It is obvious why Nashville is called Music City. Musicians of all walks journey to this iconic locale to seek fame and fortune in the music industry.
Country hopefuls still flock to legendary venues such as Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and The Bluebird Café to showcase their talents with hopes of making it big. Country superstar Josh Thompson has experienced all aspects of the Nashville music scene. And according to him, country will always reign supreme in Nashville.
“It’s something that’s always changing,” Thompson said. “It’s always been inundated with the latest trends. At the end of the day, the only thing that remains true and ends up winning is country. I think country lyrics and the country lifestyle have never changed.”
Thompson’s story is one that will go down in the annals of Nashville scene history. Fourteen years ago, Thompson was living a blue collar life in Wisconsin. At 21, he decided to pick up the guitar as a hobby. He quickly made friends with this instrument and found he also had a talent for songwriting. Thompson spent his days pouring cement, and his nights polishing his guitar skills and penning lyrics for songs. As he honed his craft, Thompson decided to gamble on Nashville. He packed his bags and found work as a songwriter.
Until several years ago, Nashville’s country scene was comprised of two groups. Songwriters who worked behind the scenes penning song lyrics, and performers who brought the songs to the public. The two groups seldom mingled, until the advent of indie country, which brought songwriters from behind the scenes to perform their own music.
When Thompson first arrived in Nashville, he found work as a songwriter on the publishing side of the scene. However, he followed the example of artists such as Eric Church and Blake Shelton and stepped out onto the stage to perform his own music. Even though the move broke tradition, Thompson said that it was not a complicated career shift.
“It was pretty easy,” Thompson said. “I’m just an artist who likes to write his own songs. For awhile, I know that Nashville was just into singers, and they would find them their songs. I think they found that people knew who they were a little bit better when they created their own material.”
It did not take long for Thompson to be recognized by the music industry. His songs embodied the blue collar attitude with which he was quite familiar. These tracks were songs for the working class to enjoy on the weekend after spending a week in sweat and stress.
Thompson’s songs were a sonic representation of a rowdy honky-tonk, and America quickly fell in love with his debut single “Beer on the Table,” which was included in a four-song EP that followed its release. In 2010, he was signed to a major label (Columbia Nashville) and released his full-length debut “Way Out There,” which broke the Top 10 on the U.S. Country Chart. His newfound fame was a far cry from his days pouring concrete.
“It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been 14 years since then,” Thompson said. “It’s amazing to think about the first time that I learned a G chord until now. It’s been a complete 180. I am very thankful for, but it’s amazing to think about.”
Thompson is touring in support of his sophomore effort “Turn It Up” on the Show Dog label, which was co-founded by Toby Keith. As with “Way Out There,” Thompson lent his songwriting skills in all the songs on the album. However, he decided to make “Turn It Up” a group effort with a cavalcade of Nashville’s best songwriters acting as co-writers. Co-writing credits include Casey Beathard (“No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem”), The Warren Brothers (“Move On”), Brent Cobb (“Tailgate Blues”) and many others.
“The names that are on the album are guys that I really like working with all the time,” Thompson said. “What we end up getting is always something that I really dig. I just know that if I’m going to write with one of those guys, then I take them my best ideas. I know they won’t be wasted.”
His label also had a helping hand in the album’s creation. Label heads Mark Wright and Cliff Audretch III acted as the producers on “Turn It Up.” This production choice may leave many with the impression that this is album is saturated in corporate influence and intimidation. However, Thompson will be quick to explain that this is not the case.
“They aren’t like other labels,” Thompson said. “It’s very much the opposite of a corporate label. They love me, and they are very driven. They love doing what they do, and it’s very much like a family.”
“Turn It Up” is a return to the hell-raising, boot-stomping attitude that echoed throughout Thompson’s debut. It is a revival of the modern party country that Hank Williams Jr. pioneered in the ’80s. This was Thompson’s goal from the very beginning.
With the nation emerging from a harsh winter, Thompson chose a spring release for “Turn It Up” for a reason. He knew this album would accent the traditional leisure activities that are commonplace in the warmer months.
“I wanted to make a party record,” Thompson said. “I knew it was coming out in the spring, and everybody had a rough winter. I knew it would be time for everybody to get outside and crank up the grill and road trip or go to the lake. I wanted a record that they could put on, and there would be no downers from front to back. I wanted some that you could party to.”
This party attitude seeps into Thompson’s live performances as well. He went on to explain that his fans in the Azalea City need to prepare for a party. He promises his show at Soul Kitchen will keep the crowd on its feet for the duration of the show with high-energy country.
“We like to keep it slamming,” Thompson said. “We don’t want anybody falling asleep at a live show.”
Josh Thompson, Marcus Fox
Date: Friday, May 9, with doors at 7:30 p.m.
Venue: Soul Kitchen, 219 Dauphin St., www.soulkitchenmobile.com
Tickets: $17 advance/$22 day-of, available at Soul Kitchen, its website, Mellow Mushroom (WeMo/MiMo) or by calling 866-468-7630