The Tom Petty Influence Is Strong in Chris Stapleton
In 2013, rock icon Tom Petty had some unsavory words for what was happening in modern country music. “Well, yeah I mean, I hate to generalize on a whole genre of music, but it does seem to be missing that magic element that it used to have,” Petty said. “I’m sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but they’re just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets. But that’s the way it always is, isn’t it?”
At the time, Petty’s words had a pretty reverberative effect throughout the country genre, which was just beginning to fall into the grips of the Bro-Country phase, led in large part by Florida Georgia Line. The duo snapped back on social media to the quotes with “U think we care?” Other artists and heavyweights in country music chimed in as well, including Chris Stapleton.
Remember, in 2013 Chris Stapleton was not the Chris Stapleton we know today. Though a lot of folks love to profess they were Stapleton fans from way back when he was a member of The Jompson Brothers and The Steeldrivers (and granted, some were), the truth is Stepleton wasn’t known by many at that time, and those who did know of him saw him primarily as a songwriter. Stapleton had written some quality songs for folks like George Strait, Alan Jackson, and Lee Ann Womack, but he’d also written Luke Bryan’s big hit “Drink A Beer,” and Thomas Rhett’s “Crash and Burn.”
So before Chris Stapleton rocketed to superstardom at the end of 2015 thanks to the CMA Awards, he was very much a creature of the mainstream songwriting community. Feeling slightly offended, Stapleton chose to challenge Petty’s comments as well. But unlike Florida Georgia Line, Stapleton did it with a level of respect, and an offer.
Dear Tom Petty,
I think it’s safe to say most modern country artists, including me, would list you as an influence. Your recent comments lead me to believe you see room for improvement in modern country music. I, for one, would like to see you put you money where your mouth is in a tangible way. So, in the interest of making Country music less “shitty” (your words), I suggest a collaboration. I’m extending an open invitation to you to write songs with me, produce recordings on or with me, or otherwise participate in whatever way you see fit in my little corner of music. In the event that you actually read this and are interested, look me up.
Tom Petty never took Chris Stapleton up on his offer. Petty died in October of 2017, so there wasn’t a lot of time between when Stapleton hit it big, and when Petty passed on. But when Chris Stapleton claims to be a big Tom Petty fan, you don’t have to just take him at his word. His letter from 2013 proves his Petty appreciation.
Tom Petty’s birth date is October 20th, and to celebrate what would have been his 70th birthday, a virtual bash was held on October 23rd involving numerous celebrities, including Stapleton. “I can safely say that no other musical influence is as ever present in my mind,” Stapleton said ahead of the birthday bash. “The words that I choose and the notes that I play and sing are firmly rooted in listening to his records. I’m forever grateful for the moments our musical paths crossed.”
Chris Stapleton has a new album coming out on November 13th called Starting Over, and you can expect that Tom Petty influence to be present on it, if for no other reason than numerous members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers contributed to it. Guitarist and songwriter Mike Campbell co-wrote two of the album’s songs with Stapleton, including Stapleton’s most recent early release from the album, “Arkansas.” Benmont Tench plays Hammond B3 organ on the new album as well.
Chris Stapleton also returned the favor by co-writing a humorous song called “Fuck That Guy” with Mike Campbell for his new band The Dirty Knobs, whose new album comes out a week after Stapleton’s, on November 20th. The song (and video) try to take a lighthearted approach to processing 2020. And no, it’s not about the orange guy.
Right before the 2015 CMA Awards, Saving Country Music wondered if since Chris Stapleton was becoming the toast of country, would Tom Petty consider Stapleton’s invitation to collaborate. Little did we know know that days later, Stapleton would walk away with Album of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Male Vocalist of the Year, and begin the momentum that has Stapleton’s debut album Traveller still sitting at #6 on the country albums charts well over five years after it was released.
Chris Stapleton never got his wish to collaborate with Tom Petty directly, though Petty eventually did pick him up as an opener on his final tour. Meanwhile, Stapleton continues to champion Petty’s legacy, and collaborate with the next best thing, which is Petty bandmates like Mike Campbell, who helped co-write many of those big Heartbreakers hits.
