Three Things I Think
April 28, 2016
1. I think I don’t know what else Chris Stapleton needs to do in order to have a supportive – if not spectacular – add day at radio on Monday, May 2nd and then a bona fide hit song with “Parachute.” He’s coming off a top 10 single with “Nobody To Blame,” which, according to Soundscan figures, has sold a more-than-respectable 327,000 copies so far. His album, “Traveller,” has moved 1,227,250 copies – 1,131,250 since his epic television moment less than six months ago on the November 4th CMA Awards. He won three CMAs that night and has since won two Grammys and five ACM Awards. He already owned seven ASCAP awards for his songwriting success.
His live shows have been nothing less than spellbinding; I went to his February show at the Ryman in Nashville, and the crowd was on its feet all night, singing every word to every song from “Traveller.” I wish Stapleton would release a recording of his band introductions, which he sings with panache, and which are every bit as vocally captivating as the rest of his set list.
There was a lot of discussion about the follow up for “Nobody To Blame,” with “Tennessee Whiskey” (which he sang on the CMAs with Justin Timberlake), and “Fire Away” supposedly both considered. I always felt “Parachute” was the natural choice, because it’s the most mainstream song off a decidedly non-mainstream album. It’s got both a musical and lyrical hook, the tempo radio says it can’t live without, and it’s very catchy; people can sing along to it, and that always matters. I love Stapleton’s rendition of “Tennessee Whiskey” – and “Fire Away” is awesome, too – but let’s be honest here: ain’t nobody BUT Stapleton can sing those tunes, awesome shower acoustics notwithstanding. While mainstream, “Parachute” is still consistent with the rest of the album – and by that, I mean it’s totally badass.
Once upon a time, new artists achieving a #1 or top 10 song were seen as having momentum. Lately, that doesn’t seem to matter; unless you’re a superstar, songs are considered on a case-by-case basis. And I guess I (sorta) understand that, as the format has gradually moved more song-based – although, I still think Country needs to have its five to seven top-tier, Mt. Rushmore artists at any given time. But along with the stats I reeled off earlier, which should serve as incontrovertible evidence for jumping all over “Parachute,” Stapleton continues to be a “thing” and receive mainstream media attention. That creates expectations for Core Country fans – and casual ones – that they’ll hear this new taste sensation on their local Country station.
Given all that, the “wait and see” strategy and overthink mentality will only accomplish one thing for you: missing the boat. And radio cannot afford to be missing the boat right now; in fact, not only does it need to be on board, it needs to be the damned skipper when it comes to music discovery, because – as much as I hate to say it – we’re getting our asses handed to us in that department. Radio can still take some credit for helping new and existing listeners discover Chris Stapleton – but only if it adds “Parachute” and plays it in a conspicuous category between 6a-8p seven days a week.
I know callout and research drives what ultimately is converted at radio, so programmers: play it right away and often enough that you’ll get a reliable read on this ASAP. Remember that some songs and artists require patience and fortitude when it comes to callout. This is the type of artist and song you need to hang in there with, to the point where you’re uncomfortable. So, resist the temptation to pull the pin if early results are not what you hoped for, especially since there are so many reasons (again, see above) Stapleton has earned the benefit of the doubt. Hey – if we can give Lee Brice 40-plus weeks to hit top 10, we can certainly show the same patience and commitment to Stapleton. As I have said before: this is low hanging fruit. Pick it, take credit for planting and growing it, then sell it – and keep on stocking it.
2. I think while I’m doling out generous and (ahem) brilliant programming advice, I’ll throw in my two cents on Jon Pardi as an artist who could explode in 2016. I’ve been on the Pardi bus since about 2012 when I heard a sampler of his music, much of which became his first album, “Write You A Song.” That collection yielded four singles, with “Up All Night” – the most successful – reaching the top 10. His latest single, “Head Over Boots,” from the upcoming “California Sunrise” album (due June 17th) sits at #16 as of this writing but looks like it’s ready to pop. I was looking at our just-launched Shazam page, where “Head Over Boots” is this week’s featured Country single. He’s a top 10 – and in some cases, top five – most Shazam’d Country song in nine major cities, including: Atlanta, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Denver, Houston (it’s #1 there), Nashville, and New York. I think that’s significant and demonstrates growing interest and engagement.
