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J.D. Graham shares cluttered past, purposeful future at Songwriter Fest in Red Lodge

Posted at 6:26 PM, Jun 21, 2024

RED LODGE — The eighth annual Red Lodge Songwriters Festival is running from Friday through Sunday with performances by nearly 25 artists at different venues throughout the city over the course of the three days.

“A lot of times, what people like to hear is the story behind the song," said David Starr, a performer from Colorado.

One of those artists was 49-year-old Jeremy "J.D." Graham, who began playing guitar as a 13-year-old Oklahoman.

“When you walk into a library and you open a book, and how a book smells — I still remember the smell of my first guitar," said Graham.

Practicing for eight hours a day, he was quick to become passionate about playing music, but drugs overrode that passion. Graham said he was selling cocaine by age 20.

"The concise statement would be: ‘I was a drug addict for 20 years, 25 years,'" said Graham, who shared he is now seven years, two months, and 21 days sober at the time of writing.

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Before he knew it, he said his actions and addictions caught up with him, pleading guilty to negligent homicide in Arizona after he struck a motorcyclist following synthetic drug usage.

“I started getting on the needle really bad, (I was) completely out of control. I was dealing with a lot of guilt. I didn’t want to be around anymore," said Graham.

During his six-year prison sentence, he began a music education program at Red Rocks Correctional Facility in Arizona.

"With the help of some of my fans and some other people, they donated about 20 grand worth of equipment," said Graham.

Though he cannot undo the past, he said he found he could page a better road to tomorrow with music.

“I always knew music was powerful," said Graham, "but until you see it, in the armpit of the world, change people’s lives … people that were walking around in prison, on drugs … walking around, a year later, having a voice through instrument, through songwriting. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve been a part of.”