The Untold Truth Of Eric Church

Since the first Super Bowl in 1967, famed musical artists have been chosen to perform the national anthem at the NFL's biggest game of the year. In 2021, that honor went to Eric Church. As the country star told the Los Angeles Times, there's "more to lose than gain" from performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" as a duet with Jazmine Sullivan in front of an audience of 100 million. "It's an incredibly hard song to sing. And I'm not a vocalist — I'm a stylist. Somebody like me, you take some liberties with it, then you've gotten too far away from the melody and suddenly you're a communist."

Despite the potential downside, singing the anthem at Super Bowl LV is one more achievement in a meteoric music career that took off in 2006 with the release of his debut album, Sinners Like Me. More albums and more success followed, particularly with 2011's Chief (a reference to Church's lifelong nickname, which he shares with his late grandfather).

Despite a wide-ranging fanbase built over years of relentless touring, even his hardcore fans can still find out plenty about this talented singer-songwriter. Read on to discover the untold truth of Eric Church.

No, that Eric Church song isn't actually about Bruce Springsteen

Released in 2012, Eric Church's single "Springsteen" spent 22 weeks on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, peaking at No. 19. The song proved to be his breakthrough; his first top-20 hit, the song is a nostalgic love letter about two young teenagers who fall for each other during a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Despite the song's title, however, Church has said that the actual concert that inspired "Springsteen" was not one performed by The Boss. As Church told The Boot, "It didn't happen with Springsteen, ironically; it happened with another artist."

While Church didn't reveal which artist he watched that memorable night, he recalled the real events that led him to write the song. "I went to a concert when I was younger with a girl, and to this day, when I hear that artist, it's the soundtrack to that girl," he recalled to the outlet. "I never think about her any other time, except when that song is on. That's where the 'Springsteen' came from, and he seemed to be the perfect guy to craft that story around because of my love for him... I have such a reverence for Bruce Springsteen's career and how he's built it."

The story behind Eric Church's signature sunglasses

When it's time to hit the stage, Eric Church arrives in his signature aviator sunglasses. Sure, they look cool, but there's also a very important reason for those shades. "I wear contacts and my eyes don't do real well with lubrication," he explained in an interview with AXS TV. According to Church, when he and his band used to "play all these bars and clubs," the heat of the stage lights became an issue. "I'm 6'3", so they would bake my contacts and they'd fall off. So I ended up being blind on stage."

When someone suggested he wear dark glasses, he decided to give it a go. "What's funny is it stuck," he added. "It was never thought out. We never thought, 'This would be good.' We actually, at the time, thought this is not good... but it ended up being a thing."

However, he'll typically save the shades for the stage. "If I'm not playing shows, I usually don't wear them," he told CMT. "But my eyes don't do real well in lights. So if I'm playing shows, I'll have shades on. It doesn't feel right if I don't."

Taylor Swift gave Eric Church one of her gold records

Eric Church thought he'd hit the big time when he was hired to open for Rascal Flatts on their 2006 tour. However, he clashed with the headliners, telling he was continually warned about playing "a little bit longer" than his allotted time, and at too high a volume. "I was a new act and I came out there and people paid a lot of money for a ticket and I was going to give them a show," he explained. "We came out and gave them a show."

During a concert at New York City's Madison Square Garden, Church ignored previous warnings, cranking up his amp and keeping the show going past the finish line. Following that performance, he was fired. "We were replaced by this little, young girl named Taylor Swift," he quipped. "I don't know what happened to her."

That opening slot wound up launching Swift's career. Church jokingly told her, "You're going to owe me your first gold record." Turns out, she took that to heart. As Church shared with the outlet, "I was kidding, but when she got her first gold record she gave me one." He went on to recall that the gold record, which was for 2006's "Tim McGraw," was handed over with a note that read, "Thanks for playing too long and too loud on the Flatts tour."

Eric Church knows how to hold a grudge

After getting the boot from Rascal Flatts' tour, Erich Church's once-promising music career took a catastrophic nosedive, sending him back to bars. "We ended up banished to the wilderness," he recalled in an interview with Playboy, via Taste of Country. "Nobody would touch us. It's like we were nuclear." 

Given the massive success he's experienced since then, it would be easy to assume that enough water has flowed under the bridge for Church to let bygones be bygones. That assumption, however, is dead wrong. He's not embarrassed to admit he still holds a grudge — in fact, he admires others who know how to keep a grudge alive, such as retired NBA superstar Michael Jordan, whose lengthy, legendary list of grievances was chronicled in the Netflix docuseries The Last Dance. "I've never seen a person hold grudges like that," Church marveled. "And I like that, because I carry a hell of a chip on my shoulder." 

