The story behind the song seized the spotlight Monday (May 13) at a party celebrating Lee Brice's latest No. 1 single, "I Drive Your Truck."
Photo Credit: John Russell
Jointly hosted by BMI and ASCAP, the performance rights organizations, the event was held at the Country Music Association building in Nashville primarily to honor the song's writers, Connie Harrington, Jimmy Yeary and Jessi Alexander.
However, the focus quickly shifted to Medal of Honor recipient Jared Monti, who was killed in battle in Afghanistan in 2006.
In 2011, Harrington heard Monti's father, Paul, being interviewed on National Public Radio for a Memorial Day feature.
During the interview, the elder Monti explained how he kept the memory of his departed son fresh. "I drive his truck," he said.
Harrington jotted down the phrase and the theme behind it and took it to Alexander. After they started writing the song, they decided they needed to bring in "a guy who writes guy melodies." That's where Yeary entered the picture.
Harrington didn't remember the name of the soldier their song would eventually memorialize. But after Brice recorded the song and it started climbing the charts, the publishers unearthed the original interview and tracked down Paul Monti.
He and his son, Timothy, came to Nashville especially for the celebration.
"The song came from [Lee Brice's] soul," Monti told the crowd. "By the way," he added, "I've never been able to listen to that song through to the end" -- a reference to the heartbreaking power of the lyrics.
The diminutive Bostonian -- who joked about miniscule stature -- flirted with Alexander, called the emotional Harrington "my crying buddy" and embraced Yeary, noting the two of them had become fast friends within about "40 seconds" of first meeting each other.
He then told how his son had died at night on a mountain in Afghanistan trying to save a wounded member of his unit.
"My son was a giver," he said. "He cared not for himself. He cared about everybody else."
In addition to those given to the songwriters, awards were also handed out to Brice, producers Kyle Jacobs and Matt McClure and singer Brad Hill, who sang the demo that was pitched to Brice. It was the 18th No. 1 for Harrington (including those in other genres), the third for Alexander and the second for Yeary.
"I Drive Your Truck" was Brice's third chart-topper as an artist.
Ron Cox, senior vice president and director of Avenue Bank's entertainment division, presented each writer with a certificate stating that the bank had made a donation in that writer's name to the Jared C. Monti Memorial Scholarship Fund.
"We dreamed about his one, didn't we guys?" Alexander said to her co-writers. She revealed that she helped write the song when she was pregnant with twins, and she dedicated her trophy to her mother, who died 10 years ago.
"Connie absolutely cried like a baby at every point in writing this song," Yeary said. When she didn't cry, he continued, they knew the lyrics weren't up to par.
Harrington was so weepy when it came her turn to speak, she asked publisher Rusty Gaston to read her prepared remarks.
"We are our stories," he read. "Our stories are our way to say we were here."
After Harrington gained a measure of control, she turned to Brice and said, "You sang "I Drive Your Truck' and you tore my heart apart -- in a good way."
Brice said he had approached Gaston in search of some lighter songs to complete his album. After hearing them, he said he was ready to go home when Gaston asked if he could play him just one more song.
That song, of course, was "I Drive Your Truck." Brice said it was such an obvious hit, he assumed Gaston would be pitching it to a bigger artist.
"This is really more than a No. 1 song," he mused.
Circumstances seem to have confirmed that.