Special song gives farmers a voice

Pennsylvania dairyman exits industry, reawakens musical career

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WINDBER, Pa. – Jeff Corle has two main passions in life – dairy farming and music. After spending a decade writing songs in Nashville in the 1980s, he hung up his guitar to pursue dairy farming back home in Pennsylvania. Twenty years of farming later, he has now hung up the milkers and returned to music, this time with a special song and a big purpose.
“My mission is to give farmers and rural America a voice,” Corle said. “This is certainly no longer just about me and my story. It’s about all dairy farmers and what they’re going through.”
It started with a special song called “Empty Barn,” which Corle penned after selling his herd of 12 Guernsey cows. Corle had transitioned from a 50-cow organic herd and was running a micro dairy, selling cream-topped milk in glass bottles to 13 area stores and directly to consumers in his own storefront on the farm.
Two factors led to Corle exiting the dairy industry. His customer base was maxed out in the rural area and the inflated input costs of putting in a crop and delivering milk in a diesel-powered truck were not penciling out in his favor. Corle debated getting a full-time job to supplement the farm, but as a self-proclaimed bachelor farmer, he said it would not have been feasible to work full time and do all the chores, processing and delivering of milk. Thus, he decided to fold the dairy.
“That was by far the hardest decision of my life,” Corle said. “Even though I wasn’t able to grow the dairy to the size that I needed to, I still had a lot of very faithful customers who I knew were going to be very disappointed.”
Corle was disappointed as well because his passion for dairying was centered around his animals.
“When you’re milking just 12 cows, you know those cows inside and out. It’s like losing your friends,” Corle said. “It was extremely heart wrenching to let them go.”
Corle was already playing around with song writing again while operating his dairy and turned back to the guitar as an outlet for the pain of selling his cows. The idea for a song came to him while talking with a fellow songwriting friend. Corle said he went to bed with the idea one night and woke up the next morning to write the song in just 45 minutes.
“The song kind of wrote itself,” Corle said. “It was just super emotional.”
Initially, Corle thought that writing the song was a great exercise for him to feel better but did not anticipate sharing the music with anyone.
“I thought that was as far as it would go until I played it for somebody other than the cat,” Corle said. “The person I played it for cried. That’s when I thought, ‘Maybe I have something here.’”
Corle planned on driving truck after selling the cows, but the idea of returning to music was mentioned among close friends. The idea kept coming back to him.
“This little voice in the back of my mind just kept saying, ‘Do your music; time for your music,’” Corle said. “After about two weeks of trying to push that little voice down, one day I woke up and called an old music business friend in Nashville and asked if he would care to give my music a listen.”
Corle sent a demo of “Empty Barn” to the friend, and with the friend’s encouragement, he recorded an album in Nashville just six weeks later. The album is titled “Farm Animal” and features eight songs, all of which pertain to farming.
“Empty Barn” was originally shared on Facebook through a free download and the response from farmers inspired Corle to include those individuals in the music video for the song.
“I’ve gotten so many wonderful comments from dairy farmers,” Corle said. “It’s just been amazing having them tell me their stories. I had one guy recently write that he sold his cows 15 years ago and moved 1,400 miles away, but he still sees that empty barn every night in his dreams.”
Hundreds of farmers have submitted photos for Corle to use in the video for the song. He plans to release the single and video simultaneously in July. It will be available on YouTube and Spotify.
Other songs from the album will also be available on the streaming platforms as they are released as singles, but Corle is focusing on selling CDs and playing live shows, something he is already getting back into.
“In the first live show that I did since getting back into music, I had a lady ask for my autograph,” Corle said. “That was very flattering, and then she pulled out one of my milk bottles for me to sign. I autographed a milk bottle which I’m not sure has been done before.”
Now, Corle works on promoting his music and growing his fan base. He hopes to make music a full-time career.
“I have to say that this isn’t yet a fairytale come true,” Corle said. “I don’t have a record deal, and I am funding this myself. And like any business, I’ll need to get a return on my investment in order to keep going.”
One sparkling moment did come for Corle when he was recording the album. Through old connections, he was able to secure the collaboration of world-renowned fiddle player Tammy Rogers-King and her husband, Jeff King, who Corle said is one of the most phenomenal guitar players of all time.
“I told them and the other amazing musicians who played on the album my story and I got emotional,” Corle said. “I told them thank you for participating in my surreal experience because three months ago at this time I would have been milking cows. After that, we got incredible performances.”
Corle’s return to music has been a therapeutic way for him to process the selling of his cows, something he said so many other farmers can relate to.
“In my case, I had this other passion that I had put on the back burner for a long time,” Corle said. “But it was there, and I was able to tap back into that.”
With life experience behind him and a rejuvenated passion for music in front of him, Corle is using his voice to shed light on the dairy industry and relate to people still in the business.
“Nashville taught me how to write songs,” Corle said. “But the farm gave me something to write about.”

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