At the age of eight country music artist Drake White was rambunctious. He wore a mullet. He had a huge gap between his teeth, and spent much of his time pranking his sister when she least expected it. And yes, he was told by his third grade teacher that he was socially unacceptable to society.
“I grew up in a $12,000 house with a $3,000 stereo and a Huckleberry Finn-type of freedom,” White says in recent interview, casually mentioning that the words that just came out of his mouth just might become a lyric to a future song. “I would get up early and literally take off.”
With Jordan Brooker
When: 9 p.m., April 20
Where: Joe’s Bar, 940 W. Weed
Life isn’t much different now. White says he often wakes up at 7 a.m. when he is off the road to stretch, let the dogs out and breathe in the day.
“We got really lucky,” says White, who grew up on a mighty dose of music from artists such as Cat Stevens, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson. “Me and my wife Alex drove up north of Nashville and found this property on Watts Creek. I like to get my bare feet in the soil and listen to the birds, and yeah, we just built a barn. I think I could live without this place, but it would mean that I would be a worse version of myself, that’s for sure.”
White says he draws inspiration from the physical landscape that surrounds him, helping to mentally put him in a place where his music making and his songwriting flourish. The grandson of a preacher man, White’s soul-infused brand of country music undoubtedly stands out within the industry’s often formula-driven landscape these days.
“I think my upbringing is what made me, me,” says White, who will make a stop at Joe’s Bar on April 20 after a successful run of shows overseas. “I was given the reins to follow my bliss, whether that was in the church or on the country roads.”
Of course, his love for music wasn’t fully realized until White was a teenager, writing his first set of lyrics at the age of 14 and then beginning to perform at around 16 years old. And now, it’s a bliss that on which he continues to have a stronghold, despite the twists and turns he experiences as he continues to ride the roller coaster that is the music business.
“I think everyone goes through years of transition, and 2018 was a big one for me,” says White, who along with his band The Big Fire, has toured with artists including Willie Nelson, Dierks Bentley, Zac Brown Band, Eric Church and Kip Moore. “And during those times, I think a lot of us have negative thoughts that fill our heads. I mean, it’s almost as if you have to say, ‘no, that’s a lie. I can change people’s lives.”
Allowing the good thoughts to squeak their way back into his being has been a priority of late for White, as he and his record label Big Machine Label Group, home of country artists such as Rascal Flatts, Sugarland and Thomas Rhett, went in different directions last year.
But as far as he’s concerned, it’s all good.
“These days, with streaming and music distribution and such, it just takes one moment in time to change everything,” explains White, who released his five-track EP, “Pieces,” last year. “You prepare your whole life for that one moment in time.”
Luckily, the Midwest as a whole has long supported White through the trials and tribulations of a career that got its footing on the backs of hits such as “It Feels Good” and “Makin’ Me Look Good Again” off of his 2016 debut studio album “Spark.”
“Garth Brooks used to always talk about the crowds in the Midwest and now I understand what he was talking about,” he says. “They just always show up when you need them. I mean, I haven’t had a hit on the radio for two years, but they still are here, stronger than ever.”
And yes, for now, White is rejoicing in the happiness that comes from a loyal fan base determined to follow the Alabama native and his signature foot-stomp wherever he goes.
“My grandfather used to say that if you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know that someone got him up there,” laughs White. “I’m certainly happy that we are selling out shows. People are being transported. They are disconnecting to reconnect. And as long as that’s happening, I’m just going to stay the course.”
Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.