Jeff Bates was given up for adoption as a baby. He later met his birth mother, though his natural father remains a complete mystery. Mississippi sharecropper Ed Bates and his wife Barbara adopted him. Barbara, the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher, raised the baby on gospel songs. Eight brothers and sisters came along, and Ed and Barbara also took in two cousins. Bates' father became a bulldozer operator in the Columbia, Miss. area.
By his teens, Bates was a self-described "geek." Poor and shy, he had few friends and was constantly picked on by bullies. When he fought back at age 14, he was suspended from school. The family was so backwoods that at the age of 17 Bates had never been outside of Marion County, Miss. Hungry to see the world, he joined the National Guard. After that, he took a job on an oil rig.
One night, a friend urged him to get on stage at the Colonial Steak House in Columbia, Miss. He sang Elvis' "Suspicious Minds," George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and Conway Twitty's "I'd Love to Lay You Down." The club owner offered him a six-nights-a-week gig and Bates quit his job the next day.
That same year Bates fell in love and married an older woman who was a waitress at the club. That stormy union lasted only a few years. After the breakup, he moved to Seminary, Miss., and became a carpenter for a time, continuing to sing on the side. Later on he became a welder, but music continued to be his first love. Wanting to pursue his music more seriously, he moved to Little Rock, Ark. It was there that he met and later married his first manager and in 1993 he formed his own band, Southern Storm.
Bates blossomed quickly once he began writing with Music City's tunesmiths. His wife-manager, however, told him he'd be better off back in Arkansas so he moved back. As his marriage began to unravel, Bates commuted back to Nashville to write more songs. He signed to Warner-Chappell Publishing and started doing showcases in hopes of landing a recording contract. He moved back to Nashville.
Everything seemed to be looking up, especially after he met Connie, who he began to date and would later become his wife. But by then Bates had gotten caught up in using drugs. He had even sold all of his musical equipment to fund his drug habit. When that money ran out, he hit rock bottom, and the police eventually found thousands of dollars worth of stolen musical equipment at his home. He was sent to jail.
During his time behind bars, he decided to ask everyone for forgiveness and turn his life around. The next day, he found out that Gene Watson had recorded two of his songs and that Tracy Lawrence had recorded a song Bates wrote with Kenny Beard, called "What a Memory."
Bates worked pouring concrete building foundations for houses by day and created new music by night. He got his songwriting contract back. In time, some of his tapes made their way to RCA. On January 29, 2002, he sang in person for the label's executives. The label signed him and released his debut single "The Love Song" in 2003. Rainbow Man arrived in later that year, followed by Leave the Light On in 2006.