Steven Curtis Chapman is one of the biggest, most honored singer-songwriters in contemporary Christian music, with 48 number ones, a handful of Grammy Awards and dozens of Dove Awards.
But he cut his teeth on bluegrass during his early years in Paducah, KY, and has returned to his first love a couple of times over the years.
“I’ve been blessed,” he said over the phone. “All my life, I’ve loved bluegrass and folk music.” Even in his worship songs, he said, “I’ve always tried to sneak Dobro in there now and again.”
For all of his success, Chapman is humble and kid-in-a-candy-store excited when it comes to bluegrass, especially while talking about Ricky Skaggs – “the greatest bluegrass influence on me.”
Chapman met Skaggs when they were both in New York City a few years back for the Grammys. Skaggs not only recognized him on the street, but invited him to lunch and gave him his number.
“I can’t believe I have his number in my phone,” Chapman said, sounding more like the kid from Paducah than a musician with an overflowing trophy wall. “He’s a legend. He’s a world-class human being.”
Taking advantage of that number, Chapman asked Skaggs to join him on Deeper Roots. The result is Dive, a grassed-up version of a rocker that Chapman released on an earlier project. It’s one of the best songs on the strong CD.
Chapman doesn’t put on any airs when it comes to bluegrass. “I don’t know if I’m any good at it, but it feels good, so I do it,” he said. “I’ve been having a blast.”
That blast started with Deep Roots. “All of that was so much fun for me,” he recalled. “It unlatched a door I’ve always wanted to open,” reminding him of long-ago days singing with his brother and his dad. Family members guested on that project, and they’re back again this time. His daughter-in-law sings on Deeper Roots, too.
When it came time to ask the obvious question – does he plan a third dip of his musical bucket into the well of bluegrass – Chapman left room for those who enjoy his efforts to be optimistic.
“I can’t imagine not doing this some more,” he said. “I would love to do it again.”
One key, of course, is making the time. In addition to writing and singing Christian music and occasionally scratching the bluegrass itch, Chapman writes children’s books with his wife, Mary Beth, is the author of a memoir, Between Heaven and the Real World, is a part-time TV host and frequent TV guest. He’s also acted a bit.
But for some things, Chapman will find a way to make time, hard as that may be with his schedule.
Writing songs with others is one of those things. He’s hooked, he said, because “when it all sort of happens, there’s nothing like it.”
Revisiting bluegrass is another, and who can blame him. It’s in his genes – and Ricky Skaggs is in his phone.