You may not be a fan of classic country music. Heck, you may have no idea what classic country music even means. But maybe you’ve heard the name Sturgill Simpson by now. He’s recently been nominated for a Grammy alongside Beyoncé, Drake, Adele, and the Biebs.
In his most recent album, “A Sailor’s Guide To Earth,” nominated for Album of the Year, Simpson beautifully crafted a work of art with his wife and then-newborn son in mind. No record executive or boardroom has infected the audibly stunning and spiritually raw aspects of his music—yet.
Becoming the nominee for one of the music industry’s top awards is where the similarities between Sturgill and the other nominees stop. He’s 38 years old and has been compared to country old-timer Waylon Jennings.
Born in the heart of Appalachia in Jackson, Kentucky, Simpson drank up musical influences that ranged from ‘70s rock to American blues. He sold drugs in high school and served in Japan for the Navy. When he returned to the United States, the monotony of life slowly enveloped him, but his wife—the woman he calls his muse—saved him. She told him to quit his job, and they moved to Nashville.
Friends Would Rather Listen to Sturgill In His Living Room
Simpson’s country pedigree is rooted in the everyday man. However, his passion is sparked by his obviously extensive reading. It’s no coincidence many of his lyrics harken to the prose of yesteryear. A poet’s heart is embedded within his rough and ramble exterior. His traverses across the country from his time in the Navy and working with the railroad clearly parlay into the traveler’s stories told in his music.
Sturgill personally crafts every facet of his music, from the album art to the marketing techniques, and the time and care pay off. From the bluesy tune “Keep It Between The Lines” to the old-school “Call To Arms,” which harkens to a rockabilly influence and playfully injects horns into his storytelling repertoire, his oeuvre suggests Simpson is a visionary talent. His style varies between those of Jerry Lee Lewis and Paul Simon.
As Simpson’s friends once lamented, they’d rather swing by his house to listen to his crooning that go to the clubs. He awakens a musical angst and passion previously undiscovered, and a romantic sincerity that has been stripped from the recent generations of pop-infused country music.
Returning Respect to Country Music
“Sailor’s Guide” is being rightfully heralded as a siren call to respect classic country music. It’s a demand that the once-great country music artists be portrayed as viable, respected artists. Simpson says in his songs what we feel inside but just didn’t know was there. He does what music is fundamentally made for: puts raw emotion to a tune. And you won’t want to stop listening.
He covers Nirvana’s “In Bloom” with such a lonesome sound that even Kurt Cobain would have approved. Sturgill adds his own style and insight to the lyrics. To the original words, “he likes to sing along and he likes to shoot his gun but he don’t know what it means,” Simpson profoundly adds “to be in love.” A spiritualism underlines his work, but of what religion isn’t really clear. He talks about a drug-induced trip to see Jesus, the devil, and Buddha. Love saved his life, he croons. He talks about the things in life that matter: relationships, family, and love.
For those of us whom have not been brave enough to dive into the explosive music festival scenes that pepper the country (such as Merlefest, Bonnaroo, SXSW, or Hardly Strictly Bluegrass), you can live vicariously through the raw emotional lyrics and tantalizing instrumentals Simpson lays bare at your feet. It’s accessible from the tap of a button on your Spotify playlist.
‘Art Before Business’
Today’s creative geniuses are not the pretty, slicked up E! Entertainment models or Bravo Real Housewives plastic bobble-headed figments of Nashville or Hollywood’s imagination. The Sturgill Simpsons, Ryan Adams, Jason Isbells, and Kurt Viles of the world (if you don’t know those names, they’re worth looking up) are second-generation singer-songwriters who cut their teeth on their unsung heroes of yesterday’s classic country musicians.
In a year of protest votes, what better thing to do than support the no-name Grammy nominee who rocks and croons than yet another big name like Beyoncé? Don’t get me wrong—the pop people can do what they please. It sells, and the world loves it. But every so often, when the earth is graced with musicians like Simpson, let’s show some appreciation for his organic raw emotion. I vote he wins the Grammy.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Simpson said, “As long as I put art before business, I’ll just let love lead the way.” Sturgill doesn’t play by the rules, and his most recent album proves that. That makes us lucky we get to listen.