I saw Pardi live, full-band, for the second time earlier this week and was blown away. I’d seen him last year at Bridgestone Arena while he opened for Alan Jackson, but his voice was pretty ragged. At Marathon Music Works this Monday (4/25), a club setting better showcased what he’s all about: a young, traditional-but-rockin’, rough around the edges, less-than-perfect musical rabble rouser. Pardi comes from California – home of Country’s Bakersfield sound – and is with Capitol Records, which, back in the early-mid 60s was the label home for Bakersfield architects Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Those are two important pieces of lineage here, because Pardi is basically delivering his own 2016 version of that Bakersfield sound, and his six-piece band is set up an awful like another, later iteration of that movement: Dwight Yoakam.
Like Yoakam, Pardi looks Country as all get out with a white, straw cowboy hat perched on his head and a western-style shirt with snaps for buttons. His jeans? Not as tight as Yoakam’s. He’s got a traditional-sounding steel player, a fiddler that is a big part of the live sound, and a guitar player whose resume – I’m guessing – includes a lot of previous Rock experience. This reminded me so much of the Yoakam/Pete Anderson one-two punch from the late 80s and early 90s.
Pardi’s albums sound live and edgy; his live show is a runaway train that you can’t wait to climb on board and ride, shouting “Look ma! No hands!” It’s a semi, hurdling down the freeway, engine roaring and tires continually making contact with those Bott Dot lane dividers that remind you not to drift too far left or right. Pardi flirts with disaster – and it totally works for him. I think for those who feel Chris Stapleton is too out there, a little off in his own lane, Pardi is Stapleton-adjacent; a tad closer to the mainstream, but still removed from it. That’s a great place to be, and for programmers who have worried about too much of a Pop, slick sound, Pardi is a great answer for that.
I think his imperfections are his strength and appeal, for both men and women. His traditional sound balanced with a guitar-driven, Rock edge is something I believe both young and 35-44 males will connect with. And because he’s kind of all over the place, women might find him to be the kind of guy they think they can and should save. By the way, I’m not being critical of Pardi when I talk about imperfections and being all over the place. That’s his style; I think he knows it and has carved out this unique persona and sound, which allows him to potentially own a musical lane. And owning a lane – or at least dominating it – also matters. Look at Sam Hunt, who basically created his own lane in the last 18 months or so.
3. I think one of the most beautiful, heartwarming things I’ve seen recently was the video of Blake Shelton introducing Randy Travis to fans last weekend while headlining the Off The Rails Music Fest in Frisco, TX. Shelton, holding hands with Travis, said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Randy Travis. You tell me miracles can't happen ... you're looking at one right here, man. This is one of my heroes, and it ought to be one of your heroes. Thank you so much for being here tonight, Randy. We all love you.”
Travis, who suffered a near-fatal stroke in 2013, has been on the road to recovery and recently started making public appearances. He attended both days of the Festival, greeting and posing for photos with fans and other artists. This is starting off to be a very good year for Travis. He was recently named to the 2016 class for the Country Music Hall of Fame, and will be inducted in the Fall. More good things are in store for Travis too, an artist who ignited an important resurgence for Country music in 1986 with his “Storms Of Life” album, and who went on to sell 25 million albums, score 22 #1 singles, and win six Grammys, six CMA Awards, and nine ACM trophies. It’s nearly certain that Travis will never sing again and can barely speak. But he’s able to walk and appear in public now – after months of excruciating physical therapy – to see his fans and bask in their adulation. He’s been through hell the past few years, and he deserves what’s happening for him this year.
This event also reiterates why Blake Shelton is so loved. He’s a great, compassionate guy who was obviously moved by Randy Travis and heavily influenced by his music. It’s very cool that Shelton is on the same label where Travis enjoyed his greatest success – Warner Bros. – and it makes me a bigger fan of Shelton’s than I was previously.
Ok, so that’s what I think – what do YOU think? Comment below or hit me direct here.