If you have heard the name Ashley McBryde and wondered just what the fuss was about, take a listen to her composition “A Bible and a .44” from her 2016 release Jalopies & Expensive Guitars. Just like her musical heroes, the song stems from real life.
“My father is terminally ill, but he’s still with us,” she tells Billboard. “He was a preacher when I was growing up, and I don’t ever remember not seeing a gun or a Bible. He raised us that way — as mean as that sounds, and as sweet as that sounds, too. He has a southern drawl, like the red bone hound. He had this guitar that I wasn’t allowed to play growing up. It was a Martin D-35S. I used to get spanking when I was little for playing it. I was at his house on his 70th birthday, and he wasn’t home, and I knew where the guitar was. So, I pulled it out of the closet, and got it out of the case, and started writing ‘A Bible And A .44.’
“A few months later, I sang it for him, and he gave me the guitar – the one that was supposed to be mine when he passes,” she continues. “I told him, ‘That’s not my guitar. Someday it will be, but it’s not mine now.’ He said ‘I can’t watch you play it after I’m gone, and I’d like to see you play it.’ To this day, the song makes me tear up,” she says with a quiver in her voice.
Musically, the Arkansas native — who has made an impact with her acclaimed 2017 single “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega” — borrows from several musical streams.
“I grew up playing Bluegrass as a youngster, and I’m happy that I did,” she explains. “I was lucky that my parents listened to really good music. My dad loved Kris Kristofferson. So, I was steeped in great songwriting material from an early age, and my mom loved The Carpenters. I went to college in Jonesboro – just an hour outside of Memphis, so you’ve got the birthplace of Rock & Roll, and the home of the Blues, so that started to seep in there too. When I started playing in the bars at Memphis, I noticed my sound really starting to change. So, there are a lot of different influences. I also have a huge love of musical theatre, and jazz. In college, I was able to be the vocalist for the jazz band at Arkansas State.”
Not all of her memories were pleasant growing up. One of her teachers in school once tried to discourage McBryde from following her heart. It’s a day she won’t forget, as the experience influenced her song “Girl Going Nowhere.”
“We were in Algebra class – and I try not to say [the teacher’s] name, because I wouldn’t want her to gain any fame off the song – and we were going around the room, and she asked each of us what we were going to do with lives. My answer was that I was going to move to Nashville and write songs. I was going to be on the radio, whether I was singing them or somebody else was. In front of the whole class, she looked at me and said ‘That’s stupid. That won’t happen. You need to remember where you’re from, and have a good backup plan.'”
Those words made an impact on the youngster, making her even more determined. “Through every job I’ve ever had, that really stuck with me,” McBryde relates. “It really echoed down deep in my mind. It wasn’t until recently that I remembered that Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell were both from Arkansas. She was talking out of the wrong side of her mouth. I do know where I’m from, and I’m proud to be an Arkansan and to represent Country Music. The words from an educator can be very uplifting – or very damaging. Most educators wouldn’t say that to a kid.”
But, McBryde is getting the last laugh. Her music has garnered her fans such as Eric Church (with whom she has shared the stage with ) and Garth Brooks (who performed “Boy Goin’ Nowhere” at one of his December dates in Nashville), and she recently joined the roster of Warner Music Nashville. Artists, critics, and fans are all praising her music. How does that make her feel?
“I say the word ‘weird’ a lot,” she says humbly. “I’ll get a tweet from another artist, someone that I really respect, and I’ll just think ‘Well, that’s weird.’ We were at Country Cares For St. Jude recently, and I was overwhelmed with all of the information coming at me, and it’s so emotional. Cam walks up to me and says ‘Hey, Ashley, I did this last year. If you have any questions, just ask.’ I’m thinking ‘Wow. A famous person just spoke to me.’ I was telling Miranda Lambert that I didn’t understand it, because I’m not famous, and she said ‘You think you’re not. They think you are. Who do you think is right?’ It’s like watching The Hunger Games. Everybody wants to be Katniss. Once you get a little glimpse of that happening to you, it just all feels so strange.”
McBryde releases her Warner debut, Girl Going Nowhere, on March 30, and fans can expect plenty of the gritty truth that has become a part of her style. One such song that evokes her Ozark Mountain roots is the touching “Radioland,” which she says is her life story.
“There wasn’t really anything out there except radio,” she says of her formative years in Mammoth Springs, AR. “The Internet didn’t exist until I was well within my teens, and there was no Cable or Satellite out that far growing up, Everything I needed came from the radio — the school lunch menu, the news, a sermon, every celebrity I wanted to listen to was all in my radio. Everything you needed came from the radio, and if it weren’t for stations like the ones that I grew up listening to, I wouldn’t be on the stage. It was such an important part of my life, and I am so excited that it is now such a part of my career.”