As writers everywhere are well aware, the hardest (and most important) part of being a writer is telling a good story – and telling it well. Anyone can recant a sob story about that “really horrible thing he did that left you broken,” but few possess the knack for telling a tale that truly makes you feel the stomach-dropping heartbreak. Songwriters have that extra complicated task of not only telling a story, but coupling it with music notes and the perfect, eloquent words. As a kid, I remember scribbling poetry into a journal, daydreaming that someday I would become a talented musician singing my words in front of an adoring audience. While I never became the slightest bit musically inclined, I’ve always admired those who chose not to keep their words locked in a book, but link them with song and enrapture the world.
Singer/songwriter Justin Kaleb Driggers, or “JKD” as he’s fondly known by friends, is one of those who revels in storytelling through his folkloric songwriting–especially around a campfire. Driggers is fresh off a successful album release party at The Stone Fox last month for his full-length record Homesick Blues, a chronicle of back roads and bluesy rock-n-roll that’s definitely worth a close listen to the stories within the lyrics. With a long list of reputable influences, Driggers brings a strong, distinct voice to his dirt-kicking true blue American songs that would surely make his predecessors proud. Big things are on the horizon for this raconteur from the Ozark Mountains, and we’re lucky he’s now calling Nashville home.
You can catch JKD next at one of our favorite coffee joints, Ugly Mugs, on Saturday, September 20th.
by JKD :::
Songwriting is an extremely powerful form of expression. A simple idea, experience, or emotion can be transferred from the mind to paper and lives can immediately be changed. I learned how to write songs and tell stories from watching my dad sing songs like “Uncle Pen” and “The Red Headed Stranger.” He would sing those songs and captivate everyone around the campfire. I saw how, in that moment, he would take on the life of the character he was singing about–but in his own unique way. I wanted to have that same effect around the campfire. It’s where I judge if a song is good or not. There’s something special about the popping sound of seasoned firewood engulfed in flames, under a bright sky full of stars eagerly awaiting the next song you’ll sing, or the next story you’ll tell. It all revolves around the campfire.
Below are five of my favorite songwriters. It was very hard to narrow them all down, but I tried to leave out the Steve Earle’s and Woody Guthries and Johnny Cash’s and Kris Kristofferson’s of the world and focus on some other guys. Jason Isbell is also a maniac of a writer, but unfortunately I couldn’t fit everyone into this piece. All of these guys have impacted me so much–they could very well do the same for you.
I can remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Chris Knight come on the stereo. The stars were out in full force that night, and I was riding shotgun in my cousin’s truck somewhere outside of Little Rock. He played me Knight’s track “Down the River” and I was hooked. Knight’s a storyteller, and has a way of making light of his character’s misfortunes, almost in a Flannery O’Connor sort of way. Check out his album, Pretty Good Guy.
Chris Stapleton has the most soulful, pure voice I’ve ever heard. I was first introduced to his music when he sang for one of my favorite bands, The Steeldrivers. He wrote from the perspective of a tree observing the American Civil War in “Sticks That Made Thunder.” He sang from the perspective of a southern slave trying to run for freedom in “Can You Run.” He also plays in a band called The Jompson Brothers, which is bad-to-the-bone rock and roll. Be on the lookout for his forthcoming solo album.
I was recently turned onto Sturgill Simpson’s album Meta-Modern Sounds in Country Music. He’s a breath of fresh air in country music in every aspect of the term. His opening track, “Turtles All the Way Down” is excellent, but my favorite track on the album is “Long White Line.” I could listen to Sturgill Simpson every day, if I don’t already.
4. BJ Barham of American Aquarium
BJ Barham is a no BS, straight-to-the-point writer. I love his band American Aquarium so much. Their track “Casualties” on the album Burn. Flicker. Die. will rip any touring musician’s heart right out of their chest when Barham exclaims, “I should have been a doctor or a lawyer, or a policeman on patrol. Instead I’m a casualty of rock and roll!” Barham’s lyrics are relatable, and that’s what makes them great. Be sure to pick up American Aquarium’s forthcoming album Wolves.
5. Gary Nichols
If there is anybody on this planet who could’ve replaced Chris Stapleton in the Steeldrivers, it’s Gary Nichols. Not only is he a brilliant writer, producer and guitar player, he’s also a great friend. Gary is a product of Muscle Shoals, Alabama and it’s evident in his music. He’s had a couple of singles find their way to the country charts with “Unbroken Ground” and “I Can’t Love You Anymore,” but his best work came on the latest Steeldrivers’ album Hammer Down. He brings a swampy element to the band unlike any bluegrass I’ve ever heard. Please, for the love of God, go buy Hammer Down–It’s a game changer.