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Get Lost In The Best Country Song Award Nominees | 2021 GRAMMYs

Dig into the songs by Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, The Highwomen, Ingrid Andress and Old Dominion that are up for this coveted country songwriter award

GRAMMYs/Nov 28, 2020 - 09:06 pm

Updated Jan. 5, 2021.

Songwriting plays a paramount role in the creative process behind any genre, but county songwriters are cut from a different cloth. With clever wordplay, catchy hooks and creative authenticity as the baseline for a solid cut, great country songs and their writers often exemplify the craft's highest gold standard. The 2021 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Song are no exception, showing the depth, range and possibilities the genre continues to expand on and explore. Let's take a closer look at each of the songs nominated.

To find out who will win for Best Country Song at the 2021 GRAMMYs, tune into the 63rd GRAMMY Awards Sunday, March 14, on CBS.

"Bluebird" (Performed by Miranda Lambert)

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When two-time GRAMMY winner Miranda Lambert teamed up with Luke Dick and Natalie Hemby to write what would become a standout track from her Wildcard album, the trio turned to an unlikely source for inspiration: controversial curmudgeon and literary legend Charles Bukowski. "Bluebird" channels the opening line of one of Bukowski's most famous poems of the same name, a dark and reflective masterpiece published in 1992, just two years before his death.

But Lambert's "Bluebird" is undeniably uplifting, encouraging listeners to overcome and outwit adversity. "If the house just keeps on winning/I got a wildcard up my sleeve/If love keeps giving me lemons/I just mix them in my drink/If the whole wide world stops singing and all the stars go dark/I keep a light on in my soul/I keep a bluebird in my heart," she sings. The fresh take on the classic concept resonated, as the singer said the track is the one common song from Wildcard her fans consistently called out as a favorite.

Unsurprisingly, the ever-prolific Lambert has been nominated for Best Country Song four out of the past six years. Hemby, a GRAMMY winner in her own right, is also nominated in the category with her group The Highwomen, while the nod marks Dick's first career GRAMMY nom.

Read: Miranda Lambert Talks Her New GRAMMY-Nominated Album 'Wildcard,' Pistol Annies & More

"The Bones" (Performed by Maren Morris)

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"The house don't fall when the bones are good," Maren Morris sings as the morale of her 2019 hit, "The Bones." Co-written by Morris with Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz, the song stands tall as part of the bones holding up the later half of her critically acclaimed sophomore album Girl, which showed a more vulnerable yet stronger-than-ever side of the superstar.

Morris, an 11-time GRAMMY nominee, is looking for her second career GRAMMY win; her first was for Best Country Solo Performance at the 59th GRAMMY Awards for her breakout smash hit, "My Church," off her 2016 debut album, Hero. The following year, she made her debut on the GRAMMY stage when she performed a memorable rendition of her song "Once" with 15-time GRAMMY winner Alicia Keys.

In addition to her soaring solo career, Morris, a former GRAMMY Camp participant, is also a member of The Highwomen. Veltz's nomination is her second in a row in the category, following her nod for her handiwork on Dan + Shay's "Speechless" last year.

Read More: Maren Morris Cooks Up New Flavors On Girl

"Crowded Table" (Performed by The Highwomen)

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Country supergroups are no new phenomenon, but few have packed the powerhouse punch of The Highwomen. Their self-titled debut album scorched through the country scene upon its release last year, uniting and empowering women everywhere with bold songwriting, smashing performances, thoughtful arrangements and no shortage of powerful messages. "Crowded Table," co-written by Highwomen members Natalie Hemby and Brandi Carlile with fellow GRAMMY-winner Lori Mckenna, champions inclusivity and sets the scene for a full life. Backstage at Newport Folk Festival in 2019, Hemby told GRAMMY.com the story of the heartwarming song's making.

"[McKenna and I] sat down at a piano and we wrote it literally in 30 minutes and then I took it to Brandi and I was like, 'Is this something that works?' And she changed it. Just like a few lines on it and it was just perfect," Hemby said. "We just wanted to write a song about women getting pitted against each other. We wanted to write a song about like, 'Hey, I've got you.' It's not just women, actually. I think men, too. Like, I want a big house that has lots of friends and family."

