John Mayer Crosses Over to Country With Folky Single 'In the Blood'

Frank Ockenfels
John Mayer

The song enters County Airplay at No. 59, marking his first visit to a Billboard country chart.

Singer-songwriter John Mayer makes his first appearance on a Billboard country chart, as "In the Blood," with Sheryl Crow on background vocals, arrives on the survey (dated May 13) at No. 59. The song drew 1 million audience impressions in the week ending April 30, according to Nielsen Music.

"Blood" is from Mayer's album The Search for Everything, which ranks at No. 23 on the Billboard 200 (20,000 equivalent album units) after debuting at No. 3 (132,000) on the May 6-dated chart. It also leads Billboard's Americana/Folk Albums chart for a second week.

While Mayer records for Columbia Records (under Sony Music), his first foray to country radio is being steered by Arista Nashville, specifically under the Sony Music Nashville umbrella. (Columbia is also beginning to promote the song to Mayer's home base of adult alternative radio; he's notched 16 top 10s, including six No. 1s, on the Adult Alternative Songs chart.)

So far, response from programmers in the country genre looks largely positive. Seemingly to Mayer's advantage, the bulk of radio stations in the U.S. are owned by a handful of chains, including iHeartMedia, Cumulus Media and CBS Radio, so many program directors oversee multiple stations in their respective clusters and may have programmed plenty of Mayer's music on their pop and rock outlets.

"Essentially, I heard the record and liked it, and Mayer's name recognition led me to giving it a shot," says Tim Roberts, CBS Radio vp programming and program director of WYCD Detroit, which played the song five times in the tracking week.

"Also, we have a [local] song-wars feature called the 'Country Showdown,'" Roberts says. "When we featured 'In the Blood' against another song, it did very well. That was followed by some requests for the track."

Roberts' company colleague Tim Richards, vp programming of CBS Radio Phoenix and PD of the market's country KMLE and pop KALV, championed "Blood" early on. "I was having lunch with our Columbia Records [pop] rep, Aimee Vaughn. Since I also program KALV, the Mayer song came up. I have always liked John's music and thought that it might be a good fit for KMLE."

When Richards first spun "Blood" on KMLE, he set it up by allowing listeners to hear the song before letting them in on the fact that it was by Mayer. KMLE played "Blood" 16 times in the tracking week, the most of all Nielsen-monitored country stations in that span. "After the song aired the first time, we said who it was and received only positive reaction," Richards notes. "At one point, a guy called in from one of our more rural areas, and said he loved it, adding, 'I welcome John Mayer to country,' which was exactly what I needed to hear."

"I'd like to get it to a point where we can get some solid research on it, and we'll take it from there," Richards continues. "Basically, it's a great song with compelling lyrics, with a message of redemption, which feels perfect for country."

Bobby Bones, host of The Bobby Bones Show, originating from iHeartMedia-owned country radio station WSIX Nashville and syndicated through Premiere Radio Networks on more than 100 stations, has backed "Blood" since he saw Mayer perform in St. Paul, Minnesota, on April 15.

"I've always been a fan," Bones tells Billboard. "After I heard 'In the Blood' in concert, I thought that it would work perfectly for us. I know that our listeners, especially those on the younger end, don't even think about music existing in this genre or that genre. They just know what they like."

Bones believes in the song's country potential in part because it is being proactively sought after by gatekeepers at the format; fundamentally, Mayer is in some ways being recruited into the format, instead of it happening the other way around.

"I've been watching record labels trying to shoehorn artists from outside the genre into our world for years," Bones says. "This time, for once, we're actively inviting the artist in. It's happening organically. So far the response has been so positive that it's almost abnormally good. I haven't gotten any negatives."

Of course, some country programmers will want to monitor how "Blood" builds. iHeartMedia's WBWL Boston played the song five times in the tracking week, all via Bones' morning show. "I personally like the song," says PD Lance Houston. "I just think it may be a little dangerous to have a John Mayer song on country radio right now, so I'll wait and watch. We are in the middle of trying to figure out where we are going as a format, and this might blur the lines even more as to what is country and what is not country."