Craig Campbell. A name widely known in the country music world. The Lyons, Georgia native has made his way around Music Row more than enough times to know what it’s all about and I had the opportunity to chat with him about that and a whole slew of other things in a “chillaxed” phone conversation yesterday. So, sit back, grab a cold one and get to know more than you ever did before about this country artist who was an open book for Think Country.
As we begin to see some light from the COVID-19 quarantine, with businesses around the country beginning to open up again, it was a good time to interview a country artist, to see what it’s been like for them and what their thoughts are on some semblance of normalcy returning. Craig Campbell proved to be especially interesting because his time being “stuck” at home wasn’t necessarily the same as it was for the rest of us. I asked him how he and his family have been doing these last couple of months. “Me and my family, we’re probably a little more relaxed than the normal family. We live out in Eagleville (Tennessee) and we have land and we’ve been out ridin’ horses. We’re not used to having anything around us. It’s beautiful. We really do have a new appreciation for living where we do.”
Image courtesy of townmapsusa.com
As you can tell, the Campbells have actually been enjoying the downtime together. Country life isn’t a bad thing for them at anytime, but it’s especially great at a time like this. After we talked a little bit about that, I took him back, way back. I asked him to tell me a little bit about his hometown of Lyons, Georgia. He described it by saying, “Oh, Lyons Georgia is a small town. Its population is, I guess, around 4,000, maybe a little more than that. It’s synonymous with Vidalia, Georgia. It’s in the same county, but Vidalia and Lyons are side-by-side, so you can be in Lyons and then be in Vidalia and not even know it. The city limits of Lyons is smaller than Vidalia, but it’s all one big, little area, but very small. Not much industry, matter of fact, we had a Walmart growing up, up in Vidalia, but they just recently got a Walmart Supercenter and a Lowes, so it’s growing, but there’s not much there as far as industry and commerce and whatnot. Very rural where I grew up, which is about twenty minutes from Lyons.”
I remarked that he really was a country boy, to which he responded, “Yeah, yeah, for sure. Farming was a big deal. Cotton, corn, a lot of tobacco, peanuts, yeah, a lot of peanuts, soybeans, it’s surrounded by all of that. So, yeah, small town, rural. It’s the town all the country songs are written about.” We then hopped ahead a bit to when he was in his middle teens. I asked him what was going on when he was around the age of 15. Even as a teenager, Craig Campbell was still a living, breathing country song. “On just a regular day, me and my buddies would have been ridin’ four-wheelers down to the swamp. If it was a weekend, we probably would have been settin’ up some sorta campout. My family had an old rundown, little shack of a cabin back in the swamp down between my grandpa’s house and the river, and so we had what we called “campouts”. Me and three or four of my best friends would get our four-wheelers together, spend the weekend in the woods with no electricity, no water, just being kids. It was some of the best memories growing up.”
Campbell was an outdoorsy type, that was apparent. How did music figure in while he was running around the woods with no electricity all the time? We got to that next.
“Growing up for me, at any given time, there was Southern Gospel music playing twenty-four-seven at my house. Then when my brother turned 16-years old, he started drivin’ us to school and back and that’s when I was exposed to country music, like Randy Travis and Shenandoah. That’s when I fell in love with country music and where it all began. My brother was a great singer too, and he would sing at all the talent shows at school and I remember mama comin’ to get me out of school just to go to his school and watch him sing at these talent shows. I was like, ‘Man, I wanna do that.’ That’s kinda how it all began.” – Craig Campbell
If you know anything about Campbell, you know he’s quite the piano player, as well as being great on the guitar. So, how and when did he get started with playing those instruments? Piano probably began in a fairly common manner explained Campbell. “Piano was first to enter my life I guess, out of all the musical instruments, but I guess it was an early age when my parents realized I had a desire to play the piano. So, they bought a piano and had it put in the house and they tried givin’ me lessons, but then they realized pretty quick that lessons were no good for me just because instead of learnin’ the music, I was more or less memorizing it. So, lessons didn’t last long, you know, so from that point, I guess I was more or less self-taught.” I commented that I was impressed because he’s such a talented piano player, to which he replied, “Well, I’m good enough to accompany myself and accompany myself in a band situation.” I would say he’s extremely humble.
