The Untold Truth Of Chris Stapleton

Chris Stapleton is one of the five impressive country artists to be honored as Country Music Television's Artist of the Year 2021, per CMT. The event, which aired October 13, celebrated Stapleton and his fellow honorees (Kelsea Ballerini, Gabby Barrett, Kane Brown, and Luke Combs) with special behind-the-scenes looks at the artists' careers, unique performances and collaborations, and sweet moments congratulating the winners. The 2021 CMT Artists of the Year have dominated the country charts and have really made a name for themselves with their artistic efforts, making them the obvious choices to receive this accolade.

And it's no surprise Stapleton is among these honorees. An incredible performer and songwriter, he has really exploded onto the country music scene, and his 2020 album, "Starting Over," was no exception to his fantastic work. It received overall favorable reviews from critics and fans alike, and Holly Gleason from American Songwriter called it a "masterwork of country soul stretched over a frame of lean blues/rock." That description can almost be extended to the artist himself, who is somewhat of an enigma on the country music scene and doesn't quite fit into one box.

So, just who is Chris Stapleton? Keep on reading to find out the untold truth of one of country music's biggest stars.

Chris Stapleton doesn't fall into one genre of music

Perhaps one of the most defining things about Chris Stapleton's music is that it doesn't land in one specific genre. While yes, he is defined as a country artist, his musical tastes and skills extend far beyond that. As a songwriter, Stapleton has written for a variety of artists, including Kelly Clarkson and Justin Timberlake, and more traditional country singers like Thomas Rhett and Luke Bryan (per Rolling Stone). And he's lent his voice to numerous works throughout the years, collaborating with Timberlake, Taylor Swift, and even Pink.

His ability to create within any genre is incredibly unique and makes him stand out, though it wasn't always something he appreciated. "I didn't used to be okay with it," he told The New York Times. "Everybody gets through a phase where it's 'Ah, if I could just sound just like Vince Gill.' Then you figure out that you have your own voice, whether you like it or not, and that's what you should stick with." 

And stick with it he has, allowing him to switch genres between bluegrass, rock, pop-country, and old-school country with ease. He has been successful in almost every iteration of music he's attempted, from his bluegrass band The SteelDrivers to his Southern rock group, The Jompson Brothers. Only when he embraced who he was, however, did he finally succeed, garnering numerous awards from his solo efforts.

He sort of fell into music

For such a skillful musician, Chris Stapleton almost didn't become one. A native of eastern Kentucky, Stapleton came from a family of coal miners — both his father and grandfather were part of the profession, according to The Herald-Dispatch. And his mother wasn't a musician, either; she was a health department worker, per Paste. But although he didn't come from a family of musicians, Stapleton does still point to his parents' work ethic and encouragement for allowing him to do what he loved. "We were always told that we could be anything we wanted to be as long as we worked hard at it and kept our head down and believed in it," he told Paste.

That work ethic paid off. Stapleton eventually taught himself how to play guitar, after picking up an old one his father had purchased with the goal of learning himself, American Songwriter noted. After a few lessons, Stapleton taught himself the rest of what he needed to know and started picking up bar gigs at night, after his day job. Eventually, he met songwriter Steve Leslie, who showed him that songwriting could be a career, and who invited him down to Nashville to start penning songs. A few weeks later, he moved to Nashville permanently, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Chris Stapleton didn't think he'd play his own music

Although Chris Stapleton's iconic voice is well-known throughout the music industry now, there was a chance it never would have graced listeners' ears. While he did perform in local gigs in Kentucky, reported American Songwriter, once he moved to Nashville, his sole focus was on songwriting. In fact, he seemed so enamored with songwriting as a career, he didn't appear to focus on performing for himself at all. "I was so fascinated with the culture of writing songs," he told American Songwriter, "that for the first three or four years, the thought of actually performing didn't even cross my mind. I didn't really play live; I just wrote. I got to go to work every day, sit in a room and make up songs. I was writing two or three songs or a day [sic]. That's all I wanted to do. I thought, 'This is my job, and it's awesome.'"