Read: Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby & Amanda Shires Of The Highwomen Are "Redesigning Women" | Newport Folk 2019

"More Hearts Than Mine" (Performed by Ingrid Andress)

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First-time GRAMMY nominee Ingrid Andress touched more hearts than most this year with her charming and powerful country ballad, "More Hearts Than Mine," off her 2020 arrival album, Lady Like. In her moving debut single, penned by Andress, Sam Ellis and Derrick Southerland, the Colorado-born, Nashville-bred country newcomer delivers a warm yet serious warning to a new lover that the honor of meeting her family marks a point of no return for the relationship.

The song's cautionary chorus croons, "So if I bring you home to mama, I guess I'd better warn ya/She falls in love a little faster than I do/And my dad will check your tires, pour you whiskey over ice and/Buy you dinner but pretend that he don't like you/Oh if we break up, I'll be fine/But you'll be breaking more hearts than mine." Clearly, the stakes are mile-high for this new love.

Andress' homecoming hit earned the distinction as the only debut from a solo female artist to enter the Country Airplay Top 20 chart in 2019. After stints on the road with the likes of Dan + Shay, Thomas Rhett and Tim McGraw, she dropped Lady Like this past March. The dazzling debut proves that after working and writing with marquee names in pop and R&B, including Bebe Rexha, Charli XCX and Alicia Keys, Andress is ready to lead country's new class of hit songwriters.

"Some People Do"(Performed by Old Dominion)

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A powerful anthem for personal transformation, Old Dominion's "Some People Do" is a burning flame for faith, love and second chances. Co-written by the group's frontman Matthew Ramsey, country superstar Thomas Rhett, accomplished songwriter and solo artist Shane McAnally and Nashville-based songwriter/producer Jesse Frasure, the track, featured on OD's self-titled third album, is driven by a stripped-down piano/vocal arrangement, which offers a stark showcase of the song's graceful melody and redemptive lyrics.

"It's a breaking-point kind of song. I think inherently we're all good people and want to be good people, but no matter who you are, sometimes you hurt the ones you love," Ramsey said of the track on Instagram. "It's about that desire to be the best person you can be for those people."

The nomination marks Ramsey's first; Rhett became a first-time nominee for Best Country Song four years ago with his hit, "Die A Happy Man." Also, this nomination makes six for McAnally for Best Country Song; his most recent win in the category was for Kacey Musgraves' "Space Cowboy" just two years ago.

2021 GRAMMYs: Complete Nominees List

Chappell Roan performs during 2024 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on June 16, 2024 in Manchester, Tennessee.
Chappell Roan at Bonnaroo 2024

Photo: Erika Goldring

list

5 Artists Who Graduated From GRAMMY Camp: Chappell Roan, Maren Morris, Blu DeTiger & More

As GRAMMY Camp 2024 winds down, check out this list of leading figures in the music community who count themselves as alumni.

GRAMMYs/Jul 19, 2024 - 08:26 pm

GRAMMY Camp is almost a wrap — but the musical memories will last a lifetime. On Saturday, July 19, the weeklong summit for students interested in music careers will wrap after six enlightening days. 

Held at the Village Recording Studios in Los Angeles, GRAMMY Camp's faculty of music professionals — along with guest professionals — have offered precious insight to give campers the best chance at succeeding in their career of choice. 

The available Camp tracks include Audio Engineering, Electronic Music Production, Songwriting, Music & Media, Music Business, and much more. Many alumni of this enriching crash course have risen to prestigious positions across the musical landscape. 

As the Recording Academy signs off on yet another elevating GRAMMY Camp, check out this list of five major artists who cut their teeth at the almost 20-year institution.

Maren Morris 

The future country wunderkind attended GRAMMY Camp for its very first iteration, back in 2005. There, the then 15-year-old met undisputed leaders in the music community, like Jimmy Jam and Paul Williams — which set the course for her incredible career to come.

In the years since, Morris has won a GRAMMY, received 17 GRAMMY nominations, and topped the Billboard country charts. She also joined the country supergroup the Highwomen with fellow juggernauts Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires. 

At this year's GRAMMY Camp, Morris returned as a guest artist. What's her advice to budding artists? "Just stick to being authentic," she told RecordingAcademy.com, "and people see that, no matter what time they arrive to the party for you."

Along the way, "Find people that listen to you," Morris added, "but also push you and your creativity to new areas of yourself."

