meta-script2019 ACM Awards Add Brandi Carlile, Dan + Shay, More To Lineup | GRAMMY.com
Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile

Photo: Travis P Ball/Getty Images

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2019 ACM Awards Add Brandi Carlile, Dan + Shay, More To Lineup

Other new performers added to the April 7 lineup include Eric Church, Kelly Clarkson, Ashley McBryde, and more

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:59 am

The ACM Awards announced a second batch of performers today, including 61st GRAMMY Awards winners Brandi Carlile and Dan + Shay.

Artists with nominations at the 61st include previous three-time GRAMMY winner Kelly Clarkson as well as Luke Combs, Florida Georgia Line and Ashley McBryde. They'll be joined by previous GRAMMY winners Brooks & Dunn and nominated artists Dierks Bentley and Eric Church.

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The above batch will join these previously announced 2019 ACM performers: three-time GRAMMY winner Reba McEntire as well as Brothers Osborne, Kane Brown, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton, and George Strait. Also performing is Jason Aldean, who will be presented with the ACM Dick Clark Artist of the Decade Award. Additional artist announcements are anticipated.

The 54th Academy of Country Music Awards will be broadcast from the MGM Grand at Las Vegas on April 7, 2019 on CBS. Tickets are still available at AXS.

In addition to the ACM Awards main event, many exciting Party For A Cause concerts are also planned for that weekend in Vegas, including the ACM Stories, Songs & Stars panel with its focus on country songwriters, the ACM Decades concert and the ACM Lifting Lives Topgolf Tee-Off, raising funds and awareness for ACM Lifting Lives' charitable activities.

Maren Morris & Brandi Carlile Talk Empowering Women In Music & Collaborating Together

Slash
Slash

interview

Slash's New Blues Ball: How His Collaborations Album 'Orgy Of The Damned' Came Together

On his new album, 'Orgy Of The Damned,' Slash recruits several friends — from Aerosmith's Steven Tyler to Demi Lovato — to jam on blues classics. The rock legend details how the project was "an accumulation of stuff I've learned over the years."

GRAMMYs/May 17, 2024 - 06:56 pm

In the pantheon of rock guitar gods, Slash ranks high on the list of legends. Many fans have passionately discussed his work — but if you ask him how he views his evolution over the last four decades, he doesn't offer a detailed analysis.

"As a person, I live very much in the moment, not too far in the past and not very far in the future either," Slash asserts. "So it's hard for me to really look at everything I'm doing in the bigger scheme of things."

While his latest endeavor — his new studio album, Orgy Of The Damned — may seem different to many who know him as the shredding guitarist in Guns N' Roses, Slash's Snakepit, Velvet Revolver, and his four albums with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, it's a prime example of his living-in-the-moment ethos. And, perhaps most importantly to Slash, it goes back to what has always been at the heart of his playing: the blues.

Orgy Of The Damned strips back much of the heavier side of his playing for a 12-track homage to the songs and artists that have long inspired him. And he recruited several of his rock cohorts — the likes of AC/DC's Brian Johnson, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, Gary Clark Jr., Iggy Pop, Beth Hart, and Dorothy, among others — to jam on vintage blues tunes with him, from "Hoochie Coochie Man" to "Born Under A Bad Sign."

But don't be skeptical of his current venture — there's plenty of fire in these interpretations; they just have a different energy than his harder rocking material. The album also includes one new Slash original, the majestic instrumental "Metal Chestnut," a nice showcase for his tastefully melodic and expressive playing.

The initial seed for the project was planted with the guitarist's late '90s group Slash's Blues Ball, which jammed on genre classics. Those live, spontaneous collaborations appealed to him, so when he had a small open window to get something done recently, he jumped at the chance to finally make a full-on blues album.

Released May 17, Orgy Of The Damned serves as an authentic bridge from his musical roots to his many hard rock endeavors. It also sees a full-circle moment: two Blues Ball bandmates, bassist Johnny Griparic and keyboardist Teddy Andreadis, helped lay down the basic tracks. Further seizing on his blues exploration, Slash will be headlining his own touring blues festival called S.E.R.P.E.N.T. in July and August, with support acts including the Warren Haynes Band, Keb' Mo', ZZ Ward, and Eric Gales.

Part of what has kept Slash's career so intriguing is the diversity he embraces. While many heavy rockers stay in their lane, Slash has always traveled down other roads. And though most of his Orgy Of The Damned guests are more in his world, he's collaborated with the likes of Michael Jackson, Carole King and Ray Charles — further proof that he's one of rock's genre-bending greats.

Below, Slash discusses some of the most memorable collabs from Orgy Of The Damned, as well as from his wide-spanning career.

I was just listening to "Living For The City," which is my favorite track on the album.

Wow, that's awesome. That was the track that I knew was going to be the most left of center for the average person, but that was my favorite song when [Stevie Wonder's 1973 album] Innervisions came out when I was, like, 9 years old. I loved that song. This record's origins go back to a blues band that I put together back in the '90s.

