Andy Griggs Finds His Freedom

All day long, Andy Griggs walked down the same sidewalk on Belmont Boulevard in Nashville to film the hit video, “Tonight I Want to Be Your Man.”

“It rained on us some,” Griggs tells “I kept walking by this particular car on the side of the street, and finally the person who owned the car came out of the house, got in the car and left. So now there’s a big dry block on the street, and I said, ‘Why don’t y’all throw some water right there?’ They said ‘Nah, nobody will notice it.’ I said, ‘Yeah they will. The whole street’s soaking wet and you got a big dry square in the middle of it!’ We argued over that, and sure enough, I’ve had countless fans out there on the road say, ‘Yeah, I saw that dry spot in the road.’”

Griggs releases his second album, Freedom, on Tuesday (July 9) and hopes to avoid further dry spots in his career. He and his label scrapped plans to release Freedom in spring 2001 when he was unhappy with a mix on the album. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 delayed the project again, even though the single “How Cool Is That” was climbing the charts.

“We had all winter off,” says Griggs, 28. “I’m standing there at my house with the masters in my hand. Just to show you how it all works out in the end, during the winter sometime, I look up and find ‘Tonight I Want to Be Your Man.’ … Then I put it on the record and said, ‘Now it’s complete, now it’s ready.’” The single is at No. 12 on this week’s Billboard country chart.

In the three years since his debut album, You Won’t Ever Be Lonely, Griggs believes he has matured as an artist. Freedom finds him tackling a gospel song written by his older brother Mason and rocking out on a tune he wrote with Tom Keifer, of the metal band Cinderella. (Keifer, the the boyfriend of one of Griggs’ co-writer friends, also sings on the cut.)

“Even as a kid, I’ve never been interested in formats,” Griggs says. “I don’t see music as categories. I’m the kind of guy that listens to Bill Monroe , and then you may catch me riding down with Springsteen blaring or Hank Sr. , the Rolling Stones, B.B. King, Big Joe Turner or Mahalia Jackson.”

Griggs grew up in Monroe, La., the youngest son of a probation and parole officer father and an elementary school teacher mother. His father played Merle Haggard records at home and led the choir at the family’s church. He died suddenly when Andy was 10. After that, Mason helped keep Andy in check. However, Mason died of a heart attack in a classroom at Northeast Louisiana University in 1991.

Andy, an 18-year-old freshman at Northeast Louisiana University at the time, dropped out of school and took a job at a gas station. He was fired for bringing in his guitar on the late shift. He then found work at Sam’s Wholesale Club in Monroe -– “I stocked the Tide and the Dawn and brooms and cans of beans” -– and returned to his family’s church as a youth minister.

He also joined the gospel band Mason had performed with, eventually sharing a bill with the respected bluegrass gospel group led by Jerry and Tammy Sullivan. Exactly one year after that concert, he married Jerry’s youngest daughter, Stephanie.

By that time, Griggs had already recorded a demo and signed a management contract in Nashville. Stephanie persuaded him to move to Music City where she worked at a day care, and Griggs transferred to a suburban Sam’s Club as a forklift operator.

“That was awful. I’m not a good forklift driver,” Griggs admits with a laugh. “Man, it was a hazard every day. Me on my forklift running around, doing Mach 10 down an aisle. I can’t believe I didn’t hurt anybody.”

After a year, he left Sam’s for a greenhouse named Tant’s Plants. The owner, Bill Tant, also a musician, let Griggs take weekends off to travel and perform with Jerry and Tammy Sullivan. If Griggs landed last-minute demo work -– sometimes singing duets with a then-unknown Mindy McCready –- Tant wouldn’t object to him clocking out early.

Recalling his convoluted work history, Griggs says, “A starving artist has to do what he can. The music has to be behind you, and you have to pay the bills somehow. But I never left the reason why I came to Nashville, and that was music. I was always looking in that direction.”

Griggs auditioned for RCA in 1997 and ultimately landed a record deal. In 1999, he scored a No. 2 hit with “You Won’t Ever Be Lonely.” He followed with “I’ll Go Crazy” and “She’s More” (peaking at No. 10 and No. 2, respectively). You Won’t Ever Be Lonely also contained a duet with Waylon Jennings, “Shine On Me.” Griggs and Jennings once scrambled up to a Nashville tour bus in front of Jennings’ house and snapped pictures of the tourists.

“Waylon changed my life long before I met him, and when I met him, his friendship was like his music,” Griggs says. “It was the biggest thing in my life. Waylon was the kind of guy that if he stepped into your life, you were never the same, and now that he’s gone, it’ll never be the same either.”

Perhaps taking a cue from the country outlaw, Griggs and bandmate Kevin Weaver took an ambulance for a joyride in Tallahassee, Fla., in February 2001. They were briefly jailed before posting bond of $1,000 each. Charges of grand theft auto were dropped when Griggs performed a benefit concert for Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare, the company that owned the ambulance.

Despite the illegal shenanigans and metal-band buddies, Griggs remains rooted in his musical heritage.

“My heart belongs to country music,” he says. “That’s what I listen to the most, but now I love all kinds of music. It doesn’t get any better than late at night, there’s a chill and you turn on some Hank Williams or Waylon. To me, that’s the highest I can get, as far as music.”

Craig Shelburne has been writing for since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.