Hometown: Leesburg, GA
What’s on his Plate: The March 5 release of his album Here to Party, along with Spring Break performances, March 12-13, in Panama City Beach, Florida
My Georgia roots are 99% of what my music is about. That small-town, Southern lifestyle—from the way I talk, to the way I sing, to the way I think—just comes out in my music. When I write songs, like “Rain Is a Good Thing,” I try to speak to my hometown audience of Leesburg. And I really feel like that audience is everywhere, a universal country audience.
“How’s yo’ mama and them?” That is probably my favorite Southern expression. It really doesn’t say much, but at the same time, it says a lot. In a quick statement you check on the whole family. And it also lets you know who really runs the show. You never say: “How’s yo’ daddy and them?”
When I was young, my mama taught me how to dance. Not like the butt shaking I do onstage. She taught me how to really dance: how to slow dance properly, how to lead a lady and be a gentleman. I love the memory of dancing cheek-to-cheek with my mama in our living room to George Strait’s “You Look So Good in Love.”
Meeting my wife, Caroline, was the whole love-at-first-sight deal. It was that stereotypical you-see-the-most-beautiful-thing-you’ve-ever-seen. I met her at the local college bar at Georgia Southern in Statesboro, where we were both students. I said to myself, “No matter what, I am going to go up to that girl and ask her out. And one day I am going to marry her.”
On my most memorable spring break, my now-wife and I got the flu. In college, Caroline and I went with friends on spring break to Panama City, Florida. The first thing we did was run and jump in the ocean at 10 o’clock at night. It was freezing. We partied and had a blast for the next day or two. But then we came down with the flu. It was awful.
I’ve never been one who lights candles to create an ambience for writing music. I will write songs on my bus, driving down the road, at my farm, or in my dressing room. I wrote a song at my house last night with Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum. We ordered pizza, drank some beer, and wrote some music.
Growing up, country was the only type of music I was allowed to listen to. I would sneak off to my car to listen to other types, but in our house it was definitely country music. My mama and daddy loved Alabama, Ronnie Milsap, Conway Twitty, and Earl Thomas Conley.
My favorite Southern dish is cornbread with turnip greens. My dad kept a vegetable garden, and in the winter he grew turnips. He’d cook a big pot of turnips and some flat lace cornbread. Whenever turnips were on the stove, my friends and I would scoop them into big cups and eat them while we drove around in our trucks. Now, that’s about as country as it gets.