Then what about guitar? Well, that came into his life in a more unconventional manner. Sometimes, you just have to take a chance.
“Well, I didn’t have the money to buy one, so when I was 15-years old, I entered a singing contest and the grand prize was 200 bucks and a guitar. I sang ‘Be My Baby Tonight’ by John Michael Montgomery and ‘Foolish Pride’ by Travis Tritt, and I won. That’s when I started playing guitar.” – Craig Campbell
Travis Tritt, another Georgia guy. I think choosing one of his songs may have added an additional spark of luck, but I would imagine the majority of it was all Campbell’s raw talent that won the judges over. Now, that young teenager could have just thrown his new guitar in a closet and let it gather dust, but he didn’t. Were there any people in his life back then that impacted who he’s become as an adult? Maybe he didn’t even realize it at the time? You bet there were. “You know, it’s probably all the teachers. Equally the teachers I grew up with that were very encouraging and would believe my music was awesome and also the teachers that were very discouraging. They equally had an impact. Like the ones that said, ‘Good luck,’ they kept me going and the ones that said, ‘You’ll never make it,’ they kept me going too. At the time it didn’t really phase me, but now, it’s like, ‘Okay, y’all didn’t know anything.'”
Moving ahead a few years and armed with some musical talent and motivation, Campbell’s mother handed him some quarters and a roll of dimes, all she had to spare at the moment, and he took off for Music City. About halfway between his hometown and Nashville, he used those coins to fill his truck with gas, literally rolling into the apartment complex he would be staying at on empty. The new kid in town wasted no time getting himself established with work. Campbell told me about some of his first music jobs here in Nashville. “Well, it started, I guess, one of my first money makin’ gigs was at The Stage playing piano for a different singer, and that’s how I kinda got my foot in the door with Lower Broadway. Then that turned into other gigs, playing piano for other people, and eventually I was able to get my own singin’ gig on Lower Broadway. I did that for six or seven years before I ever had songs on the radio.”
Photo courtesy of nashvilledowntown.com
I asked him about playing for Luke Bryan back in the day. He elaborated.
“Yeah, I played piano for Luke for a little while before he had his record deal. I mean, he was about to sign a record deal, but yeah, it was a while back, but that was how I first met Luke and we’ve been buddies ever since.”
Asked whether Campbell knew Luke Bryan might make it to the big time back in those days before he got signed, Campbell continued with this:
“I had a sneakin’ suspicion. We were doin’ these shows down in Georgia in these college towns and he was selling ’em all out with no songs on the radio, and I knew there was something pretty special about him back then.” – Craig Campbell on Luke Bryan
Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography/Think Country
I would be remiss not to mention this while we’re talking about country artists from Georgia. Last July, for the Georgia On My Mind show that The Peach Pickers (hit songwriters Dallas Davidson, Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip) put on each year in Nashville, Craig Campbell was one of the guest artists, and I had the pleasure of reviewing it again. I needed to mention that to Campbell during our conversation, mainly just to thank him for such a brilliant performance. It really was one of the highlights, if not the show-stealing performance of the night. I was so glad I remembered to bring it up because obviously it really was a meaningful evening for Campbell himself. Here’s what he had to say about singing “Outskirts of Heaven” at The Ryman Auditorium for that show:
“I appreciate it. I knew there was an opportunity there and it’s almost like every time I sing that song I get into this mindset of being in that place, and especially with playing it at The Ryman, as soon as I started pickin’ my guitar, I felt it, if that makes any sense?”
I told him I felt that he could feel it. Yes, I completely knew what he meant. He went on.
