Cole Swindell Opens up About the Inspirations Behind ‘She Had Me at Heads Carolina’

by Blake Ells
(Photo by Erika Goldring/WireImage)

Cole Swindell’s “She Had Me at Heads Carolina” is a massive, chart-topping success. The song has remained atop the Billboard Country Airplay chart for four weeks, longer than any song in his career. It also crossed over to the Billboard Hot 100 and leapt to number 16. The obvious inspiration for the song is the 1996 Jo Dee Messina track “Heads Carolina, Tails California.” But now, he’s sharing a little more about how the song came to be with Billboard.

“I’ve been doing this for a little while, but I don’t remember a song being quite like this,” he said. “It’s really new territory, seeing it move up the charts like it is and seeing the crowd reactions in concert.”

Cole Swindell’s first time in front of an audience was at a karaoke bar in Panama City Beach, Fla.

“I was in high school and we would go to Panama City for vacations,” he said. “We were at a place called the Quarterdeck, a little seafood place that had karaoke. In ‘She Had Me at Heads Carolina,’ the girl’s friends talk her into getting up there, and that’s what happened to me. I sang Lonestar’s ‘Amazed,’ and looking back, that’s not an easy song to sing. I hadn’t done any performing – maybe I’d sing if someone had a guitar and we had some friends hanging at the beach. But they talked me into getting up there and that kind of sparked the whole thing. People were like, ‘What? You can sing!'”

Cole Swindell Invites Jo Dee Messina Along for the Video

In the music video for the song, Cole Swindell is a bystander to the actual story that’s unfolding in the song. And Jo Dee Messina is a bartender. It was filmed at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie in Printer’s Alley in Nashville. The bar is located across the street from Ms. Kelli’s, which is a karaoke bar that he says he and his friends go to a lot.

“If it’s the right night and the right mood, we’ll swing by Ms. Kelli’s,” he said. “It’s just a bare bones place, but Ms. Kelli’s is one of my buddy’s favorite karaoke spots in Nashville, and one of my favorite places.”

He says his own “go-to” karaoke song is George Strait’s “Carrying Your Love With Me.”

“She Had Me at Heads Carolina” is actually a co-write with Thomas Rhett.

“When we were touring together, me and TR talked about taking a song we loved and putting our own spin on it,” he said. “But when we settled on ‘Heads Carolina,’ obviously, it’s got Carolina and California in it, but TR and I are from Georgia. The only angle that worked was the idea of walking in somewhere and the girl be singing that song.”