Riley Green Took a Universal Truth, and Made It One of Country Music’s Most Poignant Hits

Last year, a lousy cell phone video of a performance of an unreleased song went viral and transformed the career of an aspiring singer from Jacksonville, Alabama. 

Videos by American Songwriter

The aspiring singer was Riley Green.

The song was “I Wish Grandpas Never Died.”

And yes, it hit a country nerve like no other.

“From the moment we played it for the first time, we knew we had something,” Green tells American Songwriter during a recent interview about the song that continues to climb its way up the charts. “There is not a better way to know a song is working or not than by seeing what happens during the live show when you play it. I couldn’t ignore the fact that we had something special.”

So while the initial plan was to release another song from his debut album Different ‘Round Here following Green’s number one, Gold-certified single “There Was This Girl,” the plan was rearranged, and Green’s label went all in with “I Wish Grandpas Never Died.”

And they never looked back.

Certainly, the heart-wrenching hook cradled within the poignant song hits a place deep within all of us, a place that we don’t often go to but a place Green continues to reach with each and every new listener.

“It’s just such a universal theme for all of us,” says Green, who recently snagged a “Best New Country Artist” nomination at the upcoming iHeartRadio Music Awards. “I didn’t want to write a song about just missing my granddads and not just about them not being in the world anymore. The song really came about from a combination of a lot of different things.”

Indeed, in the song, Green touches on not only the sweetness of everyday life, but also the once-common pieces of life that we all crave a little more these days. 

But initially, it was the lyrics, written entirely by Green himself, that touched on what was missing on country radio that initially got the most attention.

“That lyric was really more about missing the music that my granddaddy used to have on the radio, the Merle Haggard and the George Jones kind of stuff that you just don’t hear anymore,” says Green, who is currently out on Jason Aldean’s “We Back Tour” through Spring. “Country music is, of course, going to change, but what hits me is that we have gotten away from the storytelling that this genre was built on. I wish I would come across that kind of music more often.” 

Of course, with “I Wish Grandpas Never Died,” Green hopes that he is doing his little part in bringing that old, somewhat forgotten storytelling trend back.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know if I could write a complicated song,” laughs Green, who will host “Riley Green & Friends” in Las Vegas on April 5 following the ACM Awards.  “Very few songs have done what this song has done, just out of nowhere. I mean, it only took me a couple of hours to write.”

Indeed, the words often come easy when true love is involved, and for Green, he was writing of his love for two men who had an undeniable affect on his entire life.

“My one granddad, well he had one heck of a handshake, a handshake that meant something,” reflects Green. “And then there was my other granddad, who was that never miss a ballgame kind of guy. He was one of a kind.”

And while he lost his country-loving granddad Buford Green in 2010 and his granddad Lendon Bonds in 2018, Green ended up giving writing credits to both men on “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” in order to pay homage to the men that ultimately shaped him from birth.

“It’s about missing my granddads and the values they instilled in me, values that I believe are missing in the world these days,” he explains. “They both were such a presence in my life, that’s for sure.”

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