(CNN) — It’s a prime Western landscapes and country icons like Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers and Patsy Cline that the country of Georgia has been drawn to, but sometimes a country fan’s true connection is found along Route 66. That would be Katie Pruitt, who has sung, written and released songs in several countries with a Georgia-American accent, but for many residents of Montana, Katie Pruitt is less than a fairytale.
To many her songs sound somewhat familiar: She sings about lonely American roads and small towns, farmlife, redwood forests and sunshine. She often sings about people who can’t catch a break, a theme that resonates with many Montanans who say she’s their “secret.”
“What I mean to Montana is not completely accurate at all,” she said. “Montana likes to slap me for the lyrics. I’m like: ‘What is a small town? But that’s what makes me so Montana! Love me or hate me.’ Montana is so fun and so cool. I think it’s because I’m pretty hardcore about this country stuff.”
That’s how Pruitt, 30, met Chuck Willis. Willis is a legendary balladeer who belted the original version of the Americana classic “A Tout o’ My Valleys” in 1963, and it was his sound and voice that initially inspired Pruitt. He encouraged her to record when she sang at a spot in Crow Agency, Montana, which Willis owned. That gig was the start of a “crazy thing” Pruitt wrote while alone: “Friends, You’ll Be Had.”
“I was like: ‘How could I write this song and you not say you love it or write it back?'” Pruitt said. “It’s a song about being a nobody and feeling so lost. It’s two roommates who are hoping to catch a bus out of town. It’s this sort of unbelievably beautiful romantic love song that’s very twangy and very gritty and very raw and simple. That’s how I learned, and then I got on stage and sang it for Chuck Willis.”
Willis was smitten. He bought Pruitt’s first two full-length albums and two singles.
“I still remember waking up one morning after 20 years and being in a pool of sweat and my knees were shaking. It was probably like 18 years after I met Katie,” Willis said. “I ran from one studio to the next and asked each one: ‘Do you like this girl?’ After listening to the CD, they all said the same thing. It was the most honest song they had ever heard.”
Willis built a small place for Pruitt on his ranch in a nearby town, leaving her with the opportunity to fulfill her dream of recording in her home state. “Friendships should be written,” she said. “You write about people and you write about the state and you write about really genuine people.”
Kelley Perks, a singer and songwriter whose husband, Noah Sandin, is a dentist in Colorado, says that Pruitt is “that rare artist who lives right here in their own voice. Katie does not sugarcoat anything. She does not cook for guests.”
“The people of Montana,” said Sandin, “are amazing and kind. The Wild West got them into it, but they’ve always had a love of country music. They fall in love with their songwriters. One night after a show at the Vibe Hotel, a couple strolled up to me and said: ‘That Katie is really damn awesome. We love the one you wrote for her.'”
For Rachel Harvaté, who has written five songs with Pruitt, her work is often played live around the state. “She is one of the top songwriters in the state of Montana,” Harvaté said. “She’s that one to watch.”
Watch the video on CNN.com for more about Pruitt.