Celebrate the ‘Best’ of Chris Stapleton on His 44th Birthday: Songwriter, Solo Artist, SteelDrivers & More

by Jim Casey
(Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for CMT)

Let’s have a Chris Stapleton party. Celebrate Chris’ 44th birthday on April 15 with our selection of Stapleton superlatives from his days as a songwriter, solo artist, and frontman for both The SteelDrivers and The Jompson Brothers.

The SteelDrivers

Chris let his Kentucky roots shine as the frontman for bluegrass troupe The SteelDrivers from 2005 to 2010. With Chris at the helm, The SteelDrivers released two albums. Their 2008 self-titled album was highlighted by “If It Hadn’t Been for Love” (more on that in a minute), while 2010’s Reckless featured Stapleton’s otherworldly vocals on “Where Rainbows Never Die,” among others.

The Jompson Brothers

Chris (vocals/rhythm guitar) joined forces with Greg McKee (lead guitar), Bard McNamee (drums), and J.T. Cure (bass) to form The Jompson Brothers circa 2007. After Chris departed The SteelDrivers in 2010, the hard-rockin’ four-piece band hit the road and dropped one—and only one—album: 2010’s The Jompson Brothers. The 9-song offering, a must-own for every Stapleton fan, is capped by “Barely Alive,” a brilliant acoustic turn on an otherwise Southern rock set.

The Songwriter

Chris Stapleton’s songwriting credits on the country music front are numerous, including Dierks Bentley’s “Diamonds Make Babies,” Miranda Lambert’s “Nobody’s Fool,” Luke Bryan’s “Drink a Beer,” Darius Rucker’s “Come Back Song,” and many more. But if you really want to be blown away by a Chris composition outside the country genre, check out Adele’s cover of the aforementioned “If It Hadn’t Been for Love,” which Chris co-penned with Mike Henderson. Adele included it as a bonus track on her 2011 sophomore album, 21.

Solo Stapleton

No one’s stock increased more in 2015 than Chris Stapleton’s. He became the darling of the CMA Awards, winning three trophies, while putting on a show-stopping performance with Justin Timberlake. A few months before the CMAs, Chris released his solo debut album, Traveller.

The impetus for Traveller stemmed from a cross-country road trip that Chris took with his wife, Morgane, in October 2013 after his father passed away. Chris and Morgan flew to Phoenix, where she bought Chris a present: a 1979 Jeep Cherokee Chief S, which they drove back to Nashville.

“I wrote the album’s first song and title track, ‘Traveller,’ while I was driving back,” said Chris to me during a sit-down interview in 2015. “My wife was asleep, and it was either sunset or sunrise, going 60 down Highway 40 somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico. I just started singing and trying to record it softly so she wouldn’t wake up. The lyrics came beginning to end as I watched the sun over the mountains.”

Chris Covers

“Tennessee Whiskey” was one of the two tunes on Traveller that Stapleton didn’t write (Dean Dillon/Linda Hargrove). Both David Allan Coe and George Jones recorded the timeless standard in the 1980s. And Chris’ soulful interpretation of the song is as smooth as the tune’s title.   

“That song still stands the test of time,” said Chris in 2015. “I like to dissect the magic of what makes something timeless. The goal of every artist should be to make something timeless. I’m always looking for that. How great would it be to have one timeless hit that gets put in the catalog of standards, like ‘Tennessee Whiskey.’ It’s a great song worth listening to, still to this day. If you can just write one of those, that’s it.”

Chris’ cover? Timeless.