Read more: Maren Morris On 20 Years Of GRAMMY Camp & Her Advice To The Next Generation Of Music Industry Professionals 

Jahaan Sweet

In 2009 — four years after Morris' GRAMMY camp tutelage — the formidable Jacksonville, Florida, producer, songwriter and pianist Jahaan Sweet attended GRAMMY Camp.

At the outset, he was thrilled to come to L.A. for the first time and network with like-minded folks in music. "I knew that my skill set wasn't that great," he told GRAMMY.com a decade later, "but it was just so good to be around people who were all there to learn and create together.

"I feel like that's the biggest takeback I have of GRAMMY Camp," he continued. "It was amazing to have all those people together under one roof, all in the same vicinity, all doing creative things." Working with GRAMMY Camp Faculty Director Jason Goldman was one clear highlight for him: "He's a great guy, and he was such a good, carefree band director."

By now, Sweet has worked with Kehlani, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Eminem, the Carters, Ty Dolla $ign, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, and many more; he's been nominated for three GRAMMYs and won one. And as a launchpad, GRAMMY Camp helped make all these accomplishments possible. 

Watch now: Producer Jahaan Sweet Talks Making Records With Boi-1da, Drake & More | Behind The Board 

Chappell Roan 

In 2024, Chappell Roan is very, very famous — as she admits, a little more famous than she would like right now. 

Regardless, the self-christened "Midwest Princess" — whose moniker was ensconced in the title of her 2024 breakout album — has wholly earned her plaudits, including opening for Olivia Rodrigo on her GUTS tour. And she can trace a line directly back to a decade ago, in 2014, when she attended GRAMMY Camp. 

"I didn't do my senior year. I didn't go to prom. I didn't go to graduation," Roan explained to Rolling Stone in 2022, about her early musical life. "I missed a lot of what would have been the end of my childhood to do this job," she says.

For those like Roan, who are dead serious about making the music thing work, GRAMMY Camp is an ideal fount of experience and inspiration.

Read more: Chappell Roan's Big Year: The Midwest Princess Examines How She Became A Pop "Feminomenon" 

Jensen McCrae 

Another shout out to GRAMMY Camp's Class of 2014: that's the year that indie-folk-pop favorite Jensen McCrae put in her time, at the tender age of 16.

"I started playing and writing music as a little kid, and I've known I've wanted to be creative for my whole life," McCrae told VoyageLA, adding that she began taking songwriting and performing seriously in high school.

"[Being a] half-white, half-Black girl who spent her whole life in academically cutthroat private schools while trying to pursue a career in the arts gives me a unique perspective on the world," she explained. Which made McCrae an live antenna at GRAMMY Camp, picking up signals left and right.

The 10-day experience cemented the Angeleno's desire to attend college at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music — where she got a full ride, and was off to the races. These days, she's fresh off an opening slot for Noah Kahan on the We're All Be Here Forever Tour.

Blu DeTiger 

"I remember thinking 'So many girls play guitar and sing,'" the TikTok-flourishing bass phenom Blu DeTiger told Spin in 2022. "I was like, 'I want to be different. I want to do something unique.' And I've never looked back." 

Part of GRAMMY Camp's message is: dare to be different, to be you. Which made DeTiger an ideal student, when she enrolled in 2015; today, she's leading the charge for a generation of young, innovative bassists of all backgrounds.

Read more: Love Thundercat? Check Out These 5 Contemporary Bassists Keeping The Flame 

Along with Morris and New Jerseyan singer/songwriter Jeremy Zucker, DeTiger returned in 2024 as a guest artist — bringing the musical education process full circle, as she continues to redefine how the bass is presented in the social media era of music.

The 20th annual GRAMMY Camp celebration is running now and concludes with the GRAMMY Camp Finale Student Showcase on Saturday, July 20, at the Ray Charles Terrace at the GRAMMY Museum.

Learn more about GRAMMY Camp here — and we'll see you next year in Los Angeles!

Explore GRAMMY Camp And The GRAMMY Museum

HARDY Press Photo 2024
HARDY

Photo: Robby Klein

interview

HARDY On New Album 'Quit!!' & How "Trying To Push My Own Boundaries" Has Paid Off

On his third album, the self-described "black sheep" of country music proves he's here to stay.