Church's own list of grievances has stayed with him. "I carry that list onstage with me," he said.

Classic rock icon Bob Seger gave Eric Church a boost

During the period when he was a Nashville outcast after getting the boot from the Rascal Flatts tour, Eric Church received a lifeline from an unexpected source: Detroit rock god Bob Seger. Having himself, his band, and crew all on the road with no gigs scheduled was a worst-case scenario for Church, leaving him with heavy expenses and no income. "Bob Seger took a chance on me," Church told Paste of Seger, who invited him to play a series of opening gigs for him. "He didn't have to do that. I didn't gain him one ticket. I've always remembered that. He did it because he liked the music, and he gave us a chance to succeed."

Now, when seeking out opening acts for his own tours, Church is eager to give up-and-coming artists a shot, just like Seger did for him. "When we were playing for 20 people in a club, you'd think, 'God, if I could just get on one of those [big tours],'" he said. "I think about that now, when I get to do this and pick the people."

Eric Church wishes he could throw a few back with this country music icon

If Eric Church could pull up a barstool with someone who's no longer with us, who would it be? He answered that question in a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone. "Musically, it would be Johnny Cash. I never got to meet him and I have a number of things I'd love to talk to him about," he revealed. Speaking from a more personal perspective, he'd love to sit down for a drink with his own grandfather, the original Chief. "He died when I was 14, 15, so I think he would be interesting now at this point of my career and life to go back and have a beer with," he explained. 

Meanwhile, anyone who's ever rocked out to Church's party anthem "I'm Gettin' Stoned" already knows that liquor isn't the only intoxicant he enjoys. When he does imbibe, Rolling Stone noted, he "prefers edibles to smoking pot" because the latter "is too harsh on his voice." That said, the outlet added that fans shouldn't expect him to break out the edibles before a show.

"I gotta remember the lyrics!" he explained, noting he refuses to use a teleprompter onstage.

Why Eric Church doesn't make setlists for his concerts

Not only are there no teleprompters onstage at an Eric Church show, there are also no setlists. This, he explained in an interview with The Oklahoman, is to create a spontaneous environment where musical magic can happen. "The most fun for me is somebody in the crowd will hold up a sign, and it'll be a song we've not played in, you know, six years, five years. The most fun is grabbing that sign and turning around and seeing the band members shaking their head 'no,' and the other half going, 'you know, let's try it.'" Sometimes he and his band end up "messing them up pretty bad, but that's OK."

As Church admitted in an interview with Asbury Park Press, that spontaneity didn't come about spontaneously. In fact, it's "something that I directly ripped from Springsteen and a couple of other guys that I liked," he admitted. "Back in my time, I was a Grateful Dead and Phish fan, stuff that is just different every night. You didn't know what you were going to hear."

Eric Church's disdain for The Voice sparked a feud with Miranda Lambert

Eric Church sparked controversy with some remarks he made in a 2012 Rolling Stone interview, discussing how TV singing competitions such as American Idol and its ilk were contributing to the decline of the music industry. "It's become American Idol gone mad," he said before referencing The Voice. "Honestly, if Blake Shelton and CeeLo Green f**king turn around in a red chair, you got a deal. That's crazy." He added: "I don't know what would make an artist do that. You're not an artist."

Church's fellow country star Miranda Lambert (who was not only Shelton's then-wife, but a one-time contestant on country-themed TV singing competition Nashville Star) didn't take kindly to his diss. "Thanks Eric Church for saying I'm not a real artist. Or @kelly_clarkson, @carrieunderwood & @KeithUrban," Lambert fired back on Twitter.

Church responded with a tail-between-his-legs statement to Us Weekly, insisting his words were "part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves. The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success" and then "ordained into stardom."

Why proud gun-owner Eric Church blasted the NRA

Eric Church is an avid hunter, even once taking a Spin reporter on a deer-hunting expedition. Despite being the owner of several firearms, Church is also in favor of stricter gun-control legislation. One key reason for this, he told Rolling Stone, had to do with what took place in Las Vegas in September of 2017: two days after he performed a headlining set at the Route 91 Harvest music festival, a heavily armed sniper positioned in a nearby hotel began firing into the crowd, killing 58 people and injuring more than 800. 

"I'm a Second Amendment guy," he said. "That's in the Constitution, it's people's right, and I don't believe it's negotiable. But nobody should have that many guns and that much ammunition and we don't know about it. Nobody should have 21 AKs and 10,000 rounds of ammunition and we don't know who they are."

Ultimately, he blamed "the lobbyists. And the biggest in the gun world is the NRA." According to Church, the National Rifle Association had become "a bit of a roadblock. I don't care who you are — you shouldn't have that kind of power over elected officials."