The senior vice president of Sea Gayle Music, who had hired Stapleton when he first got to Nashville, invited the president of the Nashville branch of Capitol Records, Mike Dungan, to her office to hear Stapleton sing. That meeting made a recording contract a reality. Stapleton performed some of his songs, and Dungan signed him the same night. Sadly, the deal was short-lived, as it didn't afford the artist total creative control.

His award-winning performing career had an unassuming start

Chris Stapleton was already building an incredible and prolific songwriting career as he moved to Nashville. "The buzz [about Stapleton] went all around town," Liz O'Sullivan, the senior vice president of Sea Gayle Music, told American Songwriter. "People were fighting over his songs. By the end of the first year, he'd gotten more cuts than some writers get in their whole career." But while his songwriting career was taking off, his performing career seemed to never gain momentum. After his deal with Capitol Records fell through, Stapleton returned to writing full-time, hanging out with musician Mike Henderson every Thursday night to create new songs.

Eventually, Henderson reached out to three of his friends, and they and Stapleton headed to the local VFW to perform some of their new stuff. The guys hit it off, and thus, Chris Stapleton's first band, The SteelDrivers, was formed. Stapleton told Pure Music, "I credit Mike solely with the idea for having this band. We had these songs sitting around, and he likes to say that we had 'perfectly good songs going to waste.' He said, 'What would you think about playing a little bluegrass?'"

The group spent a lot of time on the road and received some Grammy nominations and one win (2015's best bluegrass album), thrusting Stapleton — as the lead singer — into the spotlight for the first time. Although he would leave the band in 2010 to attend to his family and his writing, the success of The SteelDrivers opened a door for the artist that he (seemingly) eagerly stepped through.

The real-life influences in Chris Stapleton's music

When talking about the inspiration for his hit songs, Chris Stapleton often points to the real-life events he's faced that have influenced him. For example, "The Devil Named Music," from his debut album, "Traveller," is inspired by his touring with The SteelDrivers. "Most of the song is all real stuff," he explained to American Songwriter. He described a situation where the band played a gig in Wyoming, drove to Billings, Montana, because it had the nearest airport, and then flew to Salt Lake City to play another gig. "That's what that song is about," he explained. "I missed my kid and I missed my wife, and I was getting an idea of what it was like to be a touring musician."

After his first single with Universal Records didn't land and his father passed away, the singer-songwriter needed a break. After his wife bought him a Jeep (he probably wouldn't have allowed himself the old model, Stapleton told Paste), they decided to book a one-way trip to Arizona and drive it back to Nashville. 

The 1979 Jeep Cherokee had plenty of problems, but that road trip was instrumental in Chris Stapleton's life. As he was driving through the desert in New Mexico, the artist watched the sun rise and formulated the lyrics to "Traveller." As the Tennessean reported, "With his companions asleep in the car, Stapleton whisper-sang the words into his phone: 'I'm just a traveler on this earth / Sure as my heart's behind the pocket of my shirt / I just keep rolling 'til I'm in the dirt.'" That song eventually anchored his incredible rookie album and, perhaps, gave him a new perspective on his career.

Chris Stapleton knows the importance of his band

Chris Stapleton credits the existence of his band with the success of his solo albums, per his interview with Paste. While he got his start as the frontman for two official bands, The SteelDrivers and The Jompson Brothers, even his solo work is musician-based. Stapleton's wife, Morgane, is a songwriter and singer as well, and will often perform harmonies alongside her husband. 

Aside from that collaboration, Stapleton shared in the interview that his fellow musicians formed the core of his musical identity and really allowed him to thrive. It was "one of those happy accidents," Stapleton explained to Paste, as the base of the band formed when their five-piece became a three-piece once the steel player and the keys player decided to go their separate ways. Chris Stapleton worked with this band to record his debut album, focusing on his "music family" (as Morgane Stapleton called it) instead of hiring session musicians, like a lot of artists do. 

According to American Songwriter, Stapleton and his band recorded most of their tracks live, not relying on overdubs like many others would. In fact, the final song for "Traveller" was recorded at the album's listening party, with many members of the party performing live on the track. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," he told Paste, but he also explained that he wanted to give people an "experience" and not make it seem like they were forced to listen to his new album.