GRAMMYs/Jul 11, 2024 - 04:04 pm

Haters take note: nothing fires up a country boy like HARDY more than a naysayer. And this redneck has a long memory.

Despite the coveted catalog of country music hits to his credit — tunes he wrote for artists like Florida Georgia Line, Blake Shelton and Morgan Wallen, plus his own work as a solo artist — HARDY's third album begins with a three-minute response to a heckler who once left a nasty note in his jar in place of a tip.

That moment may have occurred a decade ago, but it's key to HARDY's defiant persona. In fact, the album's title is exactly what that note read — Quit!! — and its cover art is the actual napkin the message was written on, which the singer/songwriter has held on to all these years.

HARDY laughs off the memory at first, but as the title track plays on, his olive branch soon turns to coal. "I'm not the GOAT, I'm the black sheep hell-bent to find closure," he barks as the song escalates. "I can't let go — a note somebody wrote like ten years ago put a chip on my shoulder. If you wanted me to quit, you should've saved it, bro."

The takeaway here? HARDY won't quit. Or, to quote another Quit!! banger, "I DON'T MISS," when a hit is in the crosshairs, he "don't hit nothing but the bull's eye."

No doubt, he has the numbers to back it up. HARDY linked up with Florida Georgia Line after moving to Nashville in the 2010s, and landed his first country No. 1 as a songwriter in 2018 thanks to the duo and Wallen, with the smash "Up Down." As he began building a solo career — releasing a pair of EPs in 2018 (This Ole Boy) and 2019 (Where to Find Me) — he continued delivering chart-topping hits for FGL, Shelton, LOCASH, Wallen, Dierks Bentley, and more. As Quit!! arrives, HARDY boasts 15 No. 1 hits: 11 as a songwriter, and four as an artist.

Along the way, HARDY also established his Hixtape series, a countrified version of a hip-hop mixtape now three volumes deep, bringing together friends and superstars like Keith Urban, Trace Adkins, Thomas Rhett and a host of other stars to collaborate. Not only did Hixtape Vol. 1 land HARDY his first No. 1 as an artist in his own right — the Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson team-up "ONE BEER" — but it put HARDY's shapeshifting musicality front and center.

"A lot of people ask, 'When did you decide to jump into the rock and roll thing?' HARDY, who uses his last name as his stage name, says. "I feel like I've always dipped my toes in it here and there, and a lot of my songs have been really close to it but not quite there. Hixtape, especially Vol. 1, I was definitely foreshadowing my sound, and I really didn't even know it at the time."

By now, modern country musicians regularly reflect influences from beyond Nashville's confines. But HARDY has played a big role in rock's country crossover, as he gradually showed more of his Mississippi-bred, guitar-riffing roots on his 2020 debut album, A ROCK. He fully embraced them on the 2023 double album, the mockingbird & THE CROW; while the first half has more country-oriented tunes like the Lainey Wilson-featuring murder ballad "wait in the truck," he lets loose on THE CROW.

"THE CROW will always be that cornerstone moment that defined who I am," he asserts. "It gave me the courage to do this Quit!! record."

HARDY has not only been an architect of this genre blending, but also its chief proponent — so much that in 2023, the L.A. Times crowned him "Nashville's nu-metal king." On Quit!!, he cashes in that currency with the gargantuan guitar riffs and bombastic beats popularized by acts like Limp Bizkit, and leans deeper into the rhythms and playful lyricism of hip-hop, a skill he recently flexed at the request of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre on a hicked-up rendition of Snoop Dogg's G-funk classic "Gin and Juice."

Ironically, the further HARDY gets from straightforward country music, the closer he gets to who he really is as an artist. Below, the chart-topping star details the backstory of Quit!!, his conflicted relationship with the country-music formula, and how he'll continue pushing boundaries within the genre and beyond.  

You grew up in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. What role did music play in your upbringing?

My dad introduced me to rock and roll in general, but it was his era of rock and roll. Whatever you define as classic rock and everything under that umbrella. But music was a big deal in Philadelphia and it still is. There were tons of cover bands, and a lot of [my] buddies were into music. So that had a big influence on me. 

I, thankfully, was in that last era of kids that the only time they got to hear a song was on MTV or on the radio. And I remember hearing "In the End" [by] Linkin Park, and then getting Hybrid Theory on CD. I remember the first time I saw [Limp Bizkit's] "Nookie" video on MTV. I was heavily influenced by all that stuff. I'm very thankful that I grew up in the era before the internet was really big.

