on Tebey’s Cause a Scene with Teairra Mari) take his songs and run with them, the Ontario native decided to step back on stage to give his own singing career a serious go.
It’s not that Tebey — who performs on Saturday, March 8, at the International Beer Haus and Stage in Red Deer — wasn’t gratified being a successful Nashville songwriter.
He said coming up with new, original tunes for BMG Music actually provided him with some pretty cool experiences.
For instance, he was in the studio helping One Direction with vocal production when the swoon-inducing boy group recorded his songs They Don’t Know About Us and Loved You First for what was to become a six-million-selling album, Take Me Home.
(The love targets for ’tween girls are actually nice young men, Tebey affirmed. “People ask, ‘What were they really like?’ and I say they were great.”)
Tebey also saw his song All About Tonight, recorded by English singer Pixie Lott, rocket to the No. 1 spot on the U.K. pop charts.
But the 30-year-old eventually began feeling there was a side of himself, beyond songwriting, that wasn’t being tapped.
“It’s all Emerson Drive’s fault,” he recalled with a chuckle.
Tebey was invited to go on the road with his musician friends. While watching the group perform from the sidelines, something ignited in him.
“I got the itch to go out on stage again.”
But it had been years since he’d put himself in the spotlight.
Tebey, who is named Tebey Solomon Ottoh, grew up singing in church in Burlington, Ont., as his mom accompanied him on the piano.
He later grabbed attention for winning the Canadian Open Country Singing Contest four times in the Under-14 and Under-18 categories.
At age 15, he signed a development deal with a major U.S. record label and moved with his father, a Nigerian-born electronics engineer, to Nashville, while his mom remained in Canada with the rest of his siblings.
Tebey was only 19 when his We Shook Hands single became a Top-5 Canadian hit. But when the song only rose to No. 47 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country chart, the American label cut ties with Tebey and failed to release his debut album.
He returned to Canada disillusioned. “It’s a crazy business but it made me stronger,” recalled the singer, who refocused his energies on songwriting.
Although it took him nine more years, Tebey finally stepped behind the microphone to release his first album in 2012. It was aptly named The Wait, and produced the popular single Somewhere in the Country.
He’s following up with a second full-length release, Two. It won’t be out until next month but has already yielded Top 10 Canadian country singles: Till It’s Gone and Wake Me Up, a fast-rising countrified cover of the Avicci hit.
The songwriter said he doesn’t care that this song isn’t his — a good tune is a good tune. “I heard the bluegrass in that melody and I thought it would be great to record it as a country song for country fans.”
Oddly enough, while Tebey writes in multiple musical genres, he’s never thought of himself as anything other than a country singer.
“My parents listened to country. … (While) I have eclectic taste in music, singing in country has always felt like the right fit to me,” he said.
The married performer looks forward to his first headlining tour in Canada, which starts in Winnipeg and finishes in Red Deer.
“I’m a dual citizen, but my allegiance is always with Canada,” added Tebey, who cheered for the Canadian hockey team during the recent Olympics.
“I miss being home and the Canadian ways … (and things like) Tim Hortons and Aero chocolate bars. …”
Tebey performs in Red Deer with special guest Mackenzie Porter Robinson. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 from the International Beer Haus and Stage.
For more information, call 403-986-5008.