If you caught Luke Combs having a total fan moment at the end of Eric Church’s recent CMA performance, there was a good reason for it.
For Combs, watching Church tear up the stage is a huge full-circle moment.
“I went to a really small college in North Carolina, and my freshman year, a buddy of mine that lived on my hall came into my room and said, ‘Hey, this guy is playing on campus tonight. He went to school here, and his name is Eric Church,’” Combs told reporters in the press room at the 52nd Annual CMA Awards.
That campus would be Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., also Church’s alma mater. At this point in his life, Combs hadn’t picked up a guitar, despite being an accomplished vocalist. But all that would soon change with one listen to Church.
“I didn’t give his music much of a chance that day to be honest with you. A couple weeks later, I’d had a few at that time, illegal beverages, now legal beverages, and I said, ‘you know what? I’m gonna give this guy’s album a shot,” he said. “I listened to it front to back and it really changed my outlook and changed a lot of things for me about country music.
“I was just a fan for three years and when I decided to pick the guitar up I said, ‘You know what? If this guy went to college here and can be onstage at the CMAs and winning CMA Awards and getting number one songs, I don’t see why I can’t do it.’”
From that moment on, Combs says he set his goals and his sights on fine-tuning his artistry and career path like the Chief himself would no doubt advise. And it’s all paid off as Combs returns to the top of the Billboard Country Albums chart this week with his debut studio album This One’s for You, which boasts four No. 1 hits.
And then there’s that brand-new CMA for New Artist of the Year sitting pretty on his mantle.
Still, when Combs reflects back on the last few years, all roads lead to Church.
“He really inspired me to have a tunnel vision-like approach to what I want to do. I’m very lucky to have run into his music because I really don’t think I would be here without it.”