When criticizing modern country music, Tom Petty said, “I’m sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but they’re just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets.” Chris Stapleton is where that paradigm began to shift, and now many artists who would likely be Petty approved—artists like Tyler Childers, Cody Jinks, Colter Wall, and others—are finally receiving the attention they deserve.
John R Baker
October 28, 2020 @ 8:32 am
I saw Stapleton headline a bluegrass festival in 2008 and was flummoxed that 7 years later he was “best new artist.” They at least got a Grammy nomination in 2009. The country music establishment has pretty out to lunch for a while.
Anyhow, fascinating bit of history here. Too bad he wasn’t well enough known then to be taken up on it.
King Honky Of Crackershire
October 28, 2020 @ 8:36 am
If I was into Rock n Roll, I imagine I’d probably be into Tom Petty.
Having said that, I don’t view it as a positive for C(c)ountry Music, that the arteeest that a ton of people consider to be the torchbearer for traditionalism in the mainstream realm, cites a Rock n Roll legend as his most ever-present influence.
King Honky Of Crackershire
October 28, 2020 @ 11:12 am
Let the record show, that this is the real Arkansas, and preferred Arkansas by 77% of Arkansawyers.
October 28, 2020 @ 1:57 pm
Thanks for sharing Honk. Thats a gorgeous song. Love those harmonies.
October 28, 2020 @ 6:17 pm
The getups told me it would be good before hitting play.
October 28, 2020 @ 4:55 pm
King… You need to check out the two Mudcrutch albums. I went from being a fan to a super Tom Petty fan after the first one was released in 2008.
Jesus was a brown-skinned liberal, not a white conservative
October 30, 2020 @ 10:33 am
Your point notwithstanding, rock was more or less the dominant musical force of the latter half of the 20th century. It’s not shameful to cite a rock act as an influence for artists of a certain age. In fact, I expect it, and if there were zero rock acts in any given list of influences I’d assume that the person was simply downplaying the connection.
I’m an Arkansawyer and I like Stapleton just as much as that song you posted by the Wilburn Brothers.
October 31, 2020 @ 7:20 pm
I have no way of knowing for sure, of course, but it could be that Stapleton was thinking of how he’s been inspired by Petty’s integrity and commitment — by the way he pursued his craft — as much as by his music. (In any event I do like the Wilburn Brothers’ “Arkansas” better than Stapleton’s.)
October 28, 2020 @ 8:37 am
Looking forward to Stapleton’s new album.
October 28, 2020 @ 9:26 am
Well who doesn’t like Tom Petty? Honestly, he was about as popular as The Eagles were. He filled arenas to his dying day. Heck, even George Strait pays him tribute. Go figure. But, Tom Petty was a rock and roll icon. He never claimed to be country. Yes he did back Cash on Unchained, but country he was not.
I’ve been an unapologetic Stapleton guy since The Steeldrivers began.. ( Really ) As far as I was concerned, he coulda made 4 more records with them and Ida been happy. His writing and singing with that band was a perfect match. Listen to Good Corn Liquor, Blue Side of The Mountain , Can You Run or Heaven Sent and tell me different. Go on, I dare ya. And when your at it, listen to Where Rainbows Never Die.
Solo Stapleton has become another animal entirely, and I feel hes getting boring and formulaic. Do we really need From A Room vol 3? Mix it up man. More pedal steel, how about a bit of banjo or mandolin in the mix? How about more Telecaster twang? Fiddles? Get your ol pal Tammy Rogers in the studio and recreate that beautiful vocal harmony the two of you once had. Plus her fiddling is epic.
I feel hes on this Country Rock, stripped down trio thing and its getting tiring.
I get it though, its worked thus far, sold millions, why fix it if it ain’t broke.
Oh well, I can always dream…
October 29, 2020 @ 7:58 am
agree about the Steeldrivers, in the Stapleton era they were unmatchable.
