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By CRYSTAL CAVINESS  |  May 22, 2003 at 4:38 PM
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NASHVILLE, May 22 (UPI) -- Jeff Bates' story is the reason people chase dreams.

Adopted as a baby to a sharecropper family who eventually would have eight more children, Bates dropped out of school at 14 to work before moving from his Mississippi home to Little Rock, Ark., to pursue a music career. Two divorces, a kicked drug habit and a jail term for stealing later, Bates' debut album, "Rainbow Man," was released May 20 by RCA Nashville.

The romantic first single, "The Love Song," already is in the Top 10 and Bates is singing to thousands as part of the popular Neon Circus tour headlined by Brooks & Dunn.

"God has beaten me over the head with blessings," Bates, 39, said recently from RCA Nashville's Music Row office.

As quickly as Bates gives God credit for the good things happening in his life, he is equally as willing to take the blame for his past mistakes.

"Having to overcome your raisin' can be a difficult thing," Bates said with a Deep South drawl. "Every bad thing that happened to me I caused."

When Bates finally got the chance in January 2002 to sing for RCA Nashville senior executives, he was honest about his past.

"I told the truth about the adversities I had overcome with God's help," said Bates, who, at the time was still overcoming his drug addiction and recently had been released from prison.

After singing three songs for the music industry leaders, Bates shook their hands and walked out.

"I left believing with all my heart that I'd never hear from them," he said. "Fifteen minutes after I got home, the phone rang. It was them offering me a deal. I cried like a baby 'cause it was a dream come true. It taught me a lot. It taught me about not ever giving up on a dream, because they can and do come true."

Listening to Bates' songs is a quick study in the man who sings them.

Bates co-wrote each of the 11 songs on the CD. He confesses he prefers writing songs about love, as evidenced by the tunes "Long, Slow Kisses," "I Wanna Make You Cry" and "Lovin' Like That," as well as others. His working man background is revealed in "Already Spent," as well as a nod to his heritage on "My Mississippi." The song that is most autobiographical, however, is the title track, "Rainbow Man."

"I was born in Alabama, but I never knew my mama," Bates sings in the opening lines.

Bates was 30 when he finally met his birth mother. He learned then she was Apache but she could not tell Bates any details about his birth father. Bates further speculates about his lineage when he sings "And I'm sure somewhere in my history, I've got some slave blood in me; and some folks think I look Mexican."

While Bates might have a multi-cultural and multi-colored background, his future could well be gold and platinum as he climbs the path toward stardom.

So many dreams already have come true, he said, including singing at the Grand Ole Opry, which was a favorite family radio show when Bates was a young boy.

"Mama would get those boxed sets in the mail of the Grand Ole Opry (music)," Bates said, recalling his childhood. "One of my fantasies was to sing in front of an audience and have Porter Wagoner introduce me."

When Bates debuted at the Grand Ole Opry during the spring, his hero not only introduced him, but also complimented the new artist.

"He said 'Son, you got a little bit of that Conway (Twitty) in you, don't you?,'" Bates said, recalling Wagoner's words. "'Don't lose that.'"

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