Slash's Blues Ball.

Right. We used to play "Superstition," that Stevie Wonder song. I did not want to record that [for Orgy Of The Damned], but I still wanted to do a Stevie Wonder song. So it gave me the opportunity to do "Living For The City," which is probably the most complicated of all the songs to learn. I thought we did a pretty good job, and Tash [Neal] sang it great. I'm glad you dig it because you're probably the first person that's actually singled that song out.

With the Blues Ball, you performed Hoyt Axton's "The Pusher" and Robert Johnson's "Crossroads," and they surface here. Isn't it amazing it took this long to record a collection like this?

[Blues Ball] was a fun thrown-together thing that we did when I [was in, I] guess you call it, a transitional period. I'd left Guns N' Roses [in 1996], and it was right before I put together a second incarnation of Snakepit.

I'd been doing a lot of jamming with a lot of blues guys. I'd known Teddy [Andreadis] for a while and been jamming with him at The Baked Potato for years prior to this. So during this period, I got together with Ted and Johnny [Griparic], and we started with this Blues Ball thing. We started touring around the country with it, and then even made it to Europe. It was just fun.

Then Snakepit happened, and then Velvet Revolver. These were more or less serious bands that I was involved in. Blues Ball was really just for the fun of it, so it didn't really take precedence. But all these years later, I was on tour with Guns N' Roses, and we had a three-week break or whatever it was. I thought, I want to make that f—ing record now.

It had been stewing in the back of my mind subconsciously. So I called Teddy and Johnny, and I said, Hey, let's go in the studio and just put together a set and go and record it. We got an old set list from 1998, picked some songs from an app, picked some other songs that I've always wanted to do that I haven't gotten a chance to do.

Then I had the idea of getting Tash Neal involved, because this guy is just an amazing singer/guitar player that I had worked with in a blues thing a couple years prior to that. So we had the nucleus of this band.

Then I thought, Let's bring in a bunch of guest singers to do this. I don't want to try to do a traditional blues record, because I think that's going to just sound corny. So I definitely wanted this to be more eclectic than that, and more of, like, Slash's take on these certain songs, as opposed to it being, like, "blues." It was very off-the-cuff and very loose.

It's refreshing to hear Brian Johnson singing in his lower register on "Killing Floor" like he did in the '70s with Geordie, before he got into AC/DC. Were you expecting him to sound like that?

You know, I didn't know what he was gonna sing it like. He was so enthusiastic about doing a Howlin' Wolf cover.

I think he was one of the first calls that I made, and it was really encouraging the way that he reacted to the idea of the song. So I went to a studio in Florida. We'd already recorded all the music, and he just fell into it in that register.

I think he was more or less trying to keep it in the same feel and in the same sort of tone as the original, which was great. I always say this — because it happened for like two seconds, he sang a bit in the upper register — but it definitely sounded like AC/DC doing a cover of Howlin' Wolf. We're not AC/DC, but he felt more comfortable doing it in the register that Howlin' Wolf did. I just thought it sounded really great.

You chose to have Demi Lovato sing "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." Why did you pick her?

We used to do "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" back in Snakepit, actually, and Johnny played bass. We had this guy named Rod Jackson, who was the singer, and he was incredible. He did a great f—ing interpretation of the Temptations singing it.

When it came to doing it for this record, I wanted to have something different, and the idea of having a young girl's voice telling the story of talking to her mom to find out about her infamous late father, just made sense to me. And Demi was the first person that I thought of. She's got such a great, soulful voice, but it's also got a certain kind of youth to it.

When I told her about it, she reacted like Brian did: "Wow, I would love to do that." There's some deeper meaning about the song to her and her personal life or her experience. We went to the studio, and she just belted it out. It was a lot of fun to do it with her, with that kind of zeal.

You collaborate with Chris Stapleton on Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" by Peter Green. I'm assuming the original version of that song inspired "Double Talkin' Jive" by GN'R?

It did not, but now that you mention it, because of the classical interlude thing at the end... Is that what you're talking about? I never thought about it.

I mean the overall vibe of the song.

"Oh Well" was a song that I didn't hear until I was about 12 years old. It was on KMET, a local radio station in LA. I didn't even know there was a Fleetwood Mac before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. I always loved that song, and I think it probably had a big influence on me without me even really realizing it. So no, it didn't have a direct influence on "Double Talkin' Jive," but I get it now that you bring it up.

Was there something new that you learned in making this album? Were your collaborators surprised by their own performances?

I think Gary Clark is just this really f—ing wonderful guitar player. When I got "Crossroads," the idea originally was "Crossroads Blues," which is the original Robert Johnson version. And I called Gary and said, "Would you want to play with me on this thing?"

He and I only just met, so I didn't know what his response was going to be. But apparently, he was a big Guns N' Roses fan — I get the idea, anyway. We changed it to the Cream version just because I needed to have something that was a little bit more upbeat. So when we got together and played, we solo-ed it off each other.