“Yeah, so it was just, I don’t know, it was a moment, and I was glad that it happened and I was glad that it happened with me on stage. It did make me feel good to know that I was right about that song. It didn’t perform at radio like I thought it should have chart-wise, but those moments validate my decision that it needed to be on the radio.” – Craig Campbell
Without question, “Outskirts of Heaven” deserved a spot on the radio. It made it to the right ears. The charts may not have reflected what many of us believe, and we’re okay with that. Craig Campbell is okay with that. It’s a stunning song and it was sung to perfection that night in the Mother Church of Country Music. Here is a link to a review of that show: https://thinkcountrymusic.com/whats-new/6th-annual-georgia-on-my-mind-show-the-peach-pickers-friends-pull-off-another-success/
I had one more area to cover before I dove into what’s new and that was his annual Craig Campbell Celebrity Cornhole Tournament that benefits the Fight CRC (Colorectal Cancer) organization, an event that I know is near and dear to his heart, as Campbell’s father passed away from the disease when Campbell was a young boy. It’s also a charity event that so many fans look forward to every year, with new fans joining in on the fun all the time. The tournament normally takes place during CMA Fest week and due to the COVID-19 quarantine and the festival being canceled this year, would the cornhole event be postponed to a later date, perhaps? Unfortunately, it appears it will stick with the usual plan and come back around next year with CMA Fest. So, if you normally attend the cornhole tournament, keep your eye on 2021. If you’ve never been to one, do think about it. It’s a great cause and it’s more fun than you can even imagine. It’s jam-packed with celebrities and you just never know what will happen at one of these things. Campbell commented on the event saying, “Yeah, I’m so proud of what we’ve done. It does seem like people do look forward to that event, I can tell. It makes me feel good because of what we’re trying to do in creating that thing, so I’m glad about what it’s turned into.”
Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography/Think Country
Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography/Think Country
Livestreams. They’re everywhere. They’re all the time. If you haven’t watched at least one during the quarantine, I’m not sure what planet you’ve been holed up on. Craig Campbell has done some. We talked a little about them. Has he been enjoying that? He has, but he’s cautious about his approach.
“Oh, yeah, love it. I’ve been doing small, I guess what you’d call ‘tours’, from my house, but I haven’t done many livestreams from my pages just because when I do that it’s a lot of the same people watching and I appreciate them coming back, but it’s the same songs. I try and put in some different songs when we do ’em, and at the same time I don’t want to overdo it. I don’t want to log in one day and do a show and 500 go in and the next time 300 people show up and the next one 100, you what I mean? I want to entertain ’em, but at the same time I don’t want to overdo it. So, I’ve only done a handful.” – Craig Campbell
Craig and Mindy Campbell are the parents of two young daughters. How are the kids handling all of this time off from school? Are they stir crazy yet? Not really, according to Campbell. “Well, we’ve got horses. We’ve got outside stuff. My daughter picked up ridin’ a motorcycle, so she’s been ridin’ a motorcycle a lot. We live in the country so there’s a lot to do. Razor Side By Sides, little four-wheelers. We’ve been camping, well, I say camping, we went in a cabin. We’ve been to Florida. We’ve enjoyed ourselves. The girls have had a great time. The girls are absolutely enjoying this extended summer they’re having.
Photo courtesy of Craig Campbell
Now we jumped into the biggest deal of the moment, the new music. Not long ago, Campbell amicably parted ways with his label, Broken Bow Records. It was his own decision to become an independent artist. He recently released two songs, the first since going out on his own. The first of those two songs is a ballad called, “It’s About Time” (Jamie Pauliin, Justin Wilson, Michael White). It was co-produced by Campbell and Blake Boliinger. It’s a really pretty song and I complimented Campbell on it, asking him if there were any special instruments brought into the studio to create such a gorgeous sound. I also had read that this was a song Campbell had on his radar for several years, but never recorded because neither of his former labels felt it was viable. I was interested to know about that as well. He was eager to share his thoughts.
Photo courtesy of craigcampbell.tv
“Well, pretty much every song that I release from this point forward will be songs that the record labels didn’t like. Yeah, ‘It’s About Time’ was recorded years ago and I begged ’em to let me release it and they never would. It was gonna be the first single after ‘Keep Them Kisses Comin” but then the record label closed, so I wasn’t able to make that happen. Then ‘All My Friends Drink Beer’ we wrote back in 2018 and I’m like, ‘Y’all this is a hit song,’ and they were like, ‘Nah, we don’t think so.’ You know, they hold all the cards, they make all the decisions. So, it pretty much sucks when you’re a creator of music, it’s very deflating. So now, since I’m totally independent, I don’t have to ask them for permission anymore and it’s a beautiful, beautiful mental place to be in.”
