Kenny Chesney is a firm believer in the “best song wins” policy. The award-winning artist, who solo penned enduring classics like “I Go Back,” “Beer in Mexico,” and “Old Blue Chair”, considers those to be gifts. He deems it “asinine” for one would think that they could write the best 10-12 tracks for an album in a town brimming with songwriting talent.
“Whether I wrote it or someone else wrote it, or someone brand new sent it to me or gave it to me if it was great, then it had a chance to make my record,” Chesney tells Apple Music Country’s Kelleigh Bannen on Today’s Country Radio on March 19.
Chesney’s career kick-started when he signed a publishing deal with Acuff-Rose in 1993. As a recent graduate of East Tennessee State, the emerging artist says he was “running toward everything.”
“I was running toward my dream, I was running toward the unknown, the uncertainty of what I was doing,” he continues. The Nashville newcomer won over Troy Tomilson, now Chairman and CEO of Chesneys’s current publishing home—UMPG Nashville—with a few songs he brought to Music City including “Tin Man.”
“All of a sudden I was writing with songwriters every day and walking down the hallway every day with a lot of these writers that truly influenced my life,” he recalls. Among them were Dean Dillon, Whitey Shafer, and Skip Ewing.
“I was really green in the business, but I had to grow up really quickly when you’re sitting in the room with those guys, you know?” he describes. “And so it was a huge learning experience for me, but that’s where it all started. You know, those guys are still great friends of mine today and it was such an unbelievable way to enter into the music business, sitting in the room with some of the most creative minds in the world.”
The experience moved him, shaping his ideas of storytelling and honing a craft that built his multi-award-winning decades-spanning career as a country music icon. Early exposure to the multitude of songwriting talent at Acuff-Rose furthered his notion that others are capable of telling your stories. Now, he wields ideas from peers and predecessors that align with his vision and deliver dynamic records that resonate with a broad listener base.
His current radio single, “Knowing You,” is reminiscent of those early days on the front end of his dreams that he recalls so wistfully. Penned by Brett James—credited for “Out Last Night,” “Spirit of the Storm,” “When the Sun Goes Down”—Adam James, and Kat Higgins, the slow-burning tune exemplifies Chesney’s ideology of songwriting. The video, released March 12, portrays a cinematically stark contrast between his past and present, wishing well to a lost lover.
“While it’s a simple country song,” Chesney says, “it’s the kind of song that can hold anyone. You don’t have to be on a fishing boat freezing to know this pain and gratitude for knowing someone who changed your life. And wherever they are, you know they’re living their best life, shining and doing the same thing for someone else—and that’s pretty rich.”
Listener to Kenny Chesney’s conversation with Apple Music Country’s Kelleigh Bannen on Today’s Country Radio, below.