When I listen back to it, his playing is just so f—ing smooth, natural, and tasty. There was a lot of that going on throughout the making of the whole record — acclimating to the song and to the feel of it, just in the moment.

I think that's all an accumulation of stuff that I've learned over the years. The record probably would be way different if I did it 20 years ago, so I don't know what that evolution is. But it does exist. The growth thing — God help us if you don't have it.

You've collaborated with a lot of people over the years — Michael Jackson, Carole King, Lemmy, B.B. King, Fergie. Were there any particular moments that were daunting or really challenging? And was there any collaboration that produced something you didn't expect?

All those are a great example of the growth thing, because that's how you really grow as a musician. Learning how to adapt to playing with other people, and playing with people who are better than you — that really helps you blossom as a player.

Playing with Carole King [in 1993] was a really educational experience because she taught me a lot about something that I thought that I did naturally, but she helped me to fine tune it, which was soloing within the context of the song. [It was] really just a couple of words that she said to me during this take that stuck with me. I can't remember exactly what they were, but it was something having to do with making room for the vocal. It was really in passing, but it was important knowledge.

The session that really was the hardest one that I ever did was [when] I was working with Ray Charles before he passed away. I played on his "God Bless America [Again]" record [on 2002's Ray Charles Sings for America], just doing my thing. It was no big deal. But he asked me to play some standards for the biopic on him [2004's Ray], and he thought that I could just sit in with his band playing all these Ray Charles standards.

That was something that they gave me the chord charts for, and it was over my head. It was all these chord changes. I wasn't familiar with the music, and most of it was either a jazz or bebop kind of a thing, and it wasn't my natural feel.

I remember taking the chord charts home, those kinds you get in a f—ing songbook. They're all kinds of versions of chords that wouldn't be the version that you would play.

That was one of those really tough sessions that I really learned when I got in over my head with something. But a lot of the other ones I fall into more naturally because I have a feel for it.

That's how those marriages happen in the first place — you have this common interest of a song, so you just feel comfortable doing it because it's in your wheelhouse, even though it's a different kind of music than what everybody's familiar with you doing. You find that you can play and be yourself in a lot of different styles. Some are a little bit challenging, but it's fun.

Are there any people you'd like to collaborate with? Or any styles of music you'd like to explore?

When you say styles, I don't really have a wish list for that. Things just happen. I was just working with this composer, Bear McCreary. We did a song on this epic record that's basically a soundtrack for this whole graphic novel thing, and the compositions are very intense. He's very particular about feel, and about the way each one of these parts has to be played, and so on. That was a little bit challenging. We're going to go do it live at some point coming up.

There's people that I would love to play with, but it's really not like that. It's just whatever opportunities present themselves. It's not like there's a lot of forethought as to who you get to play with, or seeking people out. Except for when you're doing a record where you have people come in and sing on your record, and you have to call them up and beg and plead — "Will you come and do this?"

But I always say Stevie Wonder. I think everybody would like to play with Stevie Wonder at some point.

Incubus On Revisiting Morning View & Finding Rejuvenation By Looking To The Past

Tyler Hubbard Press Photo 2024
Tyler Hubbard

Photo: Jimmy Fontaine

interview

Inside Tyler Hubbard's New Album 'Strong': How He Perfectly Captured His "Really Sweet Season" Of Life

On the heels of Tyler Hubbard's latest album release, hear from the country star about the biggest influences for 'Strong' — from his "unique relationship" with his hometown to making Keith Urban jealous.

GRAMMYs/Apr 15, 2024 - 07:53 pm

Country fans first got to know Tyler Hubbard as the voice of Florida Georgia Line. Upon his solo debut in 2022, they got a deeper look into his life as a devoted family man. Now, the chart-topping singer/songwriter wants to show his skills as the genre's feel-good party starter.

Hubbard's second album, Strong, turns up the energy with 13 tracks that focus on spreading the joy he's feeling in his own life. There's several parallels to his self-titled debut, including another tribute to his late father on "'73 Beetle" and reflections on his small-town Georgia upbringing with "Take Me Back" and "Back Then Right Now." Yet, every narrative feels more celebratory — buoyed by Hubbard's purposeful delivery, his hopeful lyricism, and uptempo melodies.

It's a natural evolution for Hubbard, who has projected positivity in his music and his image since his FGL days. And now that the world has welcomed him as a solo act — including two No. 1s at country radio with "5 Foot 9" and "Dancin' in the Country," and several sold-out shows in 2023 — he felt it was only right to bring good vibes with his second LP. 

"I was carrying the momentum from last year — the first album, being out on tour, the energy from the fans," Hubbard shares. "If you come to my live show, it's a lot of happy, fun dancing energy, and that's what I've really enjoyed kind of leaning into right now."

Ahead of Strong's release, Hubbard sat down with GRAMMY.com to chat about his album process. Below, he breaks down the most important components, from writing nearly every song on his tour bus to happily riding in the "good time lane."

Building On The First Album

The first album was more of an introduction to who I am, and this album is more settling in. It's inspired by the live show more than anything, and the fans themselves, as opposed to me and my story. 