Were you into country music back then?

Surprisingly, not at all. Not until Eric Church, Brad Paisley, a couple of people started singing about stuff that really piqued my interest. But no, I didn't really listen to much country. 

I think the only country that I listened to, if you even call it that, was Charlie Daniels. He played at the Neshoba County Fair. I got to see him twice. But even he was more of, like, you'd almost call it more Southern rock. For some reason, country music at the time didn't do it for me. It took me a long time to get into it.

You recently re-envisioned "Gin and Juice." Were Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre big artists for you when you were younger?

Yeah, especially Snoop. Snoop was in his later years when he started doing more pop stuff. I was a little too young for Doggystyle. I was 4 years old when Doggystyle came out, so my folks weren't letting me listen to that. But I will say, [Dr. Dre's 1992 album] The Chronic and especially [1999's] Chronic II, those records were huge. And anything that Dre touched after that, like all the beats he produced for 50 Cent, and obviously I'm a huge Eminem fan. I mean, all the way up to Kendrick [Lamar]'s early stuff.

I don't know how much they influenced me musically, but I definitely listened to both of them at the time.

You've got so many projects and co-writes and stuff going on, always. Is it easy to pinpoint where your journey to Quit!! began?

I can tell you for a stone-cold fact that "BOOTS" [from A ROCK] is responsible for the album Quit!! That was the first song that I ever wrote that had a breakdown in it. And when I played that live before it came out, people didn't know it, so it was a little different then. But once the song came out, and we started playing it live, it was bigger than "ONE BEER." It was bigger than "REDNECKER." It was the biggest song in our set, and to this day, it's still one of the biggest songs in the set. 

But because I love the rock and roll sound so much, that's the song that I was like, Okay, this is working, because these people are losing their s— when we go into this song. So, then, that inspired me to write "SOLD OUT," and once "SOLD OUT" came out, and we started playing that song, that song was even bigger than "BOOTS," and it was heavier than "BOOTS." After "SOLD OUT," it was "JACK," and it's just a snowball of writing heavier songs and having the courage to keep going. "BOOTS" crawled so that Quit!! could run, you know? That was definitely the song that started it all.

The new album builds on the mockingbird & THE CROW and the direction you were heading.

Yeah, I think it builds on it maybe in the sense that there's a lot more screams, and maybe more breakdowns, and it's a little heavier than the mockingbird & THE CROW at times. But it is also very different. There's a lot more, like, pop-punk stuff and, I don't even know what you would call it, post-hardcore-sounding s—. 

But all of the rock and roll stuff stands on the shoulders of THE CROW. It will always be that cornerstone moment that defined who I am. I mean, it definitely teed me up. It gave me the courage to do this Quit!! record.

I like that word, courage. It's not a word I expected to hear out of you based on your persona, but that's a very interesting way to phrase it.

No, I mean, the metal and country cultures are very, very, very different. There's never fear, but there's definitely, what's the right way to say that? You know, there's like when we throw like the goat horns and s— on the screen. Country has a big Christian background, and metal is like the exact opposite of that, and those can clash a lot, but there's definitely a little bit of some reserve — it seems to not get too much push back — mixing the two. My mom's not crazy about it, but what can you do?

And you have moments like "wait in the truck," where you're not writing for the party. Do you see yourself pursuing those avenues more often? Does the world want to hear HARDY reflect?

You mean like more of the deeper country stuff?

Correct, yeah.

I hope. That's the s— I love. I feel like they're so few and far between. Like, "wait in the truck," we just got so lucky. I feel like "ONE BEER" was kind of the same. Like, it's gotta be the right day, and the right time, and the right people in the room to really tell a story. It's tough. But I would love to continue to have those cool story songs. 

But what I will say is there's a lot of gray area between the black-and-white of HARDY country and HARDY rock and roll. I'm still going to put out country songs. The gray area is that to me and to a lot of people, they're all just HARDY songs. But I have so many songs that I have written that I wanna put out that are so, maybe if they're not storylines, they're even deeper down the rabbit hole of thought-provoking stuff, like "A ROCK," or maybe even "wait in the truck," or even a song I have called "happy," on the last record — just songs that are very, very thought-provoking. 

