Chris Stapleton on Bringing His 'A-Game' for Dolly Parton, His Expanding Family & New Fender Signature Amp

Chris Stapleton
Andy Barron 

Chris Stapleton is flanked by Fender ’62 Princeton Chris Stapleton Edition amplifiers at a party in Nashville Feb. 13, 2019.

Even though Chris Stapleton is the first to admit he’s not a gearhead, the five-time Grammy winner is pretty stoked about Fender issuing the ’62 Princeton Chris Stapleton Edition amplifier.

Launched at a Feb. 12 party in Nashville at RCA’s famous Studio A, the amplifier is Fender’s first artist signature amp named for a country artist. 

Stapleton -- who started using the amp this past summer -- is donating all his royalties from the sale of the $1,999 amp to Outlaw State of Kind, he and his wife’s foundation administered by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.  

Sitting in the control room in Studio A before the festivities, Stapleton talked about the amp, as well as singing for Dolly Parton a few days earlier, the impending arrival of his fifth baby and when fans can expect new music. 

You are the first country artist to have a Fender signature amp. Does that make you puff out your chest a little bit?

No, it’s almost embarrassing, because as a player, I’m a one-trick pony. At best, I’m a stylist. I’m not a technician in any way, shape or form and wouldn’t pretend to tell any other guitar player how to play guitar. But this was borne out of me calling Fender up [and asking them] to build this amp for me. … I wanted a new amp that looked like the old amp and worked like the old amp, and that didn’t exist. So we called Fender, and very quickly the conversation escalated to doing something like this, and I’m thrilled. As a fan of guitars and amps, it’s probably one of the coolest things that I’ve ever had happen to me.

When did you get your first Fender ’62 Princeton amp? 

It’s going to sound weird name-dropping, but I was writing with Peter Frampton. He lived in Ohio at the time and he had one sitting at his house. I wound up going to a guitar shop in town and, lo and behold, there sits one and that was the first one I ever bought. I use that amp still. That amp was a studio amp of mine for many years before I got hold of another one because I thought I should probably buy another one. When you get into the old gear scenario, you just keep buying old gear in hopes that you have a backup. 

Are you a gearhead?

Not like [producer] Dave Cobb would be. I’m strictly guitars and amplifiers, but pretty much ones that I think I’m going to use. I’m not a collector in the sense I want something because it’s something that Jimi Hendrix played or something like that. It’s very utilitarian for me. I like funky stuff too. If it looks like it’s been drug through 400 honky-tonks and had Randy’s name painted on it, I’m fine with it. I like stuff like that. ... I made that up. I don’t have anything with Randy. I do have a black tele[caster] that somebody put Jack, like the mailbox letters, on the front of it. I have an affinity for stuff like that.

You performed “9 to 5” at Feb. 8’s MusiCares to honor Dolly Parton during Grammy Week. Was it weird singing a Dolly song in front of her? 

I didn’t look at her. If you think about [it], sometimes when you’re doing those things it will freak you out. Anytime I do those things, I have a brief moment of “There’s no reason for anybody but Dolly Parton to be singing Dolly Parton songs.” But I was asked to and was honored to do it and did the best I could. 

Is it hard to sing a Dolly Parton song?

Dolly Parton is really, really hard. Dolly Parton is -- for all the glitter and wigs and kind of showmanship -- man, she can throw down. It’s not a joke. You better bring your whole A-game to try to sing any Dolly Parton song. That’s the way it is. 

The next leg of the All-American Road Show starts in July. How has it evolved after starting in May 2017? 

I don’t even know. [Laughs] We just kind of make it an ongoing thing. I think people feel the need to rename things all the time. I think we’d rather call it what it is and let it roll and maybe call it that indefinitely forever. 

So we can expect All-American Road Show 43 at some point? 

Yeah, don’t hold me to that, but that’s pretty much how we look at it. It tells you what it is and you know what you’re getting, although the cast of characters is going to change, so that’s something to look forward to. 

The cast of characters going out with you in July includes Margo Price. Why is it important for you to include a woman artist on the road? 

It’s important to me to support people who are good at what they do regardless of gender or race or any of those things. But it’s particularly important that we celebrate the talent that we have, and that means women. If you’re not including women in that, then you’re probably not listening, because we have a wealth of that -- almost a renaissance -- of super talented women, songwriters, players. All those things are very prominent and coming into focus a little bit, more than they were a couple of years ago.

By the time you hit the road again in July, you’ll have your fifth child. Will the whole family  come on tour with you? 

Probably not in July. When the twins were born [last March], we took about six months where they stayed home and they traveled some with us on the backend. We haven’t fully figured all that out because the big kids are 8 and 9 and they’re road dogs and they’re pretty resilient. Shoot, they’re better on the road than I am. We home-school and they’ve been to -- I don’t know how many presidential museums and national monuments, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone… They get to see this stuff that I only got to read about. I know there will a point when they’re teenagers or pre-teenagers where they go, “If I have to get on that bus one more time I’m going to kill my dad,” but we’ll figure all that out when it’s time. Hopefully it will make them well-rounded human beings eventually.

In its 197th week on the Top Country Albums chart, Traveller is No. 3, and your current single, “Millionaire,” is No. 7 on Country Airplay. Do you pay attention to the charts?  

I quit looking at that stuff. … I figure someone would tell me if it’s good news, like now, or someone would tell me if it’s bad news. My job is to make music and go play it. As far as Traveller goes, obviously, it’s an anomaly for us that continues to surprise us in all the best ways and I’m so thankful to have been a conduit for something like that. I don’t feel like I really made it. I feel like it just kind of happened, if you know what I’m saying. 

Given that Traveller, which is triple platinum, is No. 3 after almost four years means people are still discovering it. 

I think that’s what that means. I don’t want to rest on my laurels or anything, but I’m also not ever having any expectation of trying to beat that. People always talk about trying to beat the last thing they did. Will we ever have a lightning-in-a-bottle moment like that ever again? Probably not, but we can build on it and we can tell different stories and tell different songs and have fun doing it.

Your other two albums are still high on the charts. When do you think we’ll get new music? 

You know, I can’t say. Not that I won’t say, I actually can’t say. We don’t have anything new necessarily in the can. We’ve done a little bit of experimenting, but we don’t have anything concrete. There probably won’t be [an album] this year. There will be a record in the future. I don’t know how near or how distant that future will be.

Sounds like you’re not stressing about it. 

Like everything else, I will make the record when it’s exactly the right time to make the record and it feels like the right thing to do. Nobody’s pushing me on it at the moment, and if they did, I probably wouldn’t respond very well to it anyway because I think music should be made when you feel like making music and not the other way around.