Along with all the other accolades Chris Stapleton has received over the past year, you can add gold and platinum certifications for his version of the country music classic, “Tennessee Whiskey” to the pile. Written by Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove, first recorded by David Allan Coe in 1981, and then turned into a Top 5 hit song for George Jones in 1983, if the song wasn’t a country standard before, it is now.
The story of “Tennessee Whiskey” is almost as remarkable as the story of Chris Stapleton. With absolutely no radio play, and without being released as a single, a 35-year-old classic country song has now earned one of the highest sales distinctions in the music business, debunking the myth that modern consumers don’t want to hear old country music, and putting the power of country radio into question.
Of course the story of Stapleton’s version of “Tennessee Whiskey” is not one of perseverance over adversity necessarily. When he performed the song on the CMA Awards in November of 2015 with superstar Justin Timberlake, it sealed the song’s fate, and soon the song was rocketing to #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. But without radio play, it was up to Stapleton’s performance, and the inertia of the song itself to carry it to platinum status. More and more that moment on the 2015 CMA Awards is looking like a historic point in the history of country music.
Stapleton’s debut album Traveller had already been certified platinum by the RIAA, and has now sold over 1.3 million records. Despite continued general ambivalence from country radio, the album continues to sell well some eight months after the CMA Awards, and is current sitting at #2 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart ahead of much newer albums from folks like Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley, and debuts from Brandy Clark and Frankie Ballard. The Platinum certification for “Tennessee Whiskey” was actually handed out in May, but went unreported until his label UMG Nashville sent out a congratulatory Tweet on Tuesday (6-21).
“Tennessee Whiskey” was only one of two songs from Traveller that Chris Stapleton didn’t write or co-write.