There they sat, a father and son in the front seat, driving another 279 miles from Nashville to Eastern Kentucky, all for the chance to make it home in time to turn on their local radio station to hear their dreams come true.
“I still can’t believe they are talking about me on the radio,” a proud Tyler Booth told his nearly 100K TikTok followers on a January afternoon of 2021, as he shared a video of his teary-eyed dad Jason hearing his son’s brand-new song “Already Got One” on the radio for the first time.
Granted, it took Booth roughly 24 years to get to this momentous moment. The rising country star who has watched his social media following explode in recent months still remembers the countless hours he spent as a kid tuning up the guitars of the rock band his dad managed. He remembers watching the writing sessions and learning the chord progressions and the nights he spent dreaming of a day that a song