I kind of want [these songs]to feel like distant relatives to the first album. I'll use that analogy a lot of times in sessions and just say, "Let's elevate, and let's move forward and progress, but let's keep it in the same family." 

When I was writing both these projects, it was a tough time. You know, going through the pandemic and all that brought along, transitioning into different careers and not knowing what was gonna happen with FGL for a while. Obviously, my marriage really inspired the song "Strong," but there's sort of that principle [from album one to album two] of going through a hard season that you come out on the other side of it stronger. 

Writing On The Road

Last year, I was getting in front of my audience for the first time [post-pandemic] and really getting to see what they wanted, what was resonating, what was working, maybe what was missing in the set. So I was able to pull that energy from the fans right back to the bus. The majority of this album I wrote on the road last year, which is where I love to write songs. I love to write in town too, but [there's] something about being out on the road — you just feel a little extra creative and a little less distracted. 

Back in the day, when we were starting off and really roughing it, we didn't have anything else to do but our careers, so we'd come home from the road and we'd write three or four days a week, and then we would go hit the road and play shows. But now that I'm a husband and a father, I try to compartmentalize it, so when I'm home during the week, I can take some time off to be with the kiddos and my wife.

And fortunately, now, I have my own bus, so I can bring writers out, and we can just hunker down on my bus all weekend and write songs. It's pretty fun because you kind of feel like you're binge writing a bit. But once you get in that creative space and your wheels are turnin', it's nice to stay there for more than four or five hours like we do in Nashville, turning it off at 4 o'clock and going home. It keeps it fun.

Creating Music For The Stage

We were mainly thinking about the live show [when we were writing]. It just felt like [we were writing] songs I couldn't wait to play live. 

There's some heart, there's some depth, there's emotion and vulnerability in a lot of these songs that I like to play live, but overall, I want it to just feel fun. There's enough stuff in our world to make us sad, so I'm just like, if I can put music out that makes people feel good, that's what I want to do. 

Especially in the context of our genre and our culture — it feels like there's a lot of sad boy country going on right now. You know, nothing wrong with that, I like to get real and emo a bit. But I think if everybody's doing one thing, I try to lean to the other. And right now I love where we're headed, in the good time lane.

I was soaking up everything Keith [Urban] was doing [while touring with him last year]. I watched his set most nights. He's kind of the king of fun tempo live energy. [We were] either [trying to] make Keith jealous or make Keith want to record one of the songs we write. So some of these songs are probably inspired by trying to get a Keith Urban cut. 

"Park," "Wish You Would" and "Vegas" are [three] of those songs. They go really well live and have been really, really fun. The crowd starts moving in a weird way when ["Wish You Would"] comes on. It looks like they're just, like, lettin' loose and not really coordinated at anything. [Laughs.]

"Back Then Right Now" is the single, so people are knowing that one [more] and it's cool to see them singing it and engaged. "BNA" is gonna be a lot of fun to play live. I could probably play this whole album top to bottom and be pretty happy with that being the set.

Honoring Where He Came From

I wanted this album to still be dynamic — as uptempo as it is, I still wanted the fans to be let in a little bit more into who I am and deeper into my life. Hopefully with each project I put out, I have some songs that let people in a bit more and tap into a vulnerable place, and challenge me as a person and a writer to just continue to go there. 

I have a unique relationship with my hometown. I love where I came from, and I'm proud of where I'm from, but it's not somewhere that I'm still living — I've been in Nashville longer than I was in Georgia, I've been here for over 18 years. A lot's changed since then. The house I grew up in is not there, my dad's gone, my mom's moved to Alabama. 

It's an interesting dynamic, because in our genre, it's cool to be really proud of where you're from, and really pay homage to where you're from. And I still do — a lot of these songs are literally born because of where I came from. But at the same time, I don't have that same relationship with where I'm from. I just thought it was a little bit of a different approach on the relationship with the hometown with ["Take Me Back"]. I hope people can relate to it.

Recruiting Trusty Collaborators, Like Producer Jordan Schmidt

The collaborators and songwriters on this project, there's a couple of new ones, but there's a lot of guys that I have a big history with. A lot of that's just due to the fact that if I'm bringing writers out on the road, it's guys that I know and trust, and that I've had success with. I'm not speed dating on the road — it's just very intentional, efficient time.

They've proven themselves, and so there's no reason to not go back to 'em. I just can't reiterate enough how thankful I am to be in this city, in this songwriting community. I have so many people that make me a better songwriter and push me as an artist and come with great ideas. It makes it that much more fun to write songs and do what I love.

Also, to know me, and who I am, and where I'm headed, and what I want to do and say, that helps tremendously because we're not just shooting in the dark. I think "Wish You Would" is a song that's a little unique and feels really fun. If I was going to pick a direction, that's a cool, fresh sound that I'm really enjoying right now.

