Florida may be the nation’s fourth most-populous state, but the tiny county that Florida native Easton Corbin calls home may as well be on a different planet from Miami Beach or Key West. The new Mercury Nashville star’s debut single was “A Little More Country Than That,” and it’s hard to come up with a more autobiographical title for a kid who grew up on his grandparents’ cattle farm in Gilchrist County, Fla., the smallest county by population in the Sunshine State.
“It was great growin’ up there. It’s a small place, and everybody knows everybody,” Corbin says during a mid-July phone interview from a very big city, Chicago, where hours later he would open for Brad Paisley. “I grew up there, fish-ing and swimming in the Suwannee River.”
That is indeed the same river Stephen Foster immortalized 150 years ago, with a slightly different spelling (“Way Down Upon the Swanee River”). Foster’s first draft was called “Way Down Upon the Pee Dee River,” after a South Carolina waterway, but he never liked the way that sounded and instead consulted a map, where he discovered the Suwannee.
By any name, it was a place near and dear to Easton Corbin’s music and life. He loved the hard work and the country life, and was active in the local chapters of 4-H and Future Farmers of America, much like earlier generations of country radio and Opry stars. Easton also quickly inherited his family’s love of country music, joining his grandparents in front of the TV on Saturday night to listen to the Grand Ole Opry.
So years later, after Easton and his wife Briann had moved to Nashville and Corbin had been signed to Mercury Nashville, when producer Carson Chamberlain played him the demo of the Rory Lee Feek/Wynn Varble/Don Poythress composition “A Little More Country Than That,” both Easton and Carson knew they’d found something very special.
“Carson had already heard it, and he said, `I really think you’re gonna like this song,’ ” Corbin says. “When I first heard it, I said wow! It’s definitely like they wrote it for me.” Their instincts were perfect: The song went straight to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart on March 22, a huge achievement for a new artist.
Working with the Kentucky native Chamberlain, a veteran producer and label executive who used to be the late Keith Whitley’s steel player and tour manager, has been in many ways a dream come true for Corbin, who idolized Whitley as a kid.
“Keith Whitley is absolutely one of my favorites, him and George Jones and Merle Haggard,” Easton says. “They were the biggest influences on me and my style. They’re so country, and I just love their songs. Those songs are so country, and I’ve always been a fan of vocal stylists like that.”
It hasn’t taken long for country radio and country fans to become fans of Easton Corbin’s own vocal stylings as well. Many have commented that his self-titled debut album sounds more like the work of a veteran star, and that he’s very comfortable and onstage even in front of huge crowds.
“Absolutely, I feel right at home when I’m singing,” he says. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be, and no other feeling like it. I don’t wanna be anywhere else.”
It’s hard to describe how thrilling it was for Easton Corbin to make his Opry debut, and have his grandparents – who were in their eighties – be on hand that night to see it. “That was one of the coolest experiences of my life,” he recalls. “They got to come to that first Opry performance. Hank Sr. was one of my grandpa’s favorites, and one of his favorite live performers was Roy Acuff – all the Grand Ole Opry pioneers. My grandmother was really excited too. That was really, really a cool thing.” Another cool thing is Corbin’s songwriting, which shifted into high gear during a four-day tunesmithing trip to Colorado with Chamberlain and veteran hit writer Mark D.Sanders.
“We wrote seven songs in four days,” Easton says. “There are four songs on the record that I was part of writing.”
The current single, the tempo “Roll With It,” is by three more of Corbin’s favorite Row writers, Tony Lane, David Lee, and Johnny Park. “What great writers,” Corbin says. “When I first heard that song, it reminded me of growing up, going to the beach, being on the river on weekends. It’s a great summer song.”
Don’t be at all surprised if it results in another No. 1 for Corbin, Luke Lewis, Chamberlain, and the outstanding Mercury Nashville radio promotion team. But also, rest assured that Easton Corbin will never stray too far from his small-town, agricultural, country roots.
“The Future Farmers of America and the 4-H Clubs are really important,” he says. “Those organizations are so good at teaching you responsibility, and they do so much. Being in those groups was just a great experience growing up for me.”
Story by: Phil Sweetland | firstname.lastname@example.org