A Hingham native, Leary became a regular on the Boston folk, country and rock scenes in the early 1980s, eventually being named the regional winner of the Wrangler Country Star Search, which sent her to Nashville, where she performed at the Grand Ole Opry.
Leary liked Nashville so much, she moved there in 1985.
After five years of struggling to make it in country, she signed a deal with Reba McEntire’s publishing company, Starstruck Writers Group.
The partnership worked well, and McEntire soon hired Leary as backup vocalist and guitarist for her 1992 tour. Leary went on to back up other big names, including Garth Brooks and Faith Hill.
But Leary’s greatest success has been as a songwriter. She has hit No. 1 on the country charts twice, with the co-written Pam Tillis’ hit “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)” and Tim McGraw’s smash “Where the Green Grass Grows.” Leary also had a top 10 hit with Lari White’s cover of “Ready, Willing and Able” and has recorded an album of her own, “Songwriter.”
“It just came to me, and that was it,” Leary said with a laugh about her album’s title.
Having lived inland for more than 20 years, Leary is looking forward to staying with friends on Plum Island.
“I’m excited to see the ocean,” Leary said. “I haven’t been able to smell the ocean for a long time. I lived in Nashville for more than half of my life, but I think if I am here for about a week, I will be back to ‘pahkin’ my ‘cah’ somewhere.”
Leary is also happy to see the country music scene taking off in the Boston area after a long haul.
“When I was starting to get into country music, there wasn’t that big of a community (in Boston),” Leary said. “And I am so glad to see it coming up this way. There are a lot of country music lovers in Massachusetts.”
If you go
What: Jess Leary in concert
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: Firehouse Center for the Performing Arts, Market Square, Newburyport
How much: $22 for nonmembers, $20 for members
More information: 978-462-7336 or www.firehouse.org