Leaning Into Feeling Good

I'm in a really sweet season. Not just with the work stuff, but my family is in such a good spot. My kids are 3, 4 and 6, so they're in a really fun, just joyful season. I can have a bad session or a tough day, and I can go home and get overwhelmed with joy and love in the house. It's just awesome energy. I'm really grateful for that, and I'm really kind of leaning into it. 

I hope [fans] understand how grateful I am to be here to be still doing this 13 years later, and to be able to have another opportunity to experience a lot of firsts again, and get to continue to connect with them. I just love what I do, and I gotta give the fans a lot of credit for allowing me to do it. 

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Charles Wesley Godwin press photo 2024
Charles Wesley Godwin

Photo: David McClister

interview

Meet Charles Wesley Godwin, The Rising Country Singer Who's Turning "A Very Human Story" Into Stardom

With his deep, piercing voice and intimate portraits of family life, Charles Wesley Godwin has become one of country music's most promising new stars. As he begins his 2024 tour, the singer/songwriter details his unexpected journey to the stage.

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2024 - 06:17 pm

Charles Wesley Godwin never intended to play for audiences when he picked up a guitar for the first time in college. Now, the 30-year-old Godwin is a full-blown country star, playing stadium shows and prestigious music festivals as one of the genre's fastest rising talents.

Godwin's musical power and allure lie in the ability to inhabit both a superstar persona and family-man image. He's equally comfortable belting his raucous, anthemic "Cue Country Roads," and serenading his baby daughter in "Dance in Rain," a touching song about his vision for her future. Tapping into his West Virginia roots and family history, Godwin's authentic, raw storytelling hasn't just widely resonated — it's helped the singer realize his calling.

Known for his deep, piercing voice and intimate portraits of human experiences, Godwin first endeared himself to audiences with songs like "Hardwood Floors," a sweet love song to his wife, and "Seneca Creek," a ballad from his first album, 2019's Seneca. Across three studio albums thus far, Godwin mixes powerful vocals and relatable, heartfelt lyrics, aligning him with the likes of Zach Bryan, Tyler Childers, and Sturgill Simpson.

The son of a coal miner and a teacher, Godwin dreamed of playing professional football and attended West Virginia University to study finance. After moving on from college football dreams, he taught himself guitar, learning country classics to fill the football void.

But while studying abroad in Estonia, one of Godwin's roommates took his guitar to a club show and coaxed Godwin up on stage after the set. His cover of John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads" — Godwin's college theme song and current show closer — earned him his second gig, performing at a fashion show. He was hooked.

After college, Godwin spent most of a decade touring relentlessly, crisscrossing the country to play bars and coffee houses. As he transitioned from covering favorite songs to writing his own, Godwin honed his writing chops and musical voice, intent on figuring out who he would be as a musician.

His latest studio album, 2023's aptly titled Family Ties, showcases the versatility and emotional depth that continues to make his songs resonate intensely. It includes upbeat country bangers like "Two Weeks Gone" and "Family Ties"; ruminations on deep generational connections to family, including his journey to understand his dad in "Miner Imperfections" and recounting his mother's heart-wrenching experience in "The Flood"; and raw, personal reflections on his love for his children, from "Gabriel" to "Tell the Babies I Love Them."

After signing his first major record label deal and opening for Zach Bryan in 2023, Godwin will spend 2024 headlining shows around the United States, also supporting Luke Combs on several dates and playing festivals like Stagecoach, Bonnaroo and Under the Big Sky.

Ahead of his tour launch on April 4, Godwin spoke with GRAMMY.com about his inspiration and writing, chasing his musical dreams, and his favorite career "pinch me" moments — so far.

How did you get started in music?

I watched the Avett Brothers in the 2011 GRAMMYs and was wowed by it, and thought maybe picking a guitar up would be a productive hobby to have. And then over time I began to realize I actually had the talent.

That hobby worked out okay.

I've always joked — even though people are like "Oh man, that's crazy, you didn't find it until you were in your 20s" — I'm like, "Well, at least I found my thing." I feel very fortunate. I feel like things could have easily gone a different way.

Was music of interest to you? What kind of music did your parents play when you were growing up?

My dad listened to oldies radio, a lot of pop music from the '60s and the '70s. I had a lot of the Beatles songs and CCR songs stuck in my head as a little kid.

I would casually consume whatever was put right in front of me, but I wasn't big into music. I was worried about sports. I wanted to be good at football.

What was it like for you picking up a guitar the first time?

It was frustrating. My fingers wouldn't go where I wanted them to. And it seemed very difficult. But I would just bite it off in 15-minute chunks each day. I wouldn't quit.

It wasn't until about a year into it that I could actually start stringing chords together. My dad had gotten a mining engineering degree, and to do some pretty high-level calculus, he always told me when I was growing up, "Math, it just clicks one day, as long as you don't give up on it."

Tell me more about your dad, for whom you wrote "Miner Imperfections." It sounds like you got your work ethic from him.

When he grew up, most of his friends were getting drafted to Vietnam. He had applied for the mines and he gave himself a timeline. He said, If the mines don't call within two weeks, I'm going to join the Air Force, because if I'm gonna get sent to Vietnam, I might as well join on my own terms. He ended up getting called by the mines and went underground in his early 20s. And worked his ass off.