Just trying to push my own boundaries of country music, and not everything is right down the gut, you know, "let's go to radio with it." But just really trying to experiment with what I wanna say with country music. So, yes, there's definitely more of that coming.

You're playing your first headlining stadium gig in September. How has performing in those venues, and anticipating that, informed how you write? Are you writing for the stage?

Yeah, 100 percent. I would say, 75 percent of the time you're writing for the stage — even if it's not for myself, if I'm writing for somebody else — I'm definitely writing for the stage. I cannot tell you how many times I've sat in the room and been like, This s— is going to pop off live! And then try to put the other writers in that headspace.

Like on [Quit!! track] "JIM BOB," when we did the pow-pow-pow! thing, I'm like, just think about how cool it's gonna be live, and living in that headspace, because that's where it all comes to life. That's the end product.

Writing for the stage is something that a lot of people do. And that's why songwriters love going out on the road, is because they go out and they write songs with these artists, but they love watching the show because they get to see what really translates live, and then take that back to the writing room and try to recreate that.

Did that kind of experience have anything to do with you making the move to a marquee artist? Because not all songwriters can make that jump. Or was that always the plan?

Yeah, I mean, it was always that kind of thing. I was fortunate that I got to see Morgan [Wallen] perform "Up Down," and FGL perform a couple of their songs before I made the jump into an artist. I kind of already scratched that itch a little bit. 

The Nashville writing scene can seem like a 9-to-5 kind of boring thing. But it doesn't sound that way from the way you describe it.

It's a little bit of both. The funny thing about that is like, if you walk into a publishing company, 10:30, 11 o'clock, whenever people start getting there, it's a bunch of dudes or girls standing around drinking coffee, hanging out. It's like a break room, and then everybody's like, "All right, well, y'all get a good one." And then everybody goes into their own rooms. That part of it is very 9 to 5. 

But there is definitely — especially with our group of people, when you get on something that is so special, it's beyond, like, "We're writing a hit today." There's just something that transcends that. I don't know how to describe it, man. That's when it's really, really, really, really great. The Nashville process, that's what it's all about — having those moments in the room where you're like, "This is special," and, like, "We're witnessing something special that is going to affect people on a global or on a nationwide scale." 

I remember when we wrote "wait In the truck" and how we were all just gassing each other up because we were like, "Dude, this song is gonna help a lot of people." And that's when the 9 to 5 goes away. We're being creative together, and it's a special thing. 

There's been so many moments like that, where you're just so thankful to be a part of a great song, and how hyped everybody is. It's a feeling that's really, really hard to beat. 

More Of The Latest Country News & Music

Tom Petty
Tom Petty performing with the Heartbreakers in 2008

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

feature

How 'Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration' Makes Tom Petty A Posthumous Crossover Sensation

On 'Petty Country,' Nashville luminaries from Willie Nelson to Dolly Parton and Luke Combs make Tom Petty’s simple, profound, and earthy songs their own — to tremendous results.

GRAMMYs/Jun 27, 2024 - 03:42 pm

If Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers landed in 2024, how would we define them? For fans of the beloved heartland rockers and their very missed leader, it's a compelling question.

"It's not active rock. It's not mainstream rock. It's not country. It would really fall in that Americana vein," says Scott Borchetta, the founder of Big Machine Label Group. "When you think about what his lyrics were and are about, it's really about the American condition."

To Borchetta, these extended to everything in Petty's universe — his principled public statements, his man-of-the-people crusades against the music industry. "He was an American rebel with a cause," Borchetta says. And when you fuse that attitude with big melodies, bigger choruses, and a grounded, earthy perspective — well, there's a lot for country fans to love.

That's what Coran Capshaw of Red Light Management bet on when he posited the idea of Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration of Tom Petty, a tribute album released June 21. Featuring leading lights like Dolly Parton ("Southern Accents"), Willie and Lukas Nelson ("Angel Dream (No. 2)," Luke Combs ("Runnin' Down a Dream"), Dierks Bentley ("American Girl,") Wynonna and Lainey Wilson ("Refugee"), and other country luminaries covering Tom Petty classics, Petty Country is a seamless union of musical worlds.

Which makes perfect sense: on a core level, Petty, and his band of brothers, were absolutely steeped in country — after all, they grew up in the South — Gainesville, Florida.

