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The SteelDrivers

A Conversation with Chris Stapleton

Puremusic: So happy to hear this SteelDrivers record finally coming out. It's a tremendous record. You guys did a great job on it.

Chris Stapleton: Oh, thank you. I appreciate that.

PM: I was hoping, in fact, it would be you that I got to interview, since I know some of the other guys. You're like the mystery front man.

CS: [laughs]

PM: So maybe you'd back up with me a little and tell me personally from whence you come. Where did you grow up?

CS: I grew up in eastern Kentucky in a little town called Paintsville.

PM: What kind of a home and a family did you grow up in, and when did music take a hold of you as something that would end up directing your life the way it has?

CS: Well, my dad was a coal miner growing up. We lived in a pretty nice house, and I had a fairly normal childhood. Not a lot of my family are musicians, necessarily. I had an uncle who played guitar, and if I learned anything guitar-wise, I learned a few chords from him here and there, but the rest I just kind of picked up along the way. And I really didn't start out musically--went to college for a time and then kind of hated that.


CS: And that's what really got me more into music. I wound up getting into some bluegrass with a guy that I had grown up with, playing little league and things like that. Then I met a songwriter from Nashville named Steve Leslie. I came to town back and forth for about three months meeting people and writing a little bit with Steve, and decided to move to Nashville. I moved to Nashville in October of 2001.

PM: You've only been here since 2001?

CS: Yes, sir.

PM: Wow! Amazing. So you came to music kind of late, more like at college age, that's when you started getting semi-serious about it?

CS: That's when I really started writing songs, I guess. But even up until the point that I met Steve Leslie, I never knew there was such a thing as a songwriter who made a living doing that. And that's primarily been my living since I've been in town.

PM: Right. So when you came in 2001 did you get a writing deal right away with somebody?

CS: Yes. I had met some folks--Frank Rogers, most notably, and a lady named Liz O'Sullivan who worked at Frank and Chris' [DuBois] company called Sea Gayle Music. It's a publishing company that at the time was a co-venture with EMI. And four days after moving here--of course, like I said, I'd been coming down for three months or something--I was offered a publishing deal by them, and a few other places. I decided to go with them, I really liked them a lot. I'm still a writer there right now.

PM: So would you say that you started writing pretty good songs off the bat?

CS: [laughs] Well, I don't know. That's kind of a hard thing to say. You don't know. You just kind of write what you can.

PM: But I mean, did people start saying, right off the bat, that, "That's a dang good song. I like that. What else you got," or--

CS: Well, I think primarily they may have heard me more as a singer than they did as a songwriter.

PM: And I know they were impressed if they heard you first as a singer, because you sing the hell out of anything I've heard you try.

CS: But actually, one of the songs I came to town with, that I wrote when I was 18, was recorded by Brooks & Dunn. Didn't end up on a record, but--

PM: Now, what's the name of that song?

CS: It's a song called "Nobody's Fool." Like I said, it didn't wind up on a record, but they did record it. But that was kind of a little farther down the road. So that would lead me to think that maybe I was okay when I came to town. [laughs]

PM: Right, because a song that you wrote when you were 18 got recorded by B&D, yes, that's a good indication. Now, I know you've written a bunch of hits, and recently have had a very hot couple of years. Maybe you'd tell us about that, what really hit, and how--the changes it's brought about in your life and stuff like that.

CS: Well, I've had over 70 songs recorded by major label recording artists.

PM: Holy jeez! That's amazing, Chris!

CS: It is?

PM: For a guy that came in 2001?! Lord in heaven!

CS: Well, it's incredibly fortunate, I can say that.

PM: That's beautiful.

CS: So I've had the good fortune of that. I had over 50 songs recorded before I ever had a single on the radio.

PM: No kidding! That's a very interesting statistic.

CS: Which was kind of frustrating. I had a lot of friends--

PM: 50 songs recorded by major artists before you ever heard one on the radio.

CS: Yes, sir. Could you hold--

PM: Yeah, I'll hold.

CS: Okay. Sorry. That was a buddy of mine who I'm helping move to town, and was making sure he didn't need anything.

PM: That's great. So that's an amazing statistic. I've never heard the likes of that, Chris.

CS: And even then, the first single I had was a song called "Home Sweet Holiday Inn," for Trent Willmon; that did wind up being a Holiday Inn commercial, but unfortunately didn't make it out of the 40s on the chart.

