How Eric Church Got His ‘Chief’ Nickname

by Jim Casey
how-eric-church-got-chief-nickname

Eric Church coupled his onstage persona with a little bit of family history to become “Chief” on the country music-loving universe.

Country music has always loved a good nickname. From “Possum” and “The Man in Black” to “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “The Gambler,” the genre is rife with metaphorical monikers. “Chief” feels right at home among them.

Eric Church Becomes the ‘Chief’

Eric Church has generated quite the fan base since releasing his debut album, Sinners Like Me, in 2006. Actually, he was generating a fan base playing the club scene years earlier in his home state of North Carolina. Normally a mild-mannered man, Eric built an entertaining reputation with his heavy-hitting, on-stage metamorphosis. The aviator sunglasses and low-tilted baseball cap only added to the mystique.

But you can blame blistering stage lights for part of his “Chief” title. As Eric told Country Weekly magazine in 2011, his onstage “uniform” was all about functionality.

“We were playing all these bars [with fans] and they were absolutely baking my contact lenses,” said Eric to Country Weekly. “It was like playing in a rotisserie every night. They kept popping out, so the hat and sunglasses thing just happened on its own. It became kind of a uniform for me.”

His bandmates liked the “uniform” so much that they started calling him “Chief.”

Family Tradition

Of course, his backing band had no idea that Eric actually had a family connection to the nickname.

Eric’s maternal grandfather was Chief of Police in Granite Falls, N.C., for 27 years. Everyone called him “Chief,” including Eric’s dad. When Eric’s backing band dubbed him “Chief,” the title felt full-circle.

“How I am during the day is nothing like I am onstage,” said Eric. “It’s two different guys. That’s where Chief came from . . . when the hat and the sunglasses go on, I can be a different person.”

Of course, in 2011, Eric released his third studio album, aptly titled Chief. The album, which has been certified 3X Platinum by the RIAA, is Eric’s best-selling project. Chief also spawned Eric’s first No. 1 single, “Drink in My Hand,” as well as “Springsteen.”

And, if the nickname was ever in question, Eric started his own nonprofit, Chief Cares, in 2013 to help underprivileged families.

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