The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms has 506 pages of idiomatic phrases, and it’s pretty safe to say that Drake White knows most of the Southern ones. His head and his new album, Spark, are full of them.
“That dog’ll hunt,” he says. “That’s when you just bought a 1976 Scottsdale Chevrolet truck. Your dad will look at you, and when he hears it run, and it’s sitting there purring, he’ll go, ‘Well, that dog will hunt,’ meaning it’ll run.”
Then there’s this gem: “‘That girl’s finer than a frog hair split six ways.’ That means she’s smokin’. She’s fine.”
White could go on for forever.
“Have you heard of the one like before you take a test in high school or college? ‘Man, I’m as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs.’ That’s pretty nervous.”
It’s hotter than the three shades of hell sitting with White on the front porch on a July afternoon at East Nashville’s Urban Cowboy bed and breakfast. It’s a very bohemian place housed in an historic Victorian home with Southwestern Deco style elements throughout.
He agrees front porch hangs are an essential part of growing up in rural America, and they are definitely common in his hometown of Hokes Bluff, Alabama, which boasts a population of roughly 4,150 people. It’s where stories are told and gossip is shared. But mostly it’s a place to kick back and watch the world go by.
As White answered questions for our CMT.com interview, sweat beaded on his brow and his eyes would stare off in deep thought toward the tall sunflowers blooming in the front yard. The only things missing for our front porch hang were two glasses of sweet iced tea — the house wine of the South — and maybe a helping of White’s favorite dessert, banana pudding.
“It’s my favorite thing,” he admits. “That and I love peanut butter pie. Peanut butter pie is probably my favorite next to banana pudding. I need a song called, ‘Peanut Butter Pie.’”
For nearly three years every Tuesday, he and his wife Alex would host front porch jams at their former home in Nashville’s booming 12th South neighborhood for folks walking to the nearby pizza place Mafiaoza’s for the weekly two-for-one pints and slices special. Armed with nothing but a guitar and powerful set of pipes, White’s voice would echo louder than the street traffic throughout the neighborhood, turning Tuesdays in 12th South into a spirited block party.
He was fire then. He is fire now. His 12-song album Spark lands Friday (Aug. 19).
How long did you do the Mafiaoza’s pickin’ parties?
We did it like 40 Tuesday nights in a row. So when you do something with that consistency, people begin to get used to it. My wife being a chef, there’s never a shortage of any food or a good drink. We were always on that front porch. I wrote on it. I slept on it. We’ve cried on it and laughed on it. It was just part of our lives there for a couple of years. It’s definitely in the record. You can tell a lot of the sentiments and songs were born on the porch.
Where did you learn your favorite Southern-isms?
There are so many. My uncle. He’s 76, and he’s going on a five-day run with us on tour with Zac Brown Band. That’s who talks like that. It’s so funny. I’ll write them down and then put them in songs or something. You know that one — “She’s got more baggage than a U-Haul van”? Me and Brent Cobb wrote a song called, “Lighter Load.” It’s about a girl who attaches herself to you too much, and you’re like, “Whoa, I don’t want to get married right now.” It goes, “You’re so pretty/I’m a fan/But you got more baggage than a U-Haul van/You gotta get your trailer/Off the road/What if I wanted to know your soul?/Well I couldn’t cause it’s lost in a fantasy/Instead your life you chose me and mine/Well it’s time, to lighten up your load and enjoy your ride.”
Where did you come up with the album title, Spark?
When you think of Kenny Chesney, you think of a beach. When you think of Zac, you think of the eat-and-greet scene where people will gather around a table. And when you think of Drake White, I want you to think of a camp fire. I want you to think of literally sitting around a warm flame with a group of people, an acoustic guitar, the camaraderie and the storytelling that it brings. I think camp fires were the world’s first social network. It was where people gathered around to tell stories. My band is called the Big Fire and my fans are called the Fire Starters. It’s just part of what I wanted to exemplify in my life. This music is the spark. I hope it warms everybody for a long time.
It’s an uplifting collection and something the world needs right now. Tell me more about “Back to Free.”
“Back to Free” was written by me, my bassist Phillip Pence and Randy Montana. We saw a picture of Phillip’s little boy, Phillip Pence V. We call him P-Five. And P-Five had just learned how to ride a bicycle with no training wheels. He had a Superman cape on his back, a Mohawk helmet on his head, a pair of Incredible Hulk gloves on his hands, an eye patch on his eye, snakeskin boots on his feet, a pair of Cars underwear on and that’s it. He’s just learned how to ride a bicycle. So “Back to Free” was that call to get back to the spirit of a child who is learning how to ride his bicycle for the first time with no training wheels. And there’s a common thread through this record that says let’s get back to free. Let’s cut off the phones. Let’s cut off the computers. Let’s look at the stars. Let’s listen to the wind. Let’s listen to each other and really focus on each other. That’s “Back to Free.”
When did you know when your calling was to help people get back to their sense of selves through music?
I was raised by a group of men — my uncle, my dad and my grandfather. They were very natural men. They loved the outdoors. They loved their walkabouts, their hiking. They would see a bug crawling up a tree, stop and say, “Hey, little buddy! Where you going today?” That kind of stuff is so dreamy, and that’s how I grew up. When I came to the city and would talk to people, I would talk just how I was raised. And people would say, “Where are you from?” It’s refreshing to me to be outdoors and to be in nature. People stopping and taking a breath, I think everybody needs that. You kind of feel that whenever you’re around my band and my music because I long for that and yearn for it. I guess it was just a natural thing, but it wasn’t until I was 25 and up here in Nashville that I realized that it was different. I didn’t realize that way of thinking was different. I just wanted to share it with people.
What are some things about you that you hope never change as your career continues to grow?
I hope I never become worried. I worry some now just about stupid stuff, and I have to remind myself to kind of back up. But I hope I never become really in a hurry and in a rush all the time, thinking that I have to go please everybody. I hope that I always stay true to that crazy little boy who fished and caught red worms and frogs and let lightning bugs go in my mom’s room. I hope I stay true to that magic that I was so graciously given by the people who raised me.
White will play New York City’s Citi Field on Friday (Aug. 19) with Zac Brown Band’s Black Out the Sun tour. They headline two nights at Boston’s Fenway Park starting Saturday (Aug. 20).