For being one of Nashville’s hottest new chart–toppers, Columbia Nashville artist Luke Combs signed his major label deal in September 2016 in a decidedly old-school way—via fax machine while on the road in Montana.
Still, for Combs it was another milestone in a career that has taken him from playing in bars and clubs around North Carolina to opening arena shows for Brantley Gilbert.
“We weren’t even going to try to go to radio with the album, originally,” Combs tells MusicRow. “We were just going to put it out and try to sell 5,000 copies. So during that time I was on the road doing shows and the song was selling. Next thing I know, I have five major label deals on the table.”
Since signing with Columbia Nashville, the buzz surrounding Combs and his debut single “Hurricane” has become gale force. “Hurricane” spent two weeks atop the country radio chart, and has crossed the platinum sales mark.
The track anchors his debut album This One’s For You, which releases today (June 2). The North Carolina native takes pride in co-writing all 12 tracks on his debut album.
“It’s a huge point of pride for me. I love that I write my own stuff,” Combs says, with a nod to one of his influences. “That’s the kind of thing I’ve always liked about Eric Church. Outside of ‘Like Jesus Does,’ that’s about the only tune that he hasn’t written that he put out. I’m not opposed to cutting a great song. I write so much—and I’m so in love with some of the stuff that I write—that I would rather put it out, so people know I’m saying it to them directly.”
“Hurricane” may have blown onto the country charts like a Category 5, but the song had a long road from creation to radio hit. Combs penned “Hurricane” in November 2014, with Thomas Archer and Taylor Phillips.
“I had the idea ‘Hurricane’ and had no idea what it meant, and even to this day I have no idea why it was in there. I think at the time, Dustin Lynch had a song on his album called ‘Hurricane,’ so I thought at the time, ‘I don’t know if I want to write this.’ But we got to talking about how a buddy of Taylor’s who had broken up with somebody and didn’t want to run into her at the bars. We tried to tie that idea to the title ‘Hurricane.’ I don’t think we knew we had written a hit that day, but we know it now.”
Before Lynn Oliver-Cline signed Combs to a deal with her newly-established River House Artists last year, she noticed this DIY artist with a passionate delivery and songwriting chops was gaining steam with fans.
“The first time I looked him up on the Buzz Angle Music chart, he was a few thousand streams in on ‘Hurricane’ and it was 100 percent on demand. It wasn’t on a single playlist, there was nothing. I may have even called their office to say, ‘Are you sure?’ Because it was 100 percent people looking for him directly, which is not the norm. The numbers were there so it made it an even easier decision for me.”
Oliver-Cline established a solid history of working with self-made artists, beginning in 2007 when she began working with Zac Brown Band’s management company ROAR, serving as day-to-day manager for the group. She was later named VP of Publishing and A&R for Southern Ground Artists, before joining Thirty Tigers to spearhead marketing efforts for artists including Lucinda Williams and Jason Isbell.
She was first introduced to Combs through her longtime friend, Chris Kappy, who worked for Sixthman Cruises for more than a decade before moving to Nashville to manage Combs. Combs and Oliver-Cline met approximately 18 months ago in what he thought would be a brief meeting to gain industry advice and let her hear his music. Shortly after, she offered him a label deal with River House Artists.
The six songs Combs played for Oliver-Cline essentially became the first half of This One’s For You.
“He had this raw vocal and passionate delivery. I thought, ‘He really has something there,’” Oliver-Cline recalls of first hearing Combs. “With River House, I was able to offer him creative freedom and a partnership, which I think is appealing when you have an artist that is very DIY.”
This One’s For You also highlights the fruits of Combs’ longtime collaboration with songwriter Ray Fulcher. Combs estimates he and Fulcher have penned 50 songs together, eight of which made it onto his new album.
“He knows where I’m going and I know where he’s going, so we can both kind of anticipate what we are trying to say. A lot of songs are similarly themed, but when we wrote ‘When It Rains It Pours,’ it was trying to find these little relatable things that nobody has said before and we are both pretty good at that.”
Oliver-Cline also signed Fulcher to River House’s publishing arm. “Starting a publishing company has been my dream since 2004,” she says. “Here we are 13 years later. I think because of the time I spent with Zac Brown and Wyatt Durrette, who had a great writing relationship during the first ZBB records, I saw that bond and I saw the same thing with Ray and Luke.”
With a No. 1 single under his belt, an album topping the iTunes Country chart, and a new single to be released soon, Combs is focused on a string of upcoming performances. He will make appearances at the CMT Music Awards, Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, and the CMA Music Festival, and will be on the road with Brantley Gilbert through September.
Along the way, Combs has gleaned advice and wisdom from his fellow artists, such as tourmate Gilbert.
“He told me to care about the music and the fans above everything else. They are the ones that got me here,” Combs says.
Combs has done that, in a very public way—by dedicating the title track of his debut album to those who have championed him, from the writing rooms and tiny bars, to arenas and the top of the charts.
This One’s For You Track Listing
1. Out There
Luke Combs, James McNair, Ray Fulcher, Jacob Bryant
2. Memories Are Made Of
Luke Combs, Ray Fulcher, Cody Webb
3. Lonely One
Luke Combs, Drew Parker, Erin Ashley O’Keefe
4. Beer Can
Luke Combs, James McNair, Ray Fulcher
Luke Combs, Thomas Archer, Taylor Phillips
6. One Number Away
Luke Combs, Robert Williford, Sammy Mitchell, Steven Andre Battey
7. Don’t Tempt Me
Luke Combs, Robert Williford, Joseph Michael Costa
8. When It Rains It Pours
Luke Combs, Ray Fulcher, Jordan Walker
9. This One’s For You
Luke Comb, Ray Fulcher, Pat Cooper
10. Be Careful What You Wish For
Luke Combs, Rob Crosby, Ray Fulcher
11. I Got Away With You
Luke Combs, Ray Fulcher, Tyler Reeve
12. Honky Tonk Highway
Luke Combs, Ray Fulcher, Rob Crosby
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