Like many fresh-faced, aspiring country music artists, “Family Man” singer Craig Campbell knew he had to get to Nashville. Growing up singing in the Baptist church with his mother and later forming his own homegrown band in Lyons, Ga., music had always been an integral part of his life. In fact, he figured if he ever wanted to pursue his musical dreams full time, he would need to take root in Music City. Nine years ago, the perfect opportunity presented itself.
“I had never done maintenance before,” Campbell recently told CMT.com of landing his first paying job. “I just wanted to move to Nashville.”
When his buddy living in the city offered him a place to stay, Campbell took it as a sign to follow the intoxicating, neon lights of the honky-tonks. In fact, he left his home state on a Thursday and landed the head maintenance position of a nearby apartment complex by Friday.
“When she hired me, she said, ‘The reason you got the job is because you had the most fire — even though you don’t know what you’re doing,’” he recalled.
Nevertheless, with burning persistence, he learned about apartment complex maintenance — just as he did the music business. Besides discovering the ins and outs of building repairs, he spent much of his time carefully studying and observing the music business. Making connections wherever he could, the self-starter began singing on song demos and eventually scored a nighttime slot performing at a popular bar on lower Broadway, the Stage.
“The Stage was very good to me in all kinds of ways,” he said of his five-year stint there.
“I was really making a good living playing on Broadway and singing demos and songwriting. I never thought about giving up or being scared.”
His diligence finally paid off with the release of his current single, “Family Man,” already a Top 20 hit — and climbing — on Billboard‘s country song charts. It’s one of nine songs he co-wrote for his self-titled debut album to be released April 5 by Bigger Picture Entertainment. What’s more, “Family Man” co-writer Joel Shewmake brought the song idea to Campbell at the perfect time in his life. Campbell and his wife Mindy had just found out they were expecting.
“This is too good to be true,” he told Shewmake. “Let’s write this. This is meant to be.”
From there, they slowed down the tempo and brought in veteran songwriter Jon Henderson to help them finish. Together, the three blended lyrics of callused hands, hard work and faith to form the working man’s anthem. The music video, guided by award-winning video director Shaun Silva, features Campbell’s daughters, Preslee and Kinni.
“Even now, to this day, it’s still one of my favorite songs,” Campbell said proudly.
Interestingly enough, however, Campbell didn’t start focusing on his songwriting until he began collaborating with Keifer Thompson of the duo Thompson Square.
“He’s one of the first guys I met when I moved to Nashville,” he said.
After performing one of the songs they had written together, Campbell couldn’t believe the overwhelming response he received the first time he performed it live.
“I said, ‘Wow, this is way better than playing songs that I didn’t write!’” he said.
Yet, the novice songwriter’s true inspiration came from Luke Bryan, a fellow Georgian.
“That’s one of the big, big pieces of advice he gave me one day,” Campbell recalled. “He said, ‘There’s no right or wrong way to do this or to get a record deal. You’ll get a record deal if you want it bad enough. … But what helped me was I just wrote and I wrote every day, and I wrote with different people. Because writing opens up so many doors.’”
“And it did,” Campbell confirmed. “When I started, I jumped in.”
With his maturing songwriting and charismatic onstage presence, he was able to grab the attention of record producer Keith Stegall, known for his work with heavy-hitting acts like Alan Jackson and the Zac Brown Band.
“It’s one of those dreams come true for me,” Campbell said of working with Stegall. “I’d always look at records and see who wrote what and who produced what and who played what. Consistently, I would see Keith’s name, and I would just love everything about the production and the songs. I thought if I could move to Nashville and get in front of him and play him a couple of songs, he’d like it.”
In fact, the two collaborated together alongside songwriter Michael White for the track, “You Probably Ain’t,” after Stegall brought a nagging annoyance to one of their writing sessions.
“I’m tired of people bragging about how country they are — whether through stories or even through songs,” Campbell remembers the Texas-born producer grumbling.
As a result, what began as a song meant to release frustrations became a therapeutic ditty not intended for an album. The song boasts lyrics like, “You can tell me about your grandpa/And how he turned you on to Hank/If you have gotta tell me how country you are/You probably ain’t.”
“It doesn’t point any fingers,” Campbell insisted.
Country fans will be able to see Campbell perform live when he joins Willie Nelson for the upcoming Country Throwdown Tour 2011.
Campbell hopes to make a strong connection with country music fans.
“I want them to walk away and hear this record and say, ‘I could be friends with this guy. I like him,’” he said.
After all, what’s not to like? He’s all about family, man.