"Tom loved all country music. He went pretty deep into the Carter Family, and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" and the folk, Americana heart of it," says Petty's daughter, Adria, who helps run his estate. "Hank Williams, and even Ernest Tubb and Patsy Cline… as a songwriter, I think a lot of that real original music influenced him enormously." (The Flying Burrito Brothers, and the Byrds' Gram Parsons-hijacked country phase, were also foundational.)

A key architect of Petty Country was the man's longtime producer, George Drakoulias. "He's worked with Dad for a hundred years since [1994's] Wildflowers, and he has super exquisite taste," Adria says.

In reaching out to prospective contributors, he and fellow music supervisor Randall Poster started at the top: none other than Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. "Having Willie and Dolly made people stand up and pay attention," Dreakoulias told Rolling Stone, and the Nashville floodgates were opened: Thomas Rhett ("Wildflowers"), Brothers Osborne ("I Won't Back Down"), Lady A ("Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"), and so many others.

Each artist gave Petty's work a distinctive, personal spin. Luke Combs jets down the highway of "Runnin' Down the Dream" like he was born to ride. Along with Yo-Yo Ma and founding Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, Rhiannon Giddens scoops out the electronics and plumbs the droning, haunting essence of "Don't Come Around Here No More."


And where a lesser tribute album would have lacquered over the songs with homogenous Nashville production,
Petty Country is the opposite.

"I'm not a fan of having a singular producer on records like this. I want each one of them to be their own little crown jewel," Borchetta says. "That's going to give us a better opportunity for them to make the record in their own image."

This could mean a take that hews to the original, or casts an entirely new light on it. "Dierks called up and said, 'Hey, do you think we would be all right doing a little bit more of a bluegrass feel to it?' I was like, 'Absolutely. If you hear it, go get it.'"

"It had the diversity that the Petty women like on the records," Adria says, elaborating that they wanted women and people of color on the roster. "We like to see those tributes to Tom reflect his values; he was always very pro-woman, which is why he has such outspoken women [laughs] in his wake."

Two of Petty Country's unquestionable highlights are by women. Margo Price chose "Ways to Be Wicked," a cut so deep that even the hardcore Petty faithful might not know it; the Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) outtake was buried on disc six of the 1995 boxed set Playback.

"Man, it's just one of those songs that gets in your veins," Price says. "He really knew how to twist the knife — that chorus, 'There's so many ways to be wicked, but you don't know one little thing about love.'" Founding Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell features on the dark, driving banger.

And all interviewed for this article are agog over Dolly Parton's commanding take on "Southern Accents" — the title track of the band's lumpy, complicated, vulnerable 1985 album of the same name. "It's just revelatory… it brings me to my knees," Adria says. "It's just a phenomenal version I know my dad would've absolutely loved."

"It's one of Dolly's best vocals ever, and it's hair-raising," Borchetta says. "You could tell she really felt that track, and what the song was about."

Adria is filled with profuse gratitude for the artists preserving and carrying her dad's legacy. 

"I'm really touched that these musicians showed up for my dad," she says. "A lot of people don't want to show up for anything that's not making money for them, or in service to their career, and we really appreciate it… I owe great debt to all of these artists and their managers for making the time to think about our old man like that."

Indeed, in Nashville and beyond, we've all been thinking about her old man, especially since his untimely passing in 2017. We'll never forget him — and will strum and sing these simple, heartfelt, and profound songs for years to come.

Let Your Heart Be Your Guide: Adria Petty, Mike Campbell & More On The Enduring Significance Of Tom Petty's Wildflowers

Johnny Cash performing in 1997
Johnny Cash performing in 1997

Photo: Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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'Songwriter' Highlights Johnny Cash's Mighty Pen: Inside This Seldom-Heralded Aspect Of The Man In Black

A new archival release drawn from 1993 sessions, 'Songwriter' illuminates Cash's skillful way with a lyric and melody — apart from simply being a great interpreter.

GRAMMYs/Jun 26, 2024 - 04:03 pm

When you think of Johnny Cash, what comes to mind? Perhaps it's the penitentiary serenader. The Rubin-retrieved elder statesman. The Man in Black who walked the line and fell into a burning ring of fire. Maybe even Homer's chili-pepper-hallucinated coyote on "The Simpsons." But what about Cash, the songwriter?

