Eric Church: Marty Smith & Outsider Staff Celebrate The Chief’s 45th Birthday With Their Favorite Songs

by Jim Casey
(Photo by Richard Gabriel Ford/Getty Images)

Kenneth Eric Church entered the world for the first time, probably wearing Aviators, on May 3, 1977, in Granite Falls, North Carolina. That means Eric Church is 45 years old today. And that’s reason enough for us to party.

In celebration of the Chief’s big day, we tasked our Outsider crew of Marty Smith, Wes Blankenship, Jim Casey, and Clayton Edwards with breaking down their favorite Eric Church song. It’s a tall order considering the scope of Eric’s catalog, which includes seven studio albums, two live albums, and one compilation album. In addition to the quantity, there’s just so much damn quality.

Having said that, sit back, relax, and have a sip of whiskey (Eric recommends his signature Single Barrel Select Jack Daniel’s) as we wax poetic about country music’s Outsider.

‘Sinners Like Me’

Marty Smith, host of ‘The Marty Smith Podcast’

Few people have impacted my life more deeply than Eric Church. Anybody who knows anything about me knows I don’t just love Eric’s work, I live the songs.

My appreciation for his spirit started with “How ’Bout You.” Every word spoke directly to my core. I said, “yes ma’am” to my momma until the day she died. I cover my heart with my hat when they fly my Red, White, and Blue.

But when I lost my daddy, the Sinners Like Me record became far more than music. It became a vehicle to carry complex and confusing emotions. Sinners let me pump my fist in pride and lay my head in tears. It gave me clarity in confusion and relief in rage.

When I met Eric, several months after my dad passed, I didn’t have the balls to look him in the eye. I just shook his hand, stared at the floor, and told him, “Hey man, I know this is weird. But you saved my life.” Because that record and that song, “Sinners Like Me,” did save me.

In a lot of ways, it sings like a biography for my parents. Dad was a hell-raiser, a misunderstood man who didn’t understand himself very well. He’d made mistakes he wanted back. But he got lucky and married an angel. A woman who loved him so hard through the flaws that eventually the coal wore away enough to let the diamond shine through. And they had me.

And now here I am, 46 years old, father of three, married to my best friend. The next in a long line of sinners trying every day to balance a hell-raiser’s heart and an empathetic soul. I’ve been to dozens of Eric’s shows over the years. “Sinners Like Me” makes me emotional every single time. I am a flawed man. But me and Jesus got that part worked out.

‘Give Me Back My Hometown’

Wes Blankenship, co-host of ‘The Marty Smith Podcast’

When was the last time you went home? Not to your mom’s house. Not just driving past your highway exit. I mean your geographical hometown.

If it’s anything like mine, it looks a little different from those days when it was yours. New businesses here and there. Old businesses up and gone. But none of that mattered when your brain decided to fire up that dusty projector in your mind and reminisce, did it? Of course not. Because you had context.

Memories with people you cared about. Memories involving people you didn’t particularly care for.

Somewhere between our pupils and our optic nerves lies a filter from days gone by. When your older eyes look at the hometown here-and-now in front of them, you ultimately only see your home the way you saw it back then. Some part of home always feels like home, even if it doesn’t look that way anymore.

Eric Church—and co-writer Luke Laird—throw those feelings into a buzzing blender, and then toss said blender onto the Main Street pavement in “Give Me Back My Hometown.” Church sings about his ex that’s ruined everything about home.

She’s long gone, and she took Church’s old familiar feelings with her. Her theft of nostalgia even out-pizzas the Hut. His “safe place” is no longer safe. He wants it back, but the relationship—with her, and with
their past—has sailed.

It’s quintessential Church. And even though I can’t fully relate to the soured landscape in his song, it makes me miss my own little thumb tack on the map. Even if your ex didn’t ruin your hometown highlights forever, this song jabs its finger right into your rose-colored cornea. No matter how good or bad the memories may be, that’s all they are now.

And there’s no going back to live them again. On that note, happy birthday, Eric Church! I haven’t listened to a song of yours that I didn’t like. Here’s to a celebration that’s more joyful, and just as moving, as the one I appreciate the most.

‘The Weight’

Jim Casey, Outsider editor

Chris Stapleton once told me, in regard to recording “Tennessee Whiskey,” that “you’re not going to out-George-Jones George Jones.” Yet, Stapleton made that song his own—and then some—without tarnishing the song’s iconic status.

I feel the same way about Eric Church covering The Band’s “The Weight.” You’re not going to out-Band The Band (Levon for life, man). But Church doesn’t try to. He just exudes his own natural gravity to “The Weight.” And it works.

On June 10, 2015, Eric took part in Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium to help kick off CMA Music Fest. The annual event should be called the Early Morning Jam, because it goes, and goes, and goes. Sometime after 1 a.m., Eric took the stage for his set and proceeded to knock the socks off a cover The Band’s “The Weight” alongside Chris Stapleton, Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Phillip Sweet, and more. And I thought to myself, “Wow, now that’s something you don’t see or hear every day.”

A little more than a month later in July 2015, Eric christened Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater with back-to-back shows. On the second night, after opener Ryan Bingham mesmerized the crowd, the Chief took over. Toward the end of the evening, Eric brought Bingham back on stage for a cover of—you guessed it—The Band’s “The Weight.” And I thought to myself, “Wow, now that’s something you don’t see or hear every day.”

And now, every time I go to an Eric Church show, I unconsciously wait with whiskey in hand for “The Weight” moment. The moment where I think, “Wow, now that’s something you don’t see or hear every day.” And guess what? It always . . . always happens, whether it’s “The Weight” or another weighty tune.

Now, take a load off.

‘Hell of a View’

Clayton Edwards, Outside writer

Deciding which Eric Church song was my favorite took some serious thought. At the end of the day, though, it has to be “Hell of a View” from Soul.

The black sheep hooking up with the good girl is a tale as old as time. However, it’s the way that Church incorporates the risk of going against the grain into the tale that does it for me. Lyrics like “You liked the thought of chasin’ / Life instead of dollar bills / We’re livin’ reckless / Nothin’ to catch us, baby / But the ground,” and “Ain’t always heaven, baby / This livin’ on the edge” really flesh out the narrative here.

I firmly believe that having a life worth living means taking risks. This is especially true if you’re going to build that life on a foundation of love. Eric Church and his co-writers Casey Beathard and Monty Criswell put that into words like nobody else could.