Luke Bryan Takes Long Road to Fame

Singer-Songwriter Worked Lots of Georgia Clubs to Prepare for Nashville

Two weeks before Christmas in 2003, a small crowd gathered in a lobby at BMI’s Nashville headquarters to hear some new songs from the staff writers at Murrah Music. One of the four writers who performed that day was Luke Bryan, a tall, muscular guy with an easy smile and a strong, urgent voice. His first song was about a country boy outfoxing a city babe. His second recalled the joys of fishing with his grandfather.

In something of a statistical triumph both songs Bryan sang that day eventually got recorded. Billy Currington cut the first, “Good Directions,” and took it to No. 1. Bryan recorded the second one, “Tacklebox,” for his Capitol Records debut album, I’ll Stay Me.

“There are no complaints in the world of Luke Bryan out here,” the satisfied Georgian tells CMT.com as he reflects not only on the success of “Good Directions” but also on the fact that his first single, the rowdy “All My Friends Say,” made it all the way to No. 5 on the Billboard charts. Currently, Bryan’s new single, “We Rode in Trucks,” is continuing to increase its chart momentum.

Such victories were a long time coming. Bryan was performing in country bands in and around his home area of Leesburg, Ga., by the time he was 16. With encouragement from his older brother, Chris, he planned to move to Nashville when he finished high school.

Just as that was about to happen, Chris was killed in a car accident. Bryan decided to remain at home, work in his family’s farming businesses and enroll at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. He continued to play in country bands, however, even as he worked toward a degree in business management and reveled in the intemperate glories of fraternity life. (He was a Sigma Chi.)

If Bryan’s songs sing more of country than campus life, he explains, it’s because the two pretty much ran together.

“Georgia Southern is about as rural as where I was brought up,” he says. “I used to laugh that I could be in class at 3:30 and be on a deer stand at 3:35.”

Bryan began making a name for himself as lead singer in a band called Neyami Road. In 1997, a local reviewer raved, “Bryan wowed the crowd with his performance. … He danced and asked the audience to sing along to such favorites as ‘Good Hearted Woman’ and ‘Too Hard to Handle.’” (On that particular night, the band was opening for Ricochet, a group then riding high on the strength of such hits as “Daddy ‘s Money” and “Love Is Stronger Than Pride.”)

Neyami Road played “two or three nights a week,” says Bryan. “Everybody split the proceeds at the end of the night. … We recorded a little CD in Athens [Ga.] and sold two or three thousand copies of it around Georgia Southern. I wrote all the songs on it. It was kind of my first taste at recording.”

Having completed his degree, Bryan finally made his move to Nashville in September 2001. Although he had plenty of practical experience under his belt, he was still innocent in the ways of the music business.

“I didn’t know a thing about it,” he admits. “I didn’t have one contact. Then I met Rachel Proctor, who was a songwriter at Murrah Music. I played her some songs, and she introduced me to [company owner] Roger [Murrah]. He really dug the songs that I was writing and decided to give me a publishing deal.”

Bryan’s fire-tested talents prompted Capitol Records to offer him a record deal in October 2004. What with writing more songs for the project, recording them and making the obligatory get-acquainted radio tour, it wasn’t until February of 2007 that Bryan made a splash with the release of “All My Friends Say.” The full album made its bow in August.

Initially, Capitol planned to include “Good Directions” on the album under its original title, “Right Back Here to Me (The Sweet Tea Song).” But then Currington’s version took off.

“‘Good Directions’ began to get so much press and become such a big song that we felt like at that point it had kind of done what it was going to do,” Bryan says. “There were lots of times on my radio interviews that I was dedicating 80 to 90 percent of the interview to talking about ‘Good Directions’ instead of about ‘All My Friends Say.’”

So Capitol dropped “Good Directions” from the album lineup and substituted “Pray About Everything,” a song co-written by Bryan’s producer, Jeff Stevens.

Bryan says he played about 70 regular dates during the summer of 2007 and made an equal number of special appearances for radio stations and other causes. “I’ve been home about once a week for about a year and a half,” he reports.

After a brief fall tour with Sara Evans, Bryan will be opening a series of shows for Trace Adkins beginning later this month before touring with Dierks Bentley from February through May.

“We’re in it for the love,” he says emphatically, “and for meeting the fans and giving them some music they can plug into their lives.”