HomeEntertainmentMusicJon Nite: 5 Songs That Shaped the Songwriter

Jon Nite: 5 Songs That Shaped the Songwriter

by Jim Casey
(Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Jon Nite has penned more than a dozen No. 1 hits, including chart-toppers by Keith Urban (“Break On Me”), Darius Rucker (“If I Told You”), Cole Swindell (“Break Up in the End”), Luke Bryan (“What She Wants Tonight”), and more.

In addition, Jon is one of the tunesmiths behind Gabby Barrett’s 2020 chart-topping smash, “I Hope,” which has been certified 5X Platinum by the RIAA for sales of 5 million units.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Texas native wrote one of the sweetest songs of the last five years: Lee Brice’s Top 20 tearjerker, “Boy.”

The elusive Jon (he’s hard to find) sat down with Outsider to talk about the 5 Songs That Shaped the Songwriter . . . or as Jon said, “The five songs that messed me up and put me back together again!”

1. ‘Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys’ – Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson

Jon Nite: The first four or five years of my life, I lived at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch outside of Amarillo, Texas. One of my first memories is driving the gold, endless fields between the ranch and Amarillo, when I heard this Willie and Waylon song passing through stations, which was a hit a decade or so earlier. My folks didn’t listen to much besides gospel music, so I don’t even know how I remember it. My older brother and I were playing in the desert sands and chasing sheep in kid rodeos. And I wanted nothing more than to be a cowboy, especially since the song said we probably shouldn’t be. 

2. ‘Adagio for Strings’ – Samuel Barber

Jon Nite: I had made it to the Texas All-State Choir where hundreds of redneck kids sang this song in a language we didn’t understand. As I have become a songwriter who beats his head against the wall trying to find words worth saying, I find it amazing to be so moved by a song without lyrics. It’s one of the greatest melodies I’ve ever heard. And I play it when I’m burnt to my filter. It challenges me to use better melodies in my three-chords-and-the-truth world.

3. ‘There Goes My Life’ – Kenny Chesney

Jon Nite: I had my first daughter, Ashley, when I was still in high school. The hook of this song might as well have read my mind before and after. As a 17-year-old kid, I thought my life—as I had dreamt it—was over. But it was only over because a better life was staring back at me through the eyes of a beautiful baby girl. I grew nine years older in nine months, and failure became something I just could not live with. Kenny released this as I was figuring out how to adult. I thank God for this child—and the song that feels like it was tailor-made for us. Those writers and the cut by Kenny still can make us pull over into a parking lot and just lose it on the side of the road.

4. ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ – Tom Petty

Jon Nite: I played in a band when I first got signed, where we toured all over the South. We played everything from Waylon to Dierks Bentley to Tom Petty. But we closed a lot of shows with this song. The first night I remember playing this song was in a crowded bar in Indiana. I saw 500 people all lose their collective minds and sing every word to this song with their last-call plastic cups in the air, jumping and dancing and the bartenders trying to kick everyone out while we played on and on. People need to lose their minds. Music is the conduit. I think about these nights with the crappy van and trailer playing shows that nobody will remember. And I know how much moments like this help people get through the grind of getting by.  

5. ‘Stop This Train’ – John Mayer 

Jon Nite: “Don’t know how else to say it / Don’t want to see my parents go / I’m one generation’s length away / From fighting life out on my own.” The feeling of “The House That Built Me” mixed with trying to hold time back. When I had my daughter at 17, my parents, shortly after, moved from Texas to California for work. I felt a little like I could never go back in time to that feeling of home, safety, and family. I’ve felt what this song wrestles with. And it’s in all of us the moment we drive away from what made us us. The advice from John’s dad, “Don’t for a minute change the place you’re in” has led me to write songs like “Living” [Dierks Bentley] and “Break Up in the End” [Cole Swindell] by always fighting my glass-half-empty self and attempting to see silver linings. Be happy with the beer raised high in the bar or the baby raised high in the yard, ’cause both are amazing and neither moment lasts very long.