He had never really been a bluegrass guy – though he is from Kentucky – but his clever songs and gritty, bluesy voice ignited music fans when The Steeldrivers hit on Rounder in 2008. The band was a collection of friends who got together to play for fun, and decided to give it a whirl. And what a whirl it was. Chris’ sound and songs were an instant hit with everyone who heard the band, and critics were aflame with praise for the quirky new group.
Stapleton was known in Nashville primarily as a songwriter, but the town has plenty of stories about writers who eventually brought their music to the stage. After two records with the band, he took his leave to focus on his own music career, which looks to have been a good move.
His debut country album, Traveller, has been a clear hit since its release in May on Mercury Records.
And last night the former Steeldriver took home three awards from the Country Music Association: Male Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year, and New Artist of the Year. That’s three for three, quite a haul for a road pro whose image and sounds runs completely counter to the fresh-faced, pickup-trucks-and-beer motif that has ruled country radio of late.
He was also highlighted on the show in a duet performance with crossover mega-star Justin Timberlake, which stirred up the assembled country music royalty in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, and millions watching at home on ABC TV.
But bluegrass fans can say, “We knew you when!” Congratulations to Chris Stapleton for his country music success.