Craig Campbell Had to Leave Luke Bryan’s Band

Bryan Told Him, "You’ll Thank Me"

Craig Campbell learned a lot when he was playing piano for Luke Bryan. Especially when it came time to leave.

When Campbell and I caught up in Las Vegas during ACM week, he told me he saw Bryan doing things in the early days that have stuck with him all these years later.

“Luke and I both moved to Nashville around the same time. We had everything in a U-Haul we pulled in a Chevy Avalanche,” Campbell recalled of being part of Bryan’s road band. “And the first night we played, my mind was blown. The crowd sang along with all the songs, but Luke didn’t even have a record deal yet.”

What Campbell learned was that Bryan used to just give his demo CDs away back then. He says he even has at least one of those old CDs, with “We Rode in Trucks,” “Tackle Box” and more.

“Ultimately, Luke told me I shouldn’t be a sideman and that I’d thank him later,” Campbell told me. “I can trace every bit of my success back to him. There’s a benefit to grinding away at it like that, because when I moved here, I thought I was ready. I wasn’t, but now I am.”

And even though it didn’t happen overnight, Campbell admitted that he never had a plan B. Being in country music was all he ever wanted. And his new single, “Outskirts of Heaven,” that he wrote with Dave Turnbull, shows off his deep country roots.

We talked about some of the country we both grew up on, and some of his favorite songs were Travis Tritt’s “Anymore,” Brooks & Dunn’s “Brand New Man” and Shenandoah’s “The Moon Over Georgia.”

But what had to be his favorite country song — then, and maybe even now — would be John Michael Montgomery’s “Be My Baby Tonight.”

Because that’s what Campbell sang at a Jimmy Dean True Value Showdown when he was 15. And he won.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.