Billy Droze is a relatively young man with an old soul.
You get that sense listening to his music. But the point is driven home with hammer-meets-nail certainty when you spend a few minutes on the phone with him. He’s humble, but confident, grateful for his successes but aware he has to work hard to build on them.
Droze recently released two new singles to stir up interest in his upcoming CD, Renaissance, due out in March on the RBR Entertainment label.
One song, Coal-Fed Train, is straight-ahead bluegrass, showcasing Droze’s old-school vocals. Think young Del McCoury and you’ll be in the ballpark. Check it out in this lyric video.
The other is Till I Get Home, written with his pal Ronnie Bowman. It explores the idea that loved ones who are no longer with us will be waiting for us on the other side. It features the Isaacs.
Both topics are heavily trod ground, a fact that Droze alluded to when we chatted recently. He had just counted the number of train songs on the bluegrass charts and allowed that maybe he should have picked another single. But like cream in a milk can, good songs rise to the top. And this is definitely a good one. (As I write, Droze is sharing writing credits with Irene Kelley and Terry Herd on Kelley’s number one song on the Bluegrass Today chart, Something About A Train Sound.)
Success isn’t new for Droze, but it’s been intermittent. He had a staff writing deal some years back, which was notable for kicking off a friendship with Bowman that has endured inside and outside the studio. And he had a handful of chart-topping songs with his last project.
“I’m just trying to make great music,” he said. He could have ended the sentence with one more word – “again.”
I haven’t heard the rest of the record, but Droze promises it will be “completely different – some straight up bluegrass, Gospel, a little country,” with some swing and bluesy elements mixed in. In addition to the Isaacs, who elevate any project they sing one, there will be a guest appearance by guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel on the record.
“Tommy was a stretch for me,” Droze said. “A friend made it happen.”
The record is mixed and Droze is eager for it to be heard. But he’s also hard at work on new material, writing almost every day in his home studio a short hop from Nashville.
When I asked where he was headed next in his musical journey, he said, “Man, wherever the good Lord takes me.” We traded stories about the challenges of writing and selling music in a streaming environment. In the end, I said, regardless of those challenges, “it beats hanging sheetrock.”
“I’m really good at hanging sheetrock,” Droze responded in a no-brag-just-fact manner. “But I don’t want to do that ever again.”
That seems like an attainable goal, but Droze is a big believer in not resting on past successes. “You have to earn it.”
As we wrapped up our call, Droze threw out something, almost as an afterthought: “I’m going to do what I can to breathe new life into bluegrass music.”
From anyone else, the comment might have come across as unseemingly boastful. But from the old soul of Billy Droze, it was just another step away from the sheetrock hanging days, a challenge to himself to keep moving forward playing the music he loves.