Looking for yet another reason to be embarrassed as a country music fan? Well here comes King Calaway. Who or what is “King Calloway” you ask? Never heard of them? That’s okay, nobody has. Up until a couple of days ago, there was absolutely no information about this project entered into the public record whatsoever. But according to a now well-circulated press release, we know they’re a six-member “country” music group who despite big promises about their “incredible individual talent” and “amazing group chemistry,” have absolutely no touring or performing experience together whatsoever, and appear to have never even played a live gig in front of an actual crowd.
Okay, but what does King Calaway actually sound like? Are they any good? That’s a very good question. Unfortunately though, the world has yet to hear a single lick of music from this band. There are no videos on YouTube of King Calaway. There’s no music via streaming networks to search for. There’s no acoustic demo to get a taste of what they’re all about. There’s not even grainy cell phone footage from some private gig they played a few months back. There’s absolutely nothing tangible behind King Calaway at the moment aside from a press release and a batch of promotional photos.
Yet despite this complete lack of experience or tangible sound, King Calaway has landed opportunities many country performers work years at to still not be afforded. The group has just signed a major label deal with Nashville’s Broken Bow Records on their Stoney Creek imprint. And get this, they will be hopscotching hundreds of more worthy entertainers in a few weeks to make their live debut in no other than the hallowed circle at the Grand Ole Opry.
Understand, this is new territory for country music. In the pop world perhaps, test tube boy bands are birthed onto the scene on a regular basis. But country music isn’t K-pop. Even bands that are just as much constructs of Music Row boardrooms and mediation sessions such as Lady Antebellum still have a history of playing shows around Nashville and showing some sort of rapport with crowds and reception with a fan base before pen hit paper on a major label contract, and most certainly before they were invited to play the Opry.
Even Kane Brown, who might be the least-qualified and experienced “country” music star ever to be accepted into the mainstream and put on an arena tour, he had built some sort of name for himself over an extended period by posting cover tunes on social media, and playing local shows to build interest in his career before the major labels came calling. At the time of posting, King Calaway has four posts on Instagram total, and less than 200 followers on Twitter.
So what does King Calaway have? Well for one, they have Robert Deaton. Who is is Robert Deaton you ask? He’s the Executive Producer of the CMAs, meaning the guy who presided over the 30% ratings drop for the CMA Awards in 2018, as well as a 25% drop in the CMA Fest broadcast. He’s also the guy who gets to decide which artists perform on these annual television events, which gives him incredible power in the industry. Oh, and he happens to be the father of one of King Calaway’s primary members, Chris Deaton. But I’m sure this has nothing to do with a totally unproven band signing a major label deal and getting a Grand Ole Opry berth before they’ve even proven they can play an open mic. Yeah, nothing to see here folks.
Also pulling the strings behind King Calaway is laptop producer extraordinaire Ross Copperman, known for such atrocities as Keith Urban’s song “Female,” and Dierks Bentley’s Black album. Put him right up there with Shane McAnally and busbee as one of the worst offenders in modern country. You don’t have to peer into a crystal ball to know that King Calaway’s first single—whatever it happens to be—will be a #1 on radio. It’s preordained, and baked into the process. At this point, the music is irrelevant. King Calaway looks great in promo photos and girls want to screw them. The music is simply an excuse to get you to pay attention.
Diving into the respective careers of the individuals involved in King Calaway, you don’t find much beyond the embellished promotional copy, though they all do have some experience in the music business, however fleeting and moderately successful it might be. Simon Dumas and Jordan Harvey are from the UK. Chad Michael Jervis attended the Berkleee College of Music. Austin Luther has performed on cruise ships. Caleb Miller claims to have been working as a session guitarist at the age of 13. Three of them are the primary singers and frontmen of the band. They’re all musicians. They describe their sound as “…a layered vocal sound that nods to the band’s influences, including the Eagles, Keith Urban, and Ed Sheeran,” and “…a band that both embraces its country roots and reaches far beyond them.”
Hey, King Calaway may be awesome when we finally get to hear music from them, which will happen January 25th when a preliminary EP is released from the band. At that point, it will be our jobs as objective country listeners to judge the music based on its own merit. But King Calaway has already started off on the mother of all wrong feet, and so demonstrably so that they deserve criticism preceding any musical concerns.
This is not the way you launch a country band—hopscotching much more deserving performers for an Opry opportunity, and leveraging familial connections to open doors. Go out there and cut your teeth, at least a little bit. It’s probably not even possible for King Calaway to be as bad as we’re imagining them to be at the moment, because at the moment you can’t imagine them sounding good at all. The marketing directors and image consultants did their worst on these hapless dudes, and it will weigh on their shoulders like a yoke moving forward.
Country music isn’t just about the music. It’s the stories behind the performers, the lives they’ve lived, the battles they’ve endured that make you believe it when they sing about heartbreak or hardship, or love. Of course each one of these guys has experienced adversity in their lives, because we all do. But until you’ve experience adversity in country music—until you’ve played to dozens of empty bar rooms and rubbed dirt in your road scars and been told “no” so many times you start to doubt yourself—you haven’t earned the right to play country music on the Grand Ole Opry or anywhere else. You’re simply the product of snazzy marketing and nepotism.
Welcome to country music, King Calaway.