He has a significant net worth

Being such a successful songwriter and performer — and being married to a successful songwriter, as well — it's no surprise that Chris Stapleton has a significant net worth. In fact, according to Celebrity Net Worth, he has about $12 million to his name. That number makes a lot of sense, as the writer has penned six singles that have gone number one on the charts, and his solo albums have all reached number one themselves, with "Traveller" being certified quadruple-platinum (per Universal Music Group).

Stapleton doesn't seem shy about spending his money, either, using his significant wealth to buy himself a large swath of land in Tennessee. In 2017, reported the Tennessean, he bought 311 acres of land in Williamson County. According to county records, Stapleton paid $5.625 million for the land and a vast estate in Leiper's Fork. That area is home to many other wealthy folks in the music industry, including Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, and Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, so Stapleton is keeping impressive (and well-off) company. Notably, one of his pop-music collaborators, Justin Timberlake, also bought land (126.63 acres, to be exact) in the same area, so the two are neighbors as well as musical co-workers.

Chris and Morgane Stapleton have started a charity

Chris Stapleton has achieved immense success as a singer and songwriter, and he seems to be using his celebrity for good, too. He and his wife, Morgane Stapleton, started Outlaw State of Kind in 2016, a "charitable fund that supports a variety of causes that are close to their heart," per Chris Stapleton's official website. Outlaw State of Kind has provided grants to a significant number of causes, including various Habitat for Humanity organizations, the special olympics, groups focused on protecting animals, and those dedicated to supporting indigenous women, to name just a handful. The charity also has given special attention to education and music initiatives.

Stapleton himself, on behalf of his organization, also participates in events that will help serve a variety of initiatives. For example, he joined Cameo for one week only, with the sole purpose of donating any proceeds to Outlaw State of Kind. He covered Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters," with proceeds from the performance benefitting both the Stapletons' charity and Metallica's foundation, All Within My Hands. 

And in 2019, he formed a fund that would directly benefit Kentucky, with a focus on arts and music education, and put on a charity concert with Sheryl Crow, Yola, and Willie Nelson to raise money for it. Charity definitely seems to be a focus for Stapleton, alongside his music.

Chris Stapleton made a cameo on Game of Thrones

One fact about Chris Stapleton that may be surprising to some of his fans is that he made a cameo on the last season of "Game of Thrones." Rolling Stone characterized Stapleton as a "huge fan" of the HBO epic. The star "had his management reach out" to see if he could be cast in "a bit part" for the show. Having musicians cameo on "Game of Thrones" wasn't unheard of before Stapleton's appearance, as Ed Sheeran, the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Ros, and the metal group Mastodon all had previously made brief appearances on the show.

Stapleton (along with his bass player J.T. Cure and their tour manager) all got to cameo on the Season 8 episode "The Long Night." A quick refresher: "The Long Night" shows Winterfell, the home castle of the Starks, getting attacked by the evil Night King, who can reanimate dead corpses — which is exactly what happens to Stapleton's character. Originally, Stapleton portrayed a Wildling from a group of people who lived a nomadic existence north of the Wall. His character dies, however, and the Night King reanimates his character's body into that of a White Walker, a zombie-like minion of the Night King. "They knew we weren't actors," Stapleton recalled to Rolling Stone. "So the direction was basically, 'We're going to place you, and when we tell you to, open your eyes.' And they trained us on how White Walkers are supposed to stand up and move when they're first waking up."

He knows his beard is iconic

While Chris Stapleton is known for his unique voice and his amazing songwriting skills, he is also quite recognizable because of one of his iconic features — his beard. According to Rolling Stone, fans have clung to Stapleton's facial hair, sometimes literally. "If they're fond of something, that's great," Stapleton told the outlet. "If they've attached to the beard, that's fine. I've had this beard for a long, long time and you know, it's always fun. It's a good thing to be relatable. I've had a few fans yank on it a little too hard, and things like that. But other than that, I've had fun with it. To see the folks put on fake beards or draw them on ... always an interesting thing."

In fact, Stapleton has embraced his fans' love of his beard so much that he has even crafted contests around its existence. For them to win free tickets to one of his shows, Stapleton asked fans to submit pictures of their own beards (or the beards of people they know). Those who were interested submitted their photos to Stapleton's social media, per Lovin' Lyrics, and used the hashtag "get cleared with your beard." The contest appeared to be successful, spawning numerous Twitter posts with some impressive beards.