Unless you live in Nashville, or called yourself a fan of progressive bluegrass group The SteelDrivers, you probably didn’t know who Chris Stapleton was until the minute he and Justin Timberlake set the CMA Awards stage on fire, swapping licks and lyrics for eight primetime minutes with a stunning “Tennessee Whiskey/Drink You Away” mash-up. The incandescent performance dripped with soul, radiating so much heat social media had a near meltdown.
After sweeping the 2015 CMAs, people are certainly wondering if lightning will strike again at the Grammys
In a recent interview with Nashville Scene, Stapleton confessed he didn’t think the performance would have been so impactful. When asked what was going through his mind while onstage, the singer said, “About halfway in, like, ‘Cool, people aren’t going to throw anything at us. That’s good.’ And [the crowd] all really seemed to enjoy it, and we got offstage and all the musicians — my band and [Justin’s] band — all felt like we did a good job. We felt like we did it as well as we could have done it.”
Stapleton, who moved to Nashville in 2001, has been quietly writing chart-topping hits for artists such as Darius Rucker, Kenny Chesney and George Strait, as well as others for Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley and someone by the name of Adele — not too bad for the son of a Kentucky coal miner.
When Stapleton and wife Morgane sang a mostly a capella version of “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore,” you could damn well nearly hear the goosebumps rising on everyone’s arms
Last year, during the annual Country Radio Seminar, I sat in the church-like Ryman Auditorium as Universal Music Group rolled out most of their country roster to play acoustic versions of new or upcoming singles.
The three-or-so hour event had its fair share of restless moments — what industry event doesn’t? — but when Stapleton and wife Morgane began singing a mostly a capella version of “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore,” you could damn well nearly hear the goosebumps rising on everyone’s arms in the room. And when the song was over, the couple was met with thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
Stapleton’s rough-and-tumble voice, and the astounding, soulful sound it generates, is quite unlike what is “in” at country radio at the moment; whereas radio embraces countrified hip-hop beats, electronic loops and lyrical re-treads, Stapleton reveres the visceral. Which sums up the emotional, blood and guts listen that is Traveller.
After sweeping the 2015 CMAs for New Artist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year and, perhaps most impressively, Album of the Year, people are certainly wondering if lightning will strike again at the Grammys, where Stapleton is up for Best Country Album, Best Country Solo Performance (for “Traveller”), Best Country Song (also for “Traveller”) and, most impressively, the all-genre Album of the Year.
In getting the Album of the Year nod, the singer said, “There are some heavy-hitters in that category, we all know that, and I don’t think we’re expecting to take [anything home], but it’s certainly nice to be mentioned alongside some of that music, and I think it’s good for country music. We don’t always get validated that way.”