He'd met my mom, and they created a better life for themselves. [They] were able to elevate themselves economically and give my brother and I a great life growing up, and the ability to chase our dreams.

He didn't love the mines, but he was good at it. And it was a way for him to make a good living. My dad had an amazing work ethic. He was very, very hard-nosed, independent, principled. And he taught me a lot of that.

As I've gotten older, I've grown to appreciate him more and more. And [my parents] gave me the mental tools I needed to be able to go through that whole crucible of going all across the country for a decade and sleeping in my car and playing in bars and restaurants and cafes, basically living well below the poverty line for many years, to make this dream of mine come true.

I think the very first song of yours I heard was "Seneca Creek." What's the story behind that song?

That's about my grandparents, on my mother's side. My mom's side of the family is from Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. They're part of the hillbilly highway, they moved up to Canton, Ohio. My granddad was working for Ford Motor Company. And he got drafted to go fight in Korea. So he went off and was a tank commander and fought in Korea for two years and went back to the Ford Motor Company when he got back.

They started a family and started building a life. They ended up moving back to West Virginia in the early '60s, and took over my great grandfather's General Store and farmed cattle. My grandmother was the postmaster.

They had a remarkable life, full of highs and lows and it was a very, very human story. And I thought it translated well into song.

What experiences in your life have colored the kinds of stories you want to tell in your music?

I draw on my family, my wife and my kids. That's really some of the most profound experiences I've had.

My dad, when he was my age, was crawling in less than three feet of coal. So I don't want to write too much about "playing on the road was hard."

One strong point of mine is I can observe somebody else and find the little nuggets of humanity to put into song that can still seem very personal and moving to people.

But you've also got these deeper generational connections and stories, too.

I have a lot of interesting family members in the family tree that I've been able to pull from. My mom's side came over in the potato famine in the mid-1800s. My dad's side, a lot of them were even here before the United States was the United States.

There's a lot of interesting and rich family history to draw from — moonshiners on my mother's side, there's been soldiers, drunkards, teachers and miners. My great grandfather on my dad's side, he used to eat a raw potato in the mines every day for lunch until Italians came over and showed the Irish guys how to eat better.

You've talked about your music sounding like it's from West Virginia. What does that mean? What is West Virginia music to you?

Before I put my first record out, I understood that I needed to find what my natural voice was. And make sure that I wasn't just trying to mimic somebody else.

I would not be able to pull off sounding like I'm trying to sing rodeo country. But I can sound like I'm from West Virginia, because that is the truth.

I think it has to have some bluegrass, if we're talking country music. Because you [also] got [late West Virginia native] Bill Withers, who is one of the best soul singers ever.

Stories about rural places and working class people often get tokenized and stereotyped. When you're writing songs, how do you honor the people you're writing about instead of making them stereotypes?

I just try my best. There's been a lot of lines that when I'm working on songs over the years, I've been like, "that's not it," and then put a line through it and try to come up with something better or more positive or more honest.

I'd rather shine a light on the more admirable character traits, either people in my family that I'm writing about or made up characters. I also try not to make it too unrealistic. I have a lot of songs about regret, which is something that [is] very human. But I definitely don't want to go around glorifying things that aren't really good for society or community.

You've talked about how you felt stuck when you wrote your latest album, Family Ties.  What was that feeling? And how did you get out of that rut?

I had a bunch of people on payroll for the first time in my life. Labels had come into the picture; my wife was just about to have our second child; we had a house we just bought the year prior. I had all these things around me that I'd never had around me before. I was putting pressure on myself, because I wasn't just this broke guy anymore that only needed enough to fill up his gas tank.

I let that affect my mind and my creativity, and my productivity with the notebook. The way I got out of it was just realizing — this sounds so cliche, but it's true, and it's true with music, and so many other things in life — that you can only control the things that you can control.

I felt like writing about my family is what I wanted to do. Just because there's so much love and guilt that I was feeling at that time. The birth my children — my daughter just being born, my son was still really young, with my wife and, being gone for hundreds of days [in] years prior, but then I was home that whole pandemic year, which was this super special time, but also just so weird after all those years of being gone all the time, and then going back to being gone all the time.

Now that all of that hard work has started paying off, what have been some of your biggest "pinch me, I can't believe this is happening" moments?

Recently, I opened for Jason Isbell and for Turnpike Troubadours. Those were folks that I was listening to a decade ago, in the middle of the night, trying to drive home from some gig far away.

And throughout our tour this year, we're doing these Luke Combs dates, and the Avett Brothers are on two of them. The whole reason I picked up a guitar, here we are over a decade later, and I'm going to be shaking their hands before we play a stadium. And this whole thing started with me just sitting on a couch in college watching them at the GRAMMYs. So that's gonna be a "pinch me" moment, for sure.

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Kane Brown performing in 2023
Kane Brown performing at the 2023 iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas.

