Artist Interview: Chris Stapleton on his Kentucky music roots
Just like a good old fashion recipe of mountain soul, you can combine unique vocals, powerful songwriting, and rugged looks and the end product will be that of Chris Stapleton. The eastern Kentucky native has made a household name for himself over the years with having his songs being recorded by the likes of Josh Turner, Adele, and Kenny Chesney. He’s expanded his musical horizon by going out on tour himself to help promote his latest single, “What Are You Listening To.” The tune is available for download on I-tunes.
Recently, I sat down and spoke with Chris Stapleton over his Kentucky roots, being in the music business, and how he keeps that great beard manageable.
How does it feel when you go back home to visit?
I was born in Fayette County, over in Lexington, Kentucky, but I was raised most of my life in Paintsville. It always feels great. It’s great getting to go home and seeing old friends, meet some new friends, and see some faces that I haven’t seen in a long time. I always look forward to visiting.
What is something that you take back from Kentucky when you go back to Nashville?
One thing is that I am a country boy and been raised that all my life. It’s always in me. I don’t know of what I don’t take back from home. I’m just an hour across the state line so I’m not too far away I guess.
You’ve had quite a busy time with your radio tour and shows. How has that been so far?
I joke with people. I had a buddy of mine ask how I’m doing on that radio tour. I said, “Well I kind of feel like I’ve won the lottery. I get to travel around and eat free steak dinners. I usually play three songs and see new places. It’s kind of like what I would do if I won the lottery.”
It’s all a matter of perspective. I get to meet a lot of the folks that have worked in radio for a long time. It’s been really neat. I’ve learned a lot about that end of things that I didn’t really know about before even though I’ve been in the business for a long time. So, it’s been educational and fun. I’ve gotten to see places and cities across the country that I haven’t seen before. I miss my family a bunch. That’s the hardest part, but other than that, I really love it.
I remember seeing on Instagram and Facebook that you visited a camel farm. How was that?
That was actually a pretty fun gig. We had a good time. That was in Missouri I believe where we played. There was a gentleman who raised exotic animals and rents them out to movies and things. It was really neat for us because they liked our music out there.
When was the first time that you got to hear yourself on the radio?
The first time was when I was in Birmingham, Alabama, on WZZK. Paul is their program director there. I recently got to go back and play a gig down there. That was the first time ever they put me on the radio. They were live and let me play a little bit. I was in the studio to hear it over the air. That was the first time I ever heard it. After that, outside of a studio, I was in Nashville. Marcia Campbell, who runs the late night show on WSM radio, played it on there. That was the first time I heard it and I was home. It is a really interesting to hear yourself on the radio. I’ve gotten to hear myself in different capacities. I’ve heard myself on Sirius XM on the bluegrass channels, and on WSM and other places.
With your latest song, “What Are You Listening To,” what would you say that you are playing on your music player?
There is a lot that I like. There is a girl named Brandy Clark that’s kind of new. She’s a really good singer-songwriter gal that’s country. I like Kacey Musgraves quite a bit. There are a lot of good gals coming out lately that are great songwriters. They are fun to listen to. Other than that, it’s what I usually listen to. I’m a huge Tom Petty fan, so he’s always hanging around. I don’t know. I guess a little bit of everything.
For someone that wants to move to Nashville, would you recommend that they go after a publishing deal or a record deal first?
I think the path is different for everybody. Go after the doors that are open to you. That has always been my motto getting into the music business. Do the things that seem to be good opportunities and work hard at it. Try to make good decisions and be nice. Hopefully all of that will pay off at some point.
Singer Melonie Cannon mentioned that you wrote a song with her sister, Marla Cannon-Goodman, a few years ago called “How Do I Leave This Place.” Can you talk about writing with her and that song?
It’s a very, very dark song. Without having it right in front of me, it’s hard to describe. I’ve written so many songs. I don’t sit around listening to myself a whole lot other than what I’m working on at the moment. I remember going in. It’s really funny that it’s such a dark song because Marla is such a wonderful spirit and upbeat and smiling. We went into a dark, kind of bluegrass place because we both like that stuff; maybe me more than most. Writing that song was very easily. We sat down and started talking. I think it was one of those that kind of fell out. I don’t remember if that was an idea she had going in or created from an idea I had going in. I remember that it is a very dark song.
Being from Kentucky, how would you best define the sound and soul of Kentucky music?
Wow, that’s a very interesting question. I really don’t know how you define it. There’s definitely something to it. You’ve got a lot of artists that come from Kentucky. There is definitely a big bluegrass history. A lot of great bluegrass comes out of Kentucky. There’s a lot of great music, like the Judds, Billy Ray Cyrus, Ricky Skaggs, and Keith Whitley. There’s a lot of bluegrass intertwined with country music. There have been some rock and roll acts that have come out of Kentucky too. We’re a pretty musical state as compared to others. I think Georgia is a good one. So how would I define Kentucky music? Well I really don’t know. We like it a lot. I think a lot of it was born out of a lot of small towns in Kentucky. A lot of music becomes a part of a culture because it’s part of how we entertain ourselves. I think that for me, that’s what I did growing up was to play music. We had all kinds of distractions, but music to me was what I did. On Sundays, we would sing hymnals in church and expanded from there. If I had to define it, I guess it would be a lot of small town kind of stuff that creates a lot of it.
You have introduced a way for fans to meet you via their beards. What would be your best beard grooming tip?
I don’t groom mine to be very honest with you. I might go get it trimmed once in a blue moon. I’ll trim it myself, but to have the discipline to not shave would be my best beard grooming tip. A lot of guys get in a hurry and say it’s not coming in right. You just have to wait it out. You just have to have the discipline to wait it out.
For the latest tour dates and more info on Chris Stapleton, be sure to check him out at www.ChrisStapleton.com.
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website with over 20 years experience in music journalism, concert planning, photography, and promotion. Jessica is a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the 2019 Leadership Kentucky BRIGHT Class and a recipient of the Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award. Listen to her each week on WFKY on Friday mornings for the Nashville News Roundup.