Before he was a chart-topping, ACM and CMA Award-winning country music star, Luke Bryan was just a boy from small-town Georgia with two older siblings he adored. And now he’s written a very personal song about one of them, his late brother Chris.
Chris died in a car accident in the autumn of 1996. It was right before Bryan’s planned departure for Nashville. And at the time, Chris’s death changed everything.
Bryan recently opened up to Willie Geist of the “Today” show about the new tune, titled “Songs You Never Heard.” He also talked about the process of losing both his older siblings at tragically young ages.
Luke Bryan Lost His Brother, Then His Sister
According to “Today,” it was on the eve of Bryan’s planned departure for Nashville that Chris’s fatal car accident happened.
“When Chris passed away, it was devastating because no one was more fired-up about me going to Nashville than him,” Bryan recalled.
The aspiring musician, who became a performer in high school after a drama teacher recognized his potential, put his plans on hold when Chris died. Instead, Bryan stayed in Leesburg, Georgia with his family. He worked for his father at a peanut processing facility and attended college.
But eventually, his father sat him down and told him to take his guitar and leave.
“I remember the color of the sky the day we were riding in the truck,” Bryan recounted. “And I had the anxiety of asking my dad what did he think about me moving to Nashville? And he was like, ‘If you don’t go, I’m gonna kick you out of here. I’m gonna fire you. I’m gonna make you go.’”
But no sooner had Bryan made it to Nashville, his career ascendant, than his sister Kelly died suddenly. Her husband Ben died of a heart attack seven years later. So it fell to Bryan and his wife Caroline to take in the couple’s three young children. Which they did.
Bryan Talks ‘Songs You Never Heard’
Luke Bryan admitted that even to this day, it’s hard to talk about the loss of his siblings. But he knows his music speaks to people who’ve had similar experiences. That includes this latest song.
“When you start talking about the loss of siblings, and even the loss of my brother-in-law, gosh, you almost feel anxiety of telling aspects of your life that are so tragic,” Bryan said. “But then, I have to remember, there are people out there that have gone through similar stuff that I have. And at the end of the day, we’re trying to just tell the story of my… dirt road diary.”
“Songs You Never Heard,” written for Chris, grew out of Bryan’s musings on what Chris’s reaction would have been to all the country music that’s come out since he died. Wouldn’t it have been great if Chris had gotten to hear those songs?
It’s emotional subject matter for Bryan, who says he was convinced the song had merit from watching the reactions of family and friends.
“When you’re in the moment of trying to really capture it right, it’s very emotional. Sometimes the songwriters will cry, sometimes I’ll cry,” he said. “But then when I start playing it for my wife, and my people in my world, and my band members, and my bus driver, and I’ve had some buddies from home here. And when you’re in a truck with one of your hometown boys and they start crying, it’s what writing a song is all about.”
“There’s a moment when you’re like, ‘Man, what would it be like if they were here?’ But that wasn’t the plan,” Bryan conceded. “There’s a lot of people out there that’s got the same questions.”