Though Chris Stapleton has had undeniable success as a songwriter the past few years with hits like Kenny Chesney's "Never Wanted Nothing More" and Luke Bryan's "Drink a Beer" to his credit, he can always count on getting one of his compositions heard at 12 midnight central time each weekday morning. That's when The All-Nighter With Marcia Campbell hits the airwaves on WSM-AM 650. One of America's most popular truck-driving shows, Stapleton co-wrote the theme song of the show, "All-Nighter Comin'."
"That was just a happy accident more than anything," Stapleton said of writing the theme song. "I wrote that song with Al Anderson and Vince Gill, and Marcia felt inclined to use it as her theme song, and it has been there ever since. I never had a song of mine used for something like that, so it's cool for two reasons: It's great to have a theme song on WSM, and to have Vince Gill singing it -- I don't know what else you can ask for."
Stapleton is counting down the days until Tuesday's release of his debut Mercury Nashville album Traveller. It's something he's been working toward for a while, and he's itching to play the music live. "That's something you want for sure -- to get the album out so you can go play it for the people," he said. "For me, that's what I want out of making records."
For the album, the Kentucky native partnered up with producer Dave Cobb, an affiliation he says worked well. "Genius is the best way to describe him," he said. "Beyond that, he's a wonderful being, and it's great to have him around in the studio. He's always a joy to be around and makes everything he touches better for sure. I just can't imagine making this record without him. I don't think it would be anything close to what it is."
The impetus for Traveller stemmed from a tragedy in Stapleton's life. "I lost my dad in October 2013 and did a little bit of soul-searching. My wife was kind enough to buy me an old Jeep. We flew out to Phoenix and drove it all the way back to Nashville through the desert. I thought a lot about music and my dad, and the things that he would have liked that I should be doing. Out of that, I actually wrote the song 'Traveller' driving down Interstate 40 through New Mexico. That became the cornerstone for the record and wound up being the title track. My wife dug in deep on my catalog of songs, and we met with Brian Wright at the label. He helped me sift through the songs a little bit more, played some things for Dave, and decided to cut six songs. We called Brian right up and asked him to listen to the sides and kept on going, and the record that you hear is what happened."
One of the most personal songs on the album is "The Devil Named Music." "I wrote the opening of the song as we drove all night to Billings, Montana. I was in a band called the SteelDrivers, and we were driving from Wyoming. The song is pretty autobiographical. I was on the road playing bluegrass, and we were out there hitting it hard as hard as we could, trying to matter. A lot of the song is about that."
He also tips his hat to George Jones with a bluesy cover of the Possum's 1983 hit "Tennessee Whiskey," one of his all-time favorites. "The guys in the band and I were in Charlottesville, Virginia, waiting to set up microphones and started playing in that groove. I just was really enjoying it and started singing 'Tennessee Whiskey' on top of it, trying to make it something new. We liked it so much, we played it that night -- and every night since. When we started to record, we used it as a warm-up song. Dave said, 'We need to do that right now.' That's what you hear."
Stapleton's music has been getting rave reviews from critics, and his fellow artists -- inside the country world and out, with superstars such as Adele and Justin Timberlake praising his work. He said he appreciates their words and is humbled by them, but he tries not to let it affect him too much. "Anytime that another artist or a critic that is well-respected says something nice about you, you're always thankful and hope that you can live up to that. At the end of the day, I just have to do what I do and let it be what it's gonna be."