Countless artists and songwriters come to Nashville every year thinking they have what it takes to find success. And for every one that shows up, one leaves, usually to live a life of anonymity back in Nebraska or wherever. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But few manage to do what singer/songwriter Chris Heers has done. He left a singing career in his native Las Vegas to spend years in Nashville honing his craft, then returned home to Vegas to find greater success than ever. With his own Dirt Rich band, with the band Heers Turner Overdrive, as a solo act, and in duo situations with various performers, Heers was booked solid for years, being named the Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year in 2015.
Then the pandemic arrived, and his nonstop live work was put on hold. But Heers is increasingly finding bookings once again throughout the Southwest, and it’s like he never left.
His 2009 album Western Stars helped propel Heers to spots on the MusicRow CountryBreakout chart and the charts in Europe, and included material that would land him in the lucrative video game market. Sometimes performing with such friends as Duncan Cameron (Sawyer Brown, Glenn Frey) and Chris Pelonis (Jeff Bridges, Michael McDonald), he has a consistent following that appreciates his down-to-earth approach to life and music. His 2015 Nashville album The Road Ahead Shines featured Music City A-listers like multi-instrumentalist Pat McGrath (Carrie Underwood, Lee Brice), guitarist Rob McNelley (Alan Jackson, Eric Church), steel player Steve Hinson (Sister Hazel, Josh Turner) and others, and helped him build an even bigger fan base.
Between sets at the legendary Pioneer Saloon in the desert near Vegas recently, Heers recalled how he first went to Nashville some 30 years ago. “I had initially gone to Nashville to stay with a guy named Eddie Bailes and his wife,” he said. “Eddie’d had a hit record called ‘I Was Born a West Virginian.’ They were playing a duo in a casino here, and they invited me to Nashville to stay with them. It was 1990, ’91, right at the beginning of the days with Garth and Clint Black and those guys. Eddie took me to the Opry, took me backstage, and I just kinda got the bug. So I moved out there and got a job with a company shooting music videos as a grip.”
“I did the whole Nashville thing,” he continued, “did the [NSAI] Song Camp, went to the Bluebird and saw all these cats like Don Schlitz [‘The Gambler’] and all these great players and writers. I used to see these guys and I thought I could never be that good, good enough to hang with them. If I’d been ready, I think I could have done something, but my writing needed a lot of evolution. So I found some great mentors, and even after I moved back to Vegas I kept going back and forth to Nashville for songwriting things. I finally got to the point where I wouldn’t embarrass myself, started playing the Bluebird and places like that.”
“I’d just written my song ‘Dirt Rich’ at the Best Western Hotel by Music Row,” he said, “and I played it at the Bluebird, and a great songwriter named Joe West [Toby Keith’s ‘American Ride’] came up to me and said, ‘Man, that song’s killer, that’s a great song.’ And that really inspired me, and that really got the ball rolling for me to do my first album [Western Stars]. But then 2009 happened and gigs opened up at home, and I was able to become a full-time musician again. The great thing about Vegas has been that we were able to have near-residencies at some of the big casinos for years, some great properties that paid well and kept my band working. I’ve been at it ever since.”
With COVID restrictions being lifted, Heers has been playing in Vegas, Utah and California, and is headed to Arizona later this year. And if the situation is right, Nashville may beckon once again. Now that Vegas is back to 100% occupancy, he’ll no doubt see his calendar full there soon. You can see what he’s up to on his Facebook page or at ChrisHeers.com.