PM: But how did it do as a commercial? Without disclosing specifics, did it do well for you as a commercial?

CS: Well, the way my deal is structured, I didn't actually see money from that.

PM: It was a special products thing.

CS: Yeah, it was a buyout thing, first of all, for not very much money, because it was also meant to help Trent, and it kind of went against--I'm not sure how draws work, if you have a debt at a publishing company and they apply monies against that, mechanically. And TV commercials also fall under that category. So that's okay. That's how it works.

PM: But as a single it just didn't get out of the 40s.

CS: Didn't get out of the gate. I think it was the second or third single on Trent. Trent kind of was on the same level as Gretchen Wilson when she first came out with "Redneck Woman," and so a lot of the new artist monies got distributed that way first. And he's still a really great artist.

PM: He is.

CS: And he's a sweet, sweet guy.

PM: Yeah. I remember being in the studio with him one time. He was cutting something for a friend down in our little Music Row studio, and he was just a really nice guy.

CS: Yeah, he's one of my favorite people in town, so I still hope he can--he's out road-dogging it and still making records, so hopefully he'll find his way.

PM: So what came after that? What single really did chart well for you first?

CS: Well, the first single that I had that made a dent was Josh Turner's "Your Man."

PM: Oh, yeah, a great song.

CS: Which went to No. 1 and I think stayed there for two weeks.

PM: Wow.

CS: That was the first time I got to experience that.

PM: So what was that like, Chris, if you don't mind me asking, to have the first one that charted really well go all the way to No. 1 and then stay there for two weeks? What the hell must that have been like?

CS: Well, it was a very long trip to No. 1. I think it took 53 weeks to get there.

PM: Well, that's good. That's spins untold.

CS: It is very, very long. And it's a very surreal experience, too, to think that something you had written is being played all over the country and people are hearing it, or like that song, or people know something that you wrote. That's a whole new experience as a songwriter.

PM: Yeah, because by the time it's been there 50 weeks and then been at No. 1 for two weeks, I mean, it's literally changed a lot of people's lives in some way or another.

CS: Well, I don't know about that, but hopefully it's made somebody have fun and sing along with the radio and listen to country radio a little bit.

PM: Yeah. Unbelievable. So maybe you wouldn't mind talking about the changes that the high degree of success you've been, as you say, fortunate enough to have in recent years has changed your life?

CS: Well, I got to buy a house.


CS: So I have a house now. I have a little old house here on the south side of Nashville.

PM: Green Hills, or whereabouts?

CS: It's actually in between Brentwood and--Hogan Road is where I live.

PM: That's a nice part of town.

CS: Just off of Franklin Road there. My wife and I really enjoy it over here. And our zoo of animals seems to like it.


PM: So besides "Your Man," what other tunes charted very significantly?

CS: Well, I had another song for Trace Adkins that went to No. 12 called "Swing," that I wrote with Frank Rogers. And then also recently had a song for Kenny Chesney that went to No. 1 and stayed there for five weeks called "Never Wanted Nothing More."

PM: Holy jeez. And who did you write your two No. 1s with?

CS: "Your Man" I wrote with Chris DuBois and Jace Everett--we originally were writing that for Jace Everett's project, it just didn't make it to that stage. But as fate would have it, it probably--

PM: It turned out all right.

CS: You never know, it may or may not have been a hit for Jace. But the melding of Josh with that song was certainly a good thing.

PM: And the other No. 1?

CS: The other No. 1 was with Ronnie Bowman.

PM: Oh, really, with Ronnie Bowman? [A fantastic Bluegrass singer and songwriter, see our reviews here and here.]

CS: And that was the first song that--I've known Ronnie for a little bit.

PM: Another fantastic singer.

CS: Oh! Fantastic singer and fantastic person, great heart.

PM: Really? I've never met him. I bet he's a hell of a guy.

CS: Oh, he's wonderful. He was a groomsman in my wedding, in fact. He's really, really a sweet guy.

PM: I just love his singing.

CS: Oh, he's wonderful. I used to listen to him long before I ever knew him, so it's real neat to know him.

PM: Was he fun to write with?

CS: Oh, he's a blast. He's just a blast to be around. He makes your day to be around, really, he's that kind of a guy.

PM: That's an amazing thing for somebody to say about you, "He makes your day to be around."

CS: Yeah, you meet guys who have really good spirits and can put a smile on your face, and he's one of those.

PM: That's amazing.       continue

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