Called one of this summer’s best opening acts by Entertainment Weekly, Murfreesboro native son Chris Young has been crisscrossing America the past four months with pal Brad Paisley on their Beat This Summer tour.
The baritone-voiced singer-songwriter who releases his fourth album, “A.M.,” on Tuesday, Sept. 17, recollects that he gleaned much on his inaugural solo tour at the age of 18 only a few months after he graduated from Oakland High School.
Young, 28, self-funded his first CD to the tune of 500 copies and performed for the most part at Borders bookstores across the Sunshine State.
“I took two weeks and drove up and down the coast through Florida. I made enough money for gas. It was just a cool experience. People still have those (CDs), and I’m sure they’re terrible,” he said jokingly.
Regardless of whether that disc remains a collector’s item, Young learned a valuable lesson.
“As long as they’re more people out there than you, you’ve got to play. I think I played to three people a couple of times,” reminisced Young, who now performs in front of thousands of adoring fans.
Young, who admittedly loves everything about touring, explained, “the best thing of all is being able to see that many people from night to night in different places around the country.”
But, there is one thing he remembers that Young said he despises on tour.
“Trying to wash your clothes on the road,” he said. “If you’re out for more than two weeks at a time, I don’t care how well you act, you have to wash clothes.”
The concert experience makes up big time for having to do dirty laundry, as he relates the thrill of taking the stage with his guitar, his band and his songs.
“My only job up there is to make people forget what they’re worried about and just enjoy themselves for 75 minutes,” Young said in reference to his concerts. “People are gonna’ see the light show we have and the backdrop, but really it’s about the music and people having fun.”
His fourth album will supply him with lots more vocal ammunition.
Of the 11 tracks on the new album, he co-wrote six of them.
What makes “A.M.” unique to his previous albums, which spawned five No. 1 country songs, he says, is the tempo along with the freedom and fun he enjoyed while in the studio with veteran producer James Stroud.
“One of the big differences is just sonically what we’ve done with this record is a little bit different from what I’ve done in the past,” Young said. “I had a lot of freedom to really cut what I wanted and do what I wanted on this record. … Really, with this record, we just had fun.
“I think part of that is due (to the fact) that there’s more tempo on this record than other albums I’ve done before. I think that’s readily apparent from the first single, ‘Aw Naw.’”
As for the song selection, he says, “Out of those six, I had these pretty much when we went in the first time to cut, and then it was like, ‘Well, I’m just really, really happy with these,’ and I found five songs that I didn’t write and these married perfectly together with this record.”
Young, who wrote his first hit, “Drinking Me Lonely,” when he was 18 years old, finds co-writing a curious experience because “you get in a room with somebody and see what happens.” And he admits sometimes a song idea that he dislikes at first may turn into a winner.
Using a guitar that belonged to the late, great Keith Whitley, Young composed “Aw Naw,” the first release from “A.M.,” with tunesmiths Chris DeStefano and Ashley Gourley.
“That song came out pretty quick,” he recollected. “It was one of those instances we knew what we wanted to write. The concept of, ‘Yeah, we went out and were only gonna’ have one and ended up not stopping at one. Kind of an accidental party song.’ The title is from (Gourley). He said, ‘Dude, I want to write a song called ‘Aw Naw,’ and I remember the first time he told me that I was like, ‘No. What the hell are we gonna’ hook to that, man.’ He goes, ‘Aw, come on, dude, we can make that work.’ I’m glad that he brought that up for sure.”
Earlier this year, the former “Nashville Star” winner enjoyed some cool experiences when he performed in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Australia and also made a cameo appearance on ABC’s hit drama “Nashville.”
“For bit part people, it’s a lot of hurry up and wait,” Young said, referring to the latter gig. “We were there for six hours and appeared for 45 seconds. It’s a cool experience, and I would do it again, but I don’t know if I could make a living doing that.”
More recently, Young took a musical journey on NPR “Song Travels” With Michael Feinstein.
While the show has featured such entertainers as Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Mark O’Connor and David Hyde Pierce, he became the first country music singer to appear on the program as he explored his musical past, present and future, recounting how music and the art of songwriting have shaped his own journey.
During the one-hour program, he shared one-of-a-kind performances of his No. 1 hits “You” and “Gettin’ You Home.” He also joined Feinstein at his grand piano to offer an off-the-cuff interpretation of the 1960s classic, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
“(Young) is a shining and versatile musical luminary with whom I truly enjoyed collaborating,” Feinstein said. “He’s a resonant songwriter, and we had fun doing an impromptu performance together. All in all, it was a memorable experience.”
Of course, the big question remains when is the Murfreesboro native going to put a concert on in his hometown?
“Who knows?” he answered modestly. “I think that would be fun at some point if I could get to the level where there would be enough interest in Murfreesboro.”
Meanwhile, Young said he enjoys returning to visit with friends and family, saying, “It’s always fun when I go back, driving around looking at what has changed since I grew up there.”