Chris Young’s latest single, “Who I Am With You,” recently became his sixth Number One. To celebrate the chart topper (and play off the title a little bit), we asked Chris to take a quick scroll through his music library and reveal the singers and songwriters who shaped him as an artist. As expected, the list contains a lot of great traditional country music — with a few surprising influences, too.
“He was one of the reasons I was excited to be on RCA Records, because that’s where he was signed. One of the first records I bought for myself was a Keith Whitley record. I still love the L.A. to Miami album. There were so many things on there — ‘Miami, My Amy,’ ‘Ten Feet Away,’ ‘Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her.’ I can put that album on repeat and listen. I’m not really sure if Keith Whitley would appreciate ‘Aw Naw’ [Young’s 2013 ode to Patron and painted-on jeans] if he were still around [laughs]. But I was a huge fan of his.”
“From a perspective of picking songs, he was one of those guys that I loved hearing all the stuff he picked [to record]. From his old stuff, like ‘Texas Tornado’ and ‘As Any Fool Can See,’ all the way up to ‘Paint Me a Birmingham,’ I just really loved it. Obviously I was a big fan of the production style, because I’ve worked with James Stroud [Lawrence’s producer] quite a bit.”
“If you’re a solo male artist who sings country music, he’s probably going be somewhere on your list — if for no other reason than I think all of us would dream of having a career like his. When I was a teenager and they were letting me jump up onstage with house bands, I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to know something that’s up-tempo that house bands will know so I can sit in and play with them.’ I could say ‘The Fireman’ and everybody knew it.”
“He’s one of the truly quintessential singer/songwriters of country. There are so many songs that Alan wrote just by himself that were gigantic hits. There’s something really cool about just him and a guitar, sitting there making music that millions of people love. About five years ago, I opened for him on a tour. He got out onstage and I realized, ‘He’s cutting hits out of his set so he can stay within the actual time frame of his show.’ It’s something you aspire to as a younger artist.
“I remember I wanted to buy him something because he gave me a tour gift. So I went up on his bus and gave him a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. I said, ‘I was going to buy you something maybe a little more expensive as a thank you, but they said this is what you drink.’ And he goes, ‘Well, yeah. That’s pretty much my preference.'”
“I’m going to talk about being a kid, following Blake around, which I’m sure he’s a huge fan of. I used to go around with my parents and watch him play in Nashville — just him and a guitar at the mall over at Opry Mills, when he had a mullet. I’ve opened shows for him and hung out with him at a couple of different things since then. He’s a really great guy.
“There’s a lot of things to take away from him. The biggest thing is perseverance. That’s somebody who really stuck with it. It’s so cool to see all of the stuff that’s happening for him. He totally deserves it.”
Boyz II Men
“When I was in high school I would irritate the absolute hell out of the rest of my family. I’d sing in my room at the top of my lungs in front of a mirror, attempting to sing all of the musical runs they do in their songs. I think that has a lot to do vocally with some of the runs and tricks I can do when I’m trying to sing something that’s a little bit different. I saw them live about a year and a half ago. I’m still a fan. About two weeks ago my friends and I were in a karaoke bar in downtown Nashville and I sang ‘End of the Road.'”
“I was a huge Aerosmith fan growing up. There definitely is that rock side to country right now. There’s not really a classic rock anymore. I think a lot of that gets taken over by some of the more aggressive country songs. Any time I’m trying to find that groove on a big tempo song, I go back and listen to some Aerosmith records. ‘Love in an Elevator,’ ‘Rag Doll,’ all that stuff was really great music. It’s something that I still dig and go back and listen to.”
“In my opinion, he’s one of the best all-time vocalists — and still is. That guy can sing my low notes and notes that I have in the falsetto part of my voice, he can sing in chest voice. It’s unreal. He’s remembered a lot for the songs he put out that I guess were ‘ditties,’ but one of the things I always remember about him was, that dude could sing his ass off.
“I’ve totally fan-boy-ed out over him at the Opry and told him how much I love his voice. Years ago, I ran into him at the Opry for the second time and he said, ‘Hey, Chris.’ I was like, ‘Ahhh! Joe Diffie knows who I am!'”
“I studied and sang lot of jazz when I was growing up. I think that plays a little bit into some of the things I do vocally, notes that I pick in chords. Sometimes some of the songs I pick, I’m like, ‘Oh man, that’s a really different chord and way to put that. I love that, I’ll do it.’ Not too long ago on an NPR thing, I did ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ because I was such a big fan of that song and of Tony Bennett doing it. He’s just got one of those all-time classic voices.”
“I remember going to see him when I was a kid at Starwood Amphitheater and watching him sing with just his guitar. I thought, ‘He sounds exactly like his record. I want to be able to do that.’ He’s the consummate musician. Great singer, great songwriter, great dude.
“They were honoring Hank Sr. one night at the Opry. Vince said, ‘Do you know any Hank Williams? I said, ‘Of course.’ He said, ‘Do you know ‘Hey Good Lookin’?’ I said yes and he says, ‘Let’s do it then’ and starts walking out onstage. The whole band’s looking at me, going, ‘What key?’ I made the letter ‘C’ with my hand while Vince is saying, ‘Here he is, Chris Young! We’re gonna do this song together.’ That was the first time I ever sang with Vince Gill and we were flying by the seat of our pants. I don’t think I stopped freaking out until we got to the end of it. I was like, ‘If I butcher a Hank Williams song on the Opry, they’ll never let me come back.’ But it ended up being a really cool moment.”