Even though I often interview up-and-coming artists, Craig Campbell has been on my radar for a while and he has an interesting story as well.
The Georgia boy is a self-taught pianist. He recalls, “I was captivated by the piano and every spare minute I was at it. After church on Sunday, I would go and pick out the melodies to the songs we sang in church that day.”
After watching other people play and having them show him a few things, he played by ear. Even though he never learned to read music, Campbell played piano at his mother’s church from age 10 to 18.
Because he knew people, after graduation he was able to get on as a Corrections Officer.
“I knew I didn’t want to go to college. I was engaged. I was ready to get work and start my domestic life. Corrections was easy. I graduated high school, applied for Corrections, and got the job immediately,” he reminisces.
Nevertheless, music never left his side. Taking a cue from the sounds of classic country and idols like Travis Tritt and Randy Travis, Campbell started a band Out of the Blue and played local and national bar gigs. When the guitar player quit, Campbell took that as a sign to chase his dreams to Nashville, Tennessee.
Campbell’s wife, Mindy Ellis Campbell is also an amazing guitar player, singer, and songwriter, “She’s a firecracker,” he states.
The bass player from his band was dating her roommate. Ellis was from Colorado already trying to make it in Nashville. Eventually, Campbell moved to Nashville too and she hired him to play piano and they have been together ever since.
He spent the next several years being a demo singer in the day and playing gigs at night on Lower Broadway, often with Ellis.
Eventually, he connected with fellow South Georgia native Luke Bryan and started touring as his keyboard player. A year and a half long keyboard stint with Tracy Byrd soon followed, and he took over as bandleader down at The Stage on Tuesday nights on his non-touring days. His smooth chops and charismatic stage presence soon caught the eye of industry execs and in 2009, Campbell signed his first record deal.
His debut single, a personal, heartfelt anthem, “Family Man,” hit the Billboard top 15 in 2011. “Outta My Head” also cracked the top 15, and the catchy, tongue-in-cheek tune “Fish” garnered more than 10 million demand streams. His 2014 breakout hit “Keep Them Kisses Comin’” was on its way up the charts when Campbell got the unexpected call that his label had closed.
He summarizes, “Keep Them Kisses Comin’” was getting close to the top ten. I got a phone call saying that need to close their doors because they were out of money.”
A lot more people than you think lose record deals for this exact reason. Record labels close, record labels get sold, or record labels merge.
“All that has happened to me,” Campbell states emphatically. “I feel like when I get my momentum going real good, the carpet gets snatched out from under me. But I just keep my head down and keep pushing forward.”
Probably his most notable song, “Outskirts of Heaven” is one of the most beautiful country songs I ever heard. If you ever lived in the country, you get it.
He states, “I wrote it from a personal point-of-view almost like prayer request. Because that is what I am used to. I don’t want to ever live in town anywhere, heaven included.”
After playing in Luke Bryan’s band early on as a keyboard player, he was support for Bryan and opened for 14 of his shows in the 2017 Huntin’, Fishin’, and Lovin’ Every Day Tour.
Since that time, Campbell has created his own label, Grindstone Records. In February of 2021, Campbell’s newest single, “What a Girl Will Make You Do” was released. The song was inspired by his wife and daughters.
He muses, “I’m surrounded by girls. I am inspired every day. I have two daughters, a beautiful wife, a girl dog, and even a boy dog that’s pretty prissy.”
“Whether it’s a wife, girlfriend, mom, or daughter, women can make you do crazy things because you love them.”
Though slightly more classic sounding than what is played currently being played on regular country stations, Campbell realizes that it’s not always the best songs that will make it. However, with newcomers like Luke Combs, Cody Johnson, and Jon Pardi bringing the more traditional lyrics and melodies back to country music, there is hope that the pendulum is starting to swing the other way.
“I don’t think it will go all the way back to Clint Black or Alan Jackson, but it does have a little more traditional twist which I am excited about. I’m ready to go. I’ve got dozens of songs that are ready to be released and will fit right in.” he declares.
Another side venture Campbell and his wife are embarking on is opening a coffee shop in Eagleville, outside of Nashville.
“We’ve been dreaming of this for three or four years and didn’t want to say anything until we bought the building. We are finally going to have our dream come true of owning a coffee shop called ‘Grindstone Cowboy’.”
The coffee house will have live music and hopefully will be opening this fall.
Campbell continues to work on new music. They are filming a music video this week called, “Good Things Come to Those Who Drink.” A few months after that he is going to release a song called “Never Mind“ which they plan to release to country radio. By summer, he will be releasing a double album with at least 24 new songs.
If anybody was ever a self-made man, it is Craig Campbell. He won’t be sitting around waiting for something to happen.