“For ‘It’s About Time’, I teamed up with a good buddy of mine, Blake Bolinger, we had never worked together, and I knew that he would crush that song. There’s some sounds that are, they’re produced, they’re not ‘real’, if that makes any sense, some sounds that he came up with digitally. He did some voices, echo stuff. When I chose him, I knew that he would make that song sound great sonically just by the way he hears things, so I give him all the credit for that song.” – Craig Campbell
That ballad, “It’s About Time”, is really something, and it astounds me that it wasn’t just a decision not to record it, it turns out it was recorded. All someone had to do was make the decision to release it. Nobody at the labels thought it was a good idea? I listened to it once and the intro was all I needed to know it was probably going to be a great piece of music. I really shook my head when Campbell told me it had been recorded for all these years just sitting around waiting for somebody to shoot it out of the gate.
His latest single, which he talked about above, “All My Friends Drink Beer” (Craig Campbell, Kenton Bryant, Taylor Phillips) is, as you may have guessed if you haven’t yet heard it, nothing close to a ballad. It’s what country music is about. A fun, summertime, beer song. Who doesn’t love one of those? This is a good one too. Co-produced by Campbell and Phil O’Donnell (better know in Nashville circles as “Philbilly” for his expertise in traditional country music and the blue denim overalls he loves to wear), I learned there’s a video coming out very soon for this one. This is something you won’t want to miss, and even I could have asked for more details, but I refrained, choosing to be as surprised as everyone else. I’ll let Campbell fill you in:
“The video should be out in the next week, so yeah, I basically asked all my friends to send me videos of them drinkin’ beer and singin’ along during quarantine. Yeah, it’s gonna be good. There’ll be a lot of familiar faces. It’s gonna be great.” – Craig Campbell
He’s pretty excited about this video. His voice said it all. I’m pretty excited about this video too. I wanted to ask him for maybe one clue as to who might appear in the video, but I stopped myself, preferring to wait for the premiere and just see who shows up! Sometimes just being a fan is more fun. Actually, that’s more fun most of the time.
So, overall, since going indie, what advantages does Campbell find there are? After all, he made that choice by himself. He needs to live with it. So, is he living well?
“The advantage of being an independent is making decisions and making ’em quick. Pulling the trigger. Not having to wait for somebody to email somebody and for them to email somebody else. It’s like, I’m tired of it. I just want to do something. It’s like a speedboat on the ocean as opposed to a cruise liner. I can turn my speedboat around a lot faster than they can turn a cruise liner around. So, the disadvantage is having to pay for it all myself. I don’t have unlimited budgets. I have to find ways of savin’ money, that kind of thing. That’s the balance of it. At the same time, I would way rather have to deal with that than have to give up ownership. I know now having ownership is key to being successful for me in where I am in my career. I’m not gonna give it up anymore.” – Craig Campbell
There you have it. Independent and at peace with it. Embracing it. This is where Craig Campbell belongs. He made the decision to go this route and he controls his own destiny from now on. He flips all the switches when it comes to his career and this is making him a happy guy.
We had some extra time for some fun stuff and yes, we did have some fun and here’s where you’ll get to know a little more about the real Craig Campbell. Are you ready? Lets go!
Think Country: Last “I’m a Musician” thing you did?
Craig Campbell: An acapella post I’ve been working on of me singin’ and playin’ all the instruments, singin’ all the harmony parts on a song that’s never been released yet. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that, so that a very “musician” thing to do.
Think Country: Last “I’m a Daddy” thing you did?
Craig Campbell: Last night I pretended to be, and it’s something we’ve done since they were babies, I pretended to be a bucking horse on the bed and bucked my girls like they were in a rodeo.
Think Country: Last “I’m a Farmer” thing you did?
Craig Campbell: I borrowed somebody’s tractor and sprayed my yard for weeds.
Think Country: Last “I’m a Man” thing you did?
Craig Campbell: Built wooden shutters for the front of my house.
Think Country: Last “I’m Still a Kid” thing you did?
Craig Campbell: Oh… (the first and only time he got a little stuck, but only for a minute)
Think Country: I bet you still have some kid in you.
Craig Campbell: Oh, I do. It’s just a lot of stuff I really, really enjoy I wouldn’t consider kid stuff.
Think Country: Well, yeah, there’s that, but…
(We both laughed about that)
Craig Campbell: I guess before I let my daughter ride that motorcycle I rode it to make sure everything was good. It’s just a little bitty motorcycle.
Think Country: It all depends on how you rode it. Did you give it a little…?