Certain hits of his — like that aforementioned mariachi-powered classic — were by outside writers. And an inarguable component of Cash's genius is how he could take a song by Merle Travis ("Dark as a Dungeon"), Bob Dylan ("It Ain't Me Babe") or Nine Inch Nails ("Hurt") and utterly inhabit it.

But simply a master interpreter he wasn't. From "Cry! Cry! Cry!" to "I Walked the Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues," Cash had a hand, in part or in whole, in writing some of his most monumental tracks. So why didn't this descriptor ever quite stick?

"Bob Dylan said he is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. He didn't say 'songwriters'; he said 'poet laureate,'" John Carter Cash — the only child of Johnny and June Carter Cash — tells GRAMMY.com. "So, I think his contemporaries knew it, but not as many as the fans, because I think his image overshadows all that somehow."

With this in mind, John Carter helped bring a posthumous Cash project to life — one that celebrates his sometimes undersung facility in this department.

Welcome to Songwriter: An 11-track collection of previously unheard Cash originals from across the decades, like "Have You Ever Been to Little Rock," "I Love You Tonite," and "Like a Soldier." The album was recorded in 1993 at LSI Studios in Nashville, as songwriting demos.

John Carter always knew about the existence of these sessions — after all, he played guitar on them.

"Dad didn't really have the intention of releasing these as a body of work at that time, because he was sort of changing his mentality about his records," he explains. "I think he wanted to look at his old albums that had been successful — and this was right before he did the American Recordings stuff."

Read more: 10 Ways Johnny Cash Revived His Career With American Recordings

Despite existing in this liminal zone, the songs Cash tracked are superb. Opener "Hello Out There," which John Carter believes to be about the Voyager launches, is essentially Cash's "Space Oddity" — a cosmic statement from a typically boots-on-the-ground artist.

The following track, "Spotlight," finds the Man in Black singing to, well, the spotlight: "Don't let it show/ That my heart went with her when I let her go/ Don't let anybody see deep within the soul of me/ Or they will see that something there is not quite right." The highlights just roll on, from the entrancing psychedelia of "Drive On" to the spare, poignant "She Sang Sweet Baby James."

Wisely, John Carter and co-producer David "Fergie" Ferguson, who'd worked with Cash since the 1980s, stripped away some dated production, and centered Cash’s hypnotic performances. They also brought in musicians who'd worked with Cash: guitarist Marty Stuart, now-departed bassist Dave Roe and drummer Pete Abbott.

In the original session, Waylon Jennings sang on "I Love You Tonite" and "Like a Soldier"; in the 2020s, Vince Gill added vocals to "Poor Valley Girl," and the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach added some simmering, bluesy guitar to "Spotlight."

When Ferguson heard the material for the first time, he was floored — by his voice, for one thing. "And what a good job they did recording it," he tells GRAMMY.com. "It could have just as easily been screwed up — been distorted, or had a big hum in it. Nowadays, you can take care of a lot of that, but a lot of it can't."

Then, there are the songs; Ferguson calls "Spotlight" "poetic in a lot of ways," and singles out "She Sang Sweet Baby James" as "kind of folky Johnny, storytelling Johnny. That was one of the first I heard where I said, Man, that's so good. I've never heard that. I was really surprised."

He's excited for the fan reaction to "Hello Out There." "When he does those echoes — 'Calling, calling, calling,' those are not digital echoes," he stresses of that recurrent hook. "He wanted them there. That ain't something we chose to do, but I really like those."

Ferguson also hails its lyrical timeliness: "It's kind of him singing about the world going to s—. He had a naturalist part of him. He loved Mother Earth."

John Carter is thrilled about the dynamism, and variety, of the material on Songwriter. "There are silly, fun songs. Ther are songs of faith, there are songs of his love — specifically for my mother," he says. "There's songs of loss and sadness. There's songs of mystery and eternal yearning that happen to also be gospel songs.

"It's a bright time in my memory of my father, even though he did have his ups and downs through his time period," John Carter concludes. "I hear his personality when I look through these songs. I hear his depth that he was a deep thinker and that he believed what he believed, and that's what it was. I hear the mystery that he perceived."

But one mystery should be cleared up right now: Johnny Cash was a great songwriter, on top of everything else he's famous for — and here are 11 colorful, memorable points of proof.

How Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration Makes Tom Petty A Posthumous Crossover Sensation