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.