Wait… Zac Brown Band Is on the Mainstream Rock Songs Chart?

Danny Clinch
Zac Brown Band photographed in 2015.

The country group rocks out & charts at a new format thanks to help from Chris Cornell & Dave Grohl.

Zac Brown Band makes news on a pair of Billboard charts this week, one expected and one that marks a sharper shift in direction for the core country group.

The band surges into the Country Airplay top 10, as "Homegrown" hikes 11-9. The melodic, pop/country track is the group's 14th top 10. (Of its first 13, 10 have hit No. 1, starting with its debut entry, "Chicken Fried," in 2008.) "Homegrown" introduces Zac Brown Band's Jekyll + Hyde, due April 28.

The band's other chart action is much less typical: the dark, dense "Heavy Is the Head," featuring Chris Cornell, and also from the new set, debuts at No. 37 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Songs airplay chart, where it's the group's first appearance. (The band played both new songs on NBC's Saturday Night Live March 7.)

How different are Zac Brown Band's two airplay chart neighborhoods? On Country Airplay, "Homegrown" ranks between songs by Lee Brice and Sam Hunt. On Mainstream Rock Songs, "Heavy" abuts tracks by Black Veil Brides and Beartooth.

While Zac Brown Band is a country radio staple, rock programmers say that playing "Heavy," aided by Cornell's Soundgarden and Audioslave-fueled unquestioned rock cred (and vocals), shouldn't come as much of a surprise, for multiple reasons.

"We've heard about Zac's epic concerts, with a tailgating scene befitting Parrothead Nation," says Bill Weston, program director of WWMR Philadelphia, which played "Heavy" 10 times in the week ending March 8, according to Nielsen Music. (Republic Records is promoting the track to rock radio.) He notes that the group actually isn't new to rock, even if it's now charting its first entry at the format. "We saw in Dave Grohl's Sonic Highways [his 2014 HBO documentary, and Foo Fighters' subsequent album] that [Brown] is the genuine article flying in the face of conformity in the Nashville music scene.

"Now, we get a gritty rock track with Cornell. It begs not the question, 'Why now?,' but, 'Why not now?' "

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Shauna Moran, PD of KIOZ San Diego, which spun "Heavy" 12 times last week, echoes Grohl's influence as helping familiarize rock audiences with Brown. Along with the band's appearance in the film Sonic Highways, it contributed the track "Congregation" to the album. Zac Brown Band also hit No. 5 on Top Country Albums in 2013 with the rock-tinged EP The Grohl Sessions: Vol. 1, produced by the Foo Fighters frontman. ("While we've got a great foothold in country music, that doesn't encompass everything we do," Brown said at the time, revealing a mindset that clearly continues.)

"This guy personifies rock. He's got a no-BS attitude and is an amazing musician," Moran says.

"I'm excited that we're playing him. I hope he continues to produce great product for the rock format."

Adds Vinny Usuriello, PD of SiriusXM's hard rock channel Octane, which gave "Heavy" 12 plays last week, "Rock and country share audience. Two of my favorite genres are colliding.

"In looking for new music, I look for what stands out, and this, for sure, does. It's got a little country in it, but I feel rock overpowers it. It definitely fits our format."

Usuriello says he was sold on exposing "Heavy" to listeners when he and SiriusXM VP/GM of music programming Steve Blatter recently visited Republic's New York office, thanks, in part, to the person sitting next to him as they listened: Brown himself.

"We rocked it out heavy, man. Real loud."

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