October 28, 2020 @ 9:53 am
Trigger, they did at least interact. I saw Stapleton open for Tom Petty at Summerfest a few months before Petty died. First of two nights together. The only show on Petty’s tour that had CS as the opener. Stapleton mentioned those shows on his Austin City Limits appearance in the post show interview. A rare treat and a great memory.
October 28, 2020 @ 10:15 am
Correction; as Wes pointed out below, it was not the only stop where CS opened for Petty. I was thinking of when I saw Pearl Jam open for Petty…Milwaukee was the only stop for that.
October 28, 2020 @ 10:23 am
Added a note to the article that Stapleton did open for Petty. It’s definitely worth mentioning.
October 28, 2020 @ 2:14 pm
Don’t feel too good about that song. The lyrics don’t go anywhere, the production is bad, and it’s not really country at all.
October 28, 2020 @ 9:58 am
I must confess, I only discovered the Steeldrivers as a result of Stapleton’s first album which has been played a lot (as have the Steeldrivers). Love his voice. He is the real deal. I think Tom Petty was also the real deal. I would think that they could have worked well together. 2 great talents. I am looking forward to Stapleton’s new albums. The songs released so far suggest it will be a great listen.
October 28, 2020 @ 10:01 am
Saw Stapleton open for Tom Petty at Wrigley Field a few months before Petty passed on. I’d say it’s safe to say that Petty was a fan of CS to give him that honor on the anniversary tour.
October 28, 2020 @ 11:18 am
”Having said that, I don’t view it as a positive for C(c)ountry Music, that the arteeest that a ton of people consider to be the torchbearer for traditionalism in the mainstream realm, cites a Rock n Roll legend as his most ever-present influence.”
could not agree more with this . I am perhaps one of only a very few people I know that was not a Petty fan . I found his voice to be an acquired taste , his playing rudimentary , his songs generic and his writing overly-simple and uninspiring …….. all the things that now seem to define ‘country’ radio songs which , in fairness , are a little better in the writing department , as sad as that is when you hear how simple and generic and uninspiring most of it is ….
October 28, 2020 @ 6:28 pm
His playing rudimentary and songs generic? You best get the shit cleaned out of your ears. Petty was an ace musician and a killer songwriter. You may not like him, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t great.
November 2, 2020 @ 4:27 pm
I agree about Petty. he seemed at first like a Roger McGuinn copy.
The songs of his that I have heard, do not inspire me at all.
November 2, 2020 @ 4:29 pm
albert, I agree about Petty. he seemed at first like a Roger McGuinn copy.
The songs of his that I have heard, do not inspire me at all.
October 28, 2020 @ 11:27 am
”Solo Stapleton has become another animal entirely, and I feel hes getting boring and formulaic. Do we really need From A Room vol 3? Mix it up man. More pedal steel, how about a bit of banjo or mandolin in the mix? How about more Telecaster twang? Fiddles? Get your ol pal Tammy Rogers in the studio and recreate that beautiful vocal harmony the two of you once had. Plus her fiddling is epic.”
I’m somewhat in agreement . love the guy …love his passion and conviction ….love MOST of his solo stuff but at times it seems to scream for more supportive production ( as pointed out by Kevin in the quote above ) and falls between the cracks , I think , when he tries to ” do it all” with a three piece…….feels more like eves-dropping on a CS jam session sometimes . i’d be as happy listening to a VERY unapologetic stripped down Guitar-vocal album by him……and as much as I’m a fan of his writing -some of which is just terrific- perhaps he could use a co-writer on stuff when trying to flesh out an entire album?? . but again …I AM a fan and he’s one of the few reasons to even turn on ”country ”radio anymore .
October 28, 2020 @ 3:53 pm
I think it’s safe to say if “Crash And Burn” had Stapleton on vox, that song kills.
October 28, 2020 @ 4:56 pm
Stapleton solo was never a pure country guy, ask Alan Jackson, but he is a great roots artist and has more “real” then most of what they play on country radio today. Since i enjoy southern rock a lot and this song has that feel, i’m down.
October 28, 2020 @ 6:29 pm
Petty wasn’t wrong in his assessment of country music. It’s even worse now.
October 30, 2020 @ 7:47 am
All Tom Petty was saying was to save country music