Craig Campbell: I gave it as much as I could. (Laughs)
Think Country: Best place in Nashville to eat?
Craig Campbell: Bricktops. I love Bricktops. I think Bricktops has the best all-around menu. They’ve got sushi, they’ve got guacamole chips, table made guacamole, steaks…
Think Country: Is that on West End?
Craig Campbell: Yep. There’s a Bricktops on West End and there’s a Bricktops in Cool Springs.
Think Country: Okay, somebody else told me about that place once. I have to go there sometime.
Craig Campbell: Love it, love it. They have good house wine too.
Think Country: Well then, I’m definitely there. I need some house wine.
Photo courtesy of tripadvisor.com
Think Country: Worst place to get stuck in Nashville traffic?
Craig Campbell: I-24 going towards Murfreesboro on a Friday around 2:30, 3:00, back before COVID.
Think Country: Yeah, and it’ll get back to that, don’t worry.
Think Country: The weirdest thing in your refrigerator right now? We all have that one thing.
Craig Campbell: Hmmm… I think the weirdest thing on my refrigerator is my wife keeps a stick of butter on top of the fridge.
Think Country: Is that to keep it kind of melted?
Craig Campbell: I don’t know. It’s open.
Craig Campbell: I’m afraid to ask.
Think Country: I think that counts for sure. We need to find out.
Think Country: My wife is always right about ___________.
Craig Campbell: Everything.
Think Country: That was the right answer!
Photo courtesy of Craig Campbell
Think Country: My kids think I ___________.
Craig Campbell: My kids think I am awesome.
Think Country: That’s probably the right answer too.
Craig Campbell: I’m trying to keep it that way.
Think Country: At least until they’re flat-out teenagers and then we’ll find out how that changes.
Think Country: A song you know all the words to that people might be surprised about.
Craig Campbell: “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” by Boyz II Men.
Think Country: Oh, you probably sing that really well.
Craig Campbell: I’m a big Boyz II Men fan.
Think Country: You might want to do that on a stream or something because you probably sing that really well.
Think Country: An actor you think would be good to play you in a biopic?
Craig Campbell: Ryan Reynolds.
Think Country: Good choice.
Photo courtesy of deadline.com
Think Country: One quick story you never told to an interviewer before about anything.
Craig Campbell: There’s a bunch and there’s a reason they never got told. I think I got drugged one night on Lower Broadway and gettin’ in my car and drivin’ about a few miles and pullin’ over beside the interstate, fallin’ asleep and wakin’ up about 7 AM, with the vehicle still runnin’, still beside the interstate. Don’t know how I got there or nothin’.
Think Country: Wow. That’s interesting.
Craig Campbell: Scary.
Think Country: I think that happened to me too. I had to have my husband come save me and I don’t remember contacting him to do that. You have to be really careful down there.
Think Country: Where would you like to be two years from now with your career?
Craig Campbell: I hope I’m still here. I hope I’m still making music. I hope I’m still being able to go out and play shows.
Think Country: Yeah, I hope so.
Think Country: When you Think Country, what do you think?
Craig Campbell: When I Think Country, I think mustard greens and cornbread.
Think Country: That sounds very country.
Craig Campbell: Yeah, it is.
We then said our goodbyes and he went off to do his thing and I went off to do mine. If I took away anything from this interview, it’s that Craig Campbell is in a great place mentally right now. He’s played the label game. He read the rules, he played by them. He knew the object of it and quite frankly, after playing it enough, he found it wasn’t for him. He’s all about creating and wanting the freedom to share music that he believes the fans will want to hear. I think he’s made a good move. So far, he has two winners in my book. That’s two for two and I can’t wait for the video for “All My Friends Drink Beer”. I can’t wait because I did wait. I didn’t ask for any media privileges, no secrets divulged. I’ll be right there with the masses waiting to see who all those “friends” are, singing along and drinking beer. When that video makes its debut, you can bet I’ll be singing along and drinking a beer myself, maybe not as a “friend”, but at least a semi-decent acquaintance of Craig Campbell’s by then. I hope you’ll all tune in to it too.
Craig Campbell’s Website: https://www.craigcampbell.tv/
*Featured image courtesy of Craig Campbell/LIT Nashville
Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography/Think Country