Eric Church's musical inspirations are more rock than country

Eric Church may be one of country music's most popular artists, but his sound can't be so easily categorized into that genre. Jay Joyce, Church's longtime producer, recalled to Rolling Stone that some songs on his early albums included the unmistakable country sound of steel guitar. "And then we looked at each other like, 'We f**kin' hate steel guitar!" he said.

In fact, Church's music spans multiple genres, something he explained in an interview with American Songwriter. "The bands that really scarred me growing up were Little Feat and The Band," he said, referencing some of his own musical influences, bands that were categorized as rock during the 1970s but would fit more comfortably in the Americana genre today.

"I grew up in that '80s era, when everything had a sound [that] could be overproduced. So to hear Little Feat and The Band was great," he said. The music of The Band, he added, continues to be a musical touchstone for him. "We still do 'Ophelia' and 'The Shape I'm In,'" he added, referencing two of the group's best-known tracks.

A Kris Kristofferson song changed Eric Church's life

In 2016, Eric Church was among the artists on the bill for a 2016 tribute concert honoring singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson. Ahead of his performance, Church told an emotional story about how one of Kristofferson's songs played a pivotal role at a time when he feared his dream of a music career had fizzled. 

"Like a lot of people that get told 'no' a lot, I played that game where, if I got told 'no' one more time, 'I'm outta here. I'm packing up. I'm going back to North Carolina,'" he shared with the audience. He went on to recall a devastating meeting with a music publisher. "He goes, 'I don't know where you're from, I don't know much about you, but I'd go back there,'" Church continued.

As he drove away, feeling discouraged, Kristofferson's 1970 track "To Beat the Devil," a story-song about a struggling Nashville songwriter ready to pack it in, came on the car stereo. "It talked about the very thing that I was going through. I decided to stay one more day— after I got drunk first ... And the next day I got a publishing deal," he revealed. "I'm here because of that man right there," he added, referencing Kristofferson.   

Eric Church was a teenage metalhead

Another musical genre that influenced Eric Church when he was growing up was heavy metal. "I grew up consuming different kinds of music, and all that comes out when we make our records," he said in an interview with Exclaim!

Discussing his 2014 album The Outsiders, Church detailed how metal made its way into the hard-driving title track, which manages to blend a honky-tonk vibe with Metallica-style guitar distortion. While recording that song, he explained, "it just went on its own journey. And I love that because there's a part of that that sounds like Black Sabbath, you know? There's a part of that that sounds like it could go metal. Especially the last section." He also remarked on the guitar solo on The Outsiders' cut "Cold One," which Church described as "Rage [Against the Machine] meets the Band, or Little Feat."

Church proved to be a good fit when he performed at Metallica's 2012 Orion Music + More festival. During his performance, reported A Taste of Country, Church paid tribute to the band for inviting him to a festival that "pays no attention to genres or dividers."

The reason Eric Church launched his own charitable foundation

Although these days Eric Church is among country music's most popular performers, he's also no stranger to hardship. In achieving his own success, he's also recognized the importance of giving back.

That philosophy was taken to the next level when Church and his wife, Katherine Blasingame Church, founded the Chief Cares Fund, which raises money "to aid underprivileged families and children throughout Tennessee and Eric's home state of North Carolina, as well as to help an orphanage in Nepal get beds, clothing, and offer schooling to children that would otherwise never get the chance." Chief Cares' site also notes that the organization provides "aid to Haiti and ... the Humane Society's no-kill animal shelters."

Church discussed his foundation in an interview for the website of the Gibson guitar company. "We have always really focused on people," he said. "It's Christian-based. It's about finding small groups of people that are trying to do really big things, and they don't have the finances to do it, but they're doing incredible things anyway. We try to be the financial and moral support that they need to do what we already see what they're doing."

Eric Church tries to get proactive with hangovers

Whenever Eric Church spends a night imbibing a bit more than he should, he tends to take a proactive approach. In an interview with Men's Journal, he revealed his trick to try and prevent the inevitable hangover awaiting in the morning. 

"Before you go to bed, it's Advil or Alka-Seltzer. One or the other," he advised. "You gotta be a little bit proactive and get something that stops the headache. You can't be so drunk that you can't get the two Advil in your mouth. You do that, you're totaled." If all else fails, Church advised the next best thing: mix up a Bloody Mary to start the day with a little hair of the dog.

When it comes to hitting the bottle, there are some bottles that don't mix well with Church. "Tequila and I just don't get along," he explained to the outlet. "There's certain things I can drink. Whiskey. I can drink Jack Daniel's all night. We like each other. Tequila and I don't like each other."