Photo: Denise Truscello/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

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A Brief History Of Black Country Music: 11 Important Tracks From DeFord Bailey, Kane Brown & More

While the world anticipates the arrival of Beyoncé's 'Act II: COWBOY CARTER' on March 29, revisit these 11 songs by influential Black country musicians throughout history, from a Charley Pride classic to a Mickey Guyton statement piece.

GRAMMYs/Mar 22, 2024 - 10:24 pm

In February, Beyoncé added to her record-breaking legacy by becoming the first Black woman to top Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart with her single "TEXAS HOLD 'EM."

"I feel honored," she shared on Instagram in a countdown post to her RENAISSANCE sequel, Act II: COWBOY CARTER, out March 29. "My hope is that years from now, the mention of an artist's race, as it relates to releasing genres of music, will be irrelevant."

Since she first dabbled in country music with "Daddy Lessons" in 2016, the icon has received consistent backlash about whether she belongs in the genre. That same year, audiences campaigned for a boycott against the Country Music Awards for her performance of the track alongside The Chicks, later resulting in its erasure from promotional advertisements. And eight years later, the conversation returns as radio listeners question if her music should air on country stations.

Ironically, if you look back through music history, you will quickly discover that Beyoncé isn't the first (and certainly not the last) Black musician doing country music. 

In fact, the genre plants its sonic roots in negro spirituals and field songs, written on slave plantations. African American Vernacular English continues to influence contemporary chart-topper's lyricism and vocal twang. The banjo, which descends from the West African akonting lute, remains one of the quintessential instruments of the genre. Whether Beyoncé or the many artists who came before her, nothing sits at the heart of country music more than Black art.

To understand the full scope of Black creatives' impact in country, GRAMMY.com examines some of the influential tracks and moments of those who have made their mark on the genre and the music industry — from DeFord Bailey's Grand Ole Opry debut in 1927, to Darius Rucker's post-Hootie & The Blowfish country foray in 2008, to Breland's 2021 fusion of country and hip-hop.

DeFord Bailey — "Pan American Blues" (1927)

Before there was Mickey Guyton, Darius Rucker, or even Charley Pride, there was DeFord Bailey, the "harmonica wizard" from Tennessee.

After performing locally, another musician introduced Bailey to Nashville powerhouse radio station WSM's manager, George D. Hay, who later invited him to join the Grand Ole Opry — making Bailey the first Black member. He quickly rose to become one of the program's highest-paid players at the time, largely thanks to his iconic instrumental tune, "Pan American Blues," which imitated the sounds he heard from the railroad during his childhood.

As of press time, the only other Black inductees in the Grand Ole Opry are Rucker and Pride.

Lead Belly — "In The Pines" (1944)

"My girl, my girl, don't lie to me/ Tell me, where did you sleep last night?/ In the pines, in the pines/ Whether the sun don't ever shine/ I would shiver the whole night through," Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter questions in the Appalachian folk song, "In the Pines."

Though Lead Belly isn't the original writer of the song, his chilling vibrato on the recording inspired singers for years to come, including Kurt Cobain, who later covered the track in Nirvana's 1993 MTV Unplugged performance under the title "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" and named the '40s country blues legend his "favorite performer."

Linda Martell — "Color Him Father" (1969)

In "Color Him Father," Linda Martell narrates the heartfelt tale of a stepdad who embraces his new paternal role to a widowed mother and her seven children. It's also the song that propelled her to stardom, landing her a historic performance as the first Black woman on the Grand Ole Opry stage and later opening the door for debut album, Color Me Country.

After the project was released, Martell stepped away from the limelight, but her impact lived on. She was the inspiration for contemporary luminaries like Mickey Guyton: "The fact that she was there was groundbreaking ... She gave me the courage to be here," Guyton told Rolling Stone in 2020.

Charley Pride — "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'" (1971)

Through his nearly seven decades-spanning career, Charley Pride became a certified hitmaker and one of the most renowned pioneers of his time. By 1987, he amassed more than 50 Top 10 hits on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, with 30 peaking at No. 1 — including his most notable single, "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'."

After Pride passed away from COVID-19 complications in 2020, the response to his death highlighted the magnitude of his legacy, receiving condolences from Dolly Parton, Billy Ray Cyrus, and perhaps the most personal from Darius Rucker.

"I couldn't have done what I do, I don't think, if there hadn't been Charley before me," Rucker said in an essay for Billboard. Pride served not only as an icon but also as a mentor to Rucker, and his kindness ultimately gave Rucker the courage to do the same for the next generation.

Cleve Francis — "You Do My Heart Good" (1992)

As a cardiologist and songwriter, Dr. Cleve Francis certainly knew a "good heart."

In his 1992 track, "You Do My Heart Good," Francis sings about a budding love that shows him how to see life in a beautiful light. The song eventually became the second single from his Liberty Records debut LP, Tourist in Paradise.

