1. “To Beat the Devil,” Kris Kristofferson, 1970
This song saved my life, pretty much. Kept me in Nashville when I wanted to quit. I was broke. I’d been in town more than a year, working at the Home Shopping Network. I remember putting in the Kristofferson CD I had, and that’s what “To Beat the Devil” talks about: being in town and having a rough patch and being a songwriter. The next day, I got a call that ended up leading to a record deal. That one more day meant this world.
2.“Roll Me Away,” Bob Seger, 1982
Bob asked me to open some dates for him in 2006. I’d been waiting my entire life to play music that way. There’s a sense of freedom that this song has, and it matched that moment.
3. “Russian Lullaby,” Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, 1991
I went to Appalachian State University, which was very bluegrass- and folk-oriented. It was the first time I got exposed to this kind of stuff. “Russian Lullaby” has this real haunting sound. It was so different than anything I’d ever heard.
4. “A Train Robbery,” Levon Helm, 2007
Helm’s solo records are some of his best. This one’s got a great storyline. He was the rhythm of my childhood. I could pick out his drumming anywhere.
5. “Thunder Road,” Bruce Springsteen, 1975
If there’s any song that sums up quintessential Bruce, it’s this one. He’s a poet, and this has my favorite lyrics by him — I love the honesty. I got to hear him do “Thunder Road” acoustic by himself in Nashville recently. He came back out, and all the lights were up. It was pretty damn special.
6. “Ten Degrees (Getting Colder),” Tony Rice, 1996
The record this song is from, Tony Rice Sings Gordon Lightfoot, is hard to find. When I hear this song, I remember playing it at gigs in college. I remember those mountains. I remember driving those curvy-ass roads every night at 3 a.m., stopping at a Waffle House to sober up.
7. “Ride Me Down Easy,” Waylon Jennings, 1973
Billy Joe Shaver wrote this. He’s on my Mount Rushmore of songwriters. He showed up and threatened to whip Waylon’s ass if he didn’t cut his songs. I have the record on vinyl, and one of my favorite things is when I get off the road late at night, I have a whiskey and put on this song. If I kick the bucket, this is one of the songs I want played at my funeral.
8. “C.C. Waterback,” Merle Haggard and George Jones, 1982
This song is from A Taste of Yesterday’s Wine. It’s about getting up in the morning after drinking all night, tequila sunrises and all this shit. There’s a line where Merle says, “I guess I must have drank a case,” and you can hear Jones on the mic — he goes, “I did.” You can tell he really did just drink a case. His head was probably pounding.
9. “Troubadour,” George Strait, 2008
George Strait meant a ton to me — in my life, musically, and now, personally, getting to know him. I stood there every night on his final tour and watched him sing this. It was an emotional thing for me, seeing him wrap up his career the way he wanted to. I think about this song a lot when I’m on stages. Will I be on this stage again? There’ll be a time when I won’t be. My day will come too.