Just call Zac Brown country music's current king of collaboration. Brown recently teamed with King Calaway to write and produce the band's new single, "When I Get Home." And Brown invited Blake Shelton to join the band on a new version of their single "Out in the Middle" that will be on the deluxe version of their latest album, "The Comeback," available this fall.
Brown recently joined King Calaway on stage at CMA Fest to sing "When I Get Home" with them.
"I recognized the talent this young group has, and when we started working in the studio, so much more unfolded," Brown told People. "I believe in these guys. When [producer] Keith Stegall bet on me and helped me make my first album, that was the launch of my career. I believe this track can do the same for them, and it's great to be able to give back."
Brown co-wrote and produced King Calaway's reflective and repentant new single "When I Get Home" with Jonathan Singleton and Ben Simonetti.
"We love this song," King Calaway singer Simon Dumas told People. "It's very storytelling, and it feels like another step in a good direction for us in terms of the maturity we're going for."
As for "Out in the Middle," Brown co-wrote the song with fellow country singer Luke Combs, and songwriters Ben Simonetti and Jonathan Singleton.
The songs come on the heels of a career-altering announcement from Zac Brown Band's John Driskell Hopkins, who revealed he was diagnosed with ALS. Hopkins told People that in 2019 during The Owl Tour, jumping started to bother him. He also noticed that he slurred his speech sometimes and couldn't play as fast anymore.
He spent the next two years trying to figure it out. Hopkins visited multiple specialists in search of a diagnosis. Then just before Christmas in 2021, doctors in his current hometown of Atlanta prescribed an electromyography (EMG) test to see if he had damage to the nerves that control his muscles.
The test results revealed the bass player has ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a degenerative disease that leads to paralysis and prohibits daily life functions, including chewing, speaking and walking. According to als.org, nearly 5,000 people are diagnosed with ALS per year. The average life expectancy is two to five years, but some people with the disease live years longer. So far, Hopkins said, his ALS has progressed slowly.
"In my life, I've been scared, I've been angry, I've been stressed," Hopkins told People. "But I don't know that I've ever truly felt anxiety until that day."
He had another EMG done at the ALS clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital, which revealed Hopkins had ALS. Since then, he said, he has come to accept what's in store – whatever that may be.
"No one knows what the condition will be like going forward, so we can't sit around and cry about it," Hopkins told People.
He's still suffering from weakness and balance issues but said he's been able to keep all of his commitments. Last month, he embarked with Zac Brown Band on their Out in the Middle tour, scheduled to last seven months.
"I'm singing as well as I've ever sung, and I was never a good player," he told People. "The band will back me up on that. When I told them about my diagnosis on a Zoom call, Zac said,' Are you making all this up because you're a (bad) banjo player?'"
Since sharing his diagnosis, Hopkins and his wife, Jennifer, launched the Hop On a Cure foundation. To donate, text "Hop" to 345-345 to help fund ALS research.
"Our vision is clear," Hopkins said. "We need to do everything we can to generate funds to cure ALS."