Francis later founded the now-defunct Black Country Music Association in 1995 to foster an inclusive environment in the Nashville music scene and provide resources to aspiring singers. Under his advisory, the BCMA, with the help of Warner Bros., produced From Where I Stand, a record book of Black artists' contributions to the genre.

Darius Rucker — "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" (2008)

Before 2008, many knew Darius Rucker better as Hootie, thanks to his remarkable '90s run as frontman of jangle pop band Hootie & the Blowfish. But with his second album as a solo act, 2008's Learn to Live, the world met Darius Rucker, the country artist.

Fittingly, he chose a heartbreaking ballad for his first country single — "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," a heartbreaking ballad about a man who wonders what could have been in a previous relationship. The choice resonated with country listeners:  "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, making Rucker the first Black country artist to have a chart-topper since Pride in 1983. 

Kane Brown — "Heaven" (2017)

Since his major label debut, Brown has possessed a unique boy-next-door charm, less "Western" than his peers. "Not laced up in a tight belt and buckle hat," but proof that "you can be who you want to be, and you can still listen to country music," his manager, Martha Earls, told Variety in 2018.

Take "Heaven," a romantic ballad with the Southern drawl and instrumentation of a classic country tune. But when you add Brown's R&B influence and natural swagger, the track invites audiences both in and outside of country.

Though Brown now has 12 No. 1 songs on the Country Airplay chart, "Heaven" is undoubtedly the country star's biggest song to date thanks to its crossover qualities and romantic resonance. And just last year, "Heaven" became only the seventh country artist in history to receive a diamond certification from the RIAA; Brown is the second Black country artist to achieve the feat, as Rucker's anthemic cover of "Wagon Wheel" reached diamond status in 2022.

Mickey Guyton — "Black Like Me" (2020)

In a 2020 interview with Rolling Stone, Mickey Guyton recalled that she wrote "Black Like Me" at a writer's retreat in 2019, thinking, "There is no way that anybody is going to accept this." But at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, there was no doubt that it was what the industry, especially the country genre, needed to hear.

"It's a hard life on easy street/ Just white painted picket fences far as you can see/ If you think we live in the land of the free/ You should try to be Black like me," she croons on the chorus.

The single made Guyton the first-ever Black woman nominated for Best Country Solo Performance at the 2021 GRAMMYs, and also helped her earn nominations for New Female Artist Of The Year and New Artist Of The Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards and the Country Music Association Awards, respectively, in 2021..

Guyton continues to use her voice for advocacy, from speaking out on racial issues to chronicling the Black experience on her 2021 album, Remember Her Name

Breland — "Throw It Back" (2021)

Since making his debut with "My Truck" in 2019, Breland has been praised for his innovative fusion of country, gospel, hip-hop, and R&B. But beyond his sonic landscape, he's also inviting some unlikely choreography into the genre: twerking.

"If she got a shot of whiskey, she know how to throw it back/ She turn up for Elvis Presley, told the DJ, 'Throw it back,'" Breland cheers in the chorus of the trap-infused track.  "If you sexy and you know it, make it clap."

"Throw It Back" features Keith Urban, whoappreciates Breland for his confidence to go beyond the mold of country music's expectations. "He's one of the only artists I've ever met that does not care at all what something sounds like or what box it fits. If he likes it, if it catches his ear, he wants to be a part of it in some way," Urban explained to Taste of Country in 2021.

The War and Treaty — "Blank Page" (2022)

The War and Treaty are making the most of their "Blank Page."

The husband-and-wife pair — Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter — began their musical journey together in 2016.  Seven years later, thanks to their first major label EP, 2022's Blank Page, they also started making history. The War and Treaty became the first Black duo to receive a nomination for Duo Of The Year at the 2023 Academy of Country Music Awards, where they also delivered a stirring performance of the EP's title track, a heartfelt song about a new slate in love. 

Six months later, they made history again as the first Black pair nominated for Duo Of The Year at the 2023 Country Music Association Awards; they took the stage there as well, performing"That's How Love Is Made" from their 2023 album, Lover's Game

They added to their growing legacy at the 2024 GRAMMYs as well,  receiving their first GRAMMY nominations. "Blank Page" earned the duo a nod for Best American Roots Song, and they also were up for the coveted Best New Artist.

Tanner Adell — "Buckle Bunny" (2023)

When Beyoncé dropped "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" and "16 CARRIAGES" in February, country newcomer Tanner Adell readily tossed her cowgirl hat into the ring to become Queen Bey's next collaborator. "I hope Bey decides to sprinkle me with a dash of her magic," she pitched in a tweet that has now garnered more than four million views.

Adell's music is reminiscent of Beyoncé's own empowered narratives, particularly the 2023 single "Buckle Bunny," which even declares that she's "Lookin' like Beyoncé with a lasso." Like Breland, Adell brings a hip-hop flair to country music, exemplified by the thumping beats and rap-inspired singing of "Buckle Bunny."

As artists like Adell, Breland, Kane Brown, and more continue to push the boundaries of the country genre, they'll also remind listeners of its rich lineage in Black culture — past, present, and future.

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