Up until the summer 2015, most country music fans had never heard of Chris Stapleton before. Yet, millions of listeners were familiar with his music as the songwriter whipped out hits for artists such as: Darius Rucker, Kenney Chesney and George Strait. But Stapleton knew it was only a matter of time for him to step out of the dark and make his name known to all. The songwriter became an overnight sensation at the release of his debut album, Traveller. But what most listeners hadn’t realized is that the title itself embodies Stapleton’s life. Similar to a traveler, Stapleton’s road had been long and hard with a journey that lasted nearly a decade.
Stapleton’s family life in Kentucky saw a fair amount of dirt and rubble in his youth. Coming from a family of coal miners, Stapleton found early love and dedication through sports. The young man would turn his dedication to school and attend Vanderbilt University. But after a dismal year, Stapleton knew engineering wasn’t his calling and would drop-out soon after. Doubt and frustration built inside Stapleton as he couldn’t decide what he should pursue. But after learning how others can make songwriting a profession, he chose to take a gamble. As a fan of country music, Stapleton thought he could easily write his own songs. In an interview with CBS, he stated, “I always thought that George Strait was singing a song, he made up, and that was the end of it. But the instant I found out that could be a job, I thought ‘That’s the job for me.’”
The aspiring songwriter would permanently move to Nashville in 2001 with material he analyzed continually. Sea Gayle Music Publishing were the first to recognize Stapleton’s natural talents for writing music. He had inked his first deal with the group and continued a steady life as a small-time songwriter for the next several years. Stapleton grew a reputation amongst other artists who chose him to write songs for their upcoming albums. Josh Turner, Brad Paisley and Tim McGraw landed hit songs through Stapleton. All the while he was trying to make a name for himself as a performer. It wasn’t until 2008, when he finally started to gain recognition on his own as a member of the band Steeldrivers. The bluegrass group released two hit records before he ultimately decided to pursue a solo career in 2013. Mercury Nashville signed Stapleton following his decision and would release a single that same year. Unluckily for the artist, it generated little to no success which scrapped Stapleton’s album before it was even released. But Stapleton returned to his writer’s room, determined to show why other stars call on him to write songs. What followed was one of the most historic moments in the history of Music City.
Stapleton crewed together a set list of musicians that he had grown close with over the last decade. Accompanied by his wife, Stapleton recorded an album that featured a pinnacle of songs that transposed from personal stories on the road. Critics remarked Traveller as a strong debut for the artist who’s been spent many years behind the scenes. The single “Nobody to Blame” gained tremendous airplay on country radio and would become Stapleton’s first hit. Nominations at the CMAs poured in as the singer was invited to perform during the ceremony. But no one expected him to take home the awards for Best Male Vocalist, Album of the Year and New Artist of the Year. A feat that no other artist had accomplished before him or since.
The singer was now a hot commodity as his album reached number one status following the awards show. But instead of taking the time to settle in the moment, he returned to his studio to record his next album. From A Room was divided into two albums with the first volume taking home Stapleton’s first ever Grammy award. Its lead single “Broken Halos” transcended country radio and touched on the concepts of folk rock mixed with gospel. Billboard and Spotify defined the song as it “helps build a strong argument that (Stapleton) is one of the most refreshing and consistent country artists to emerge in recent memory.”
Stapleton would remain active as a songwriter for other artists now including Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake. The artist returned in 2020 with yet another stunning album that features the talents Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench. Both notable for their time as members of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Starting Over encapsulates Stapleton’s continued prowess as a writer and singer. Its self-titled single chains a hot streak that doesn’t appear to fizzle anytime soon as Billboard noted Stapleton’s recent increase in streams. But whether he’s writing for himself or others, Stapleton knows he can look back and not regret a thing. As he’s stated, “At the end of the day, I just have to do what I do and let it be what it’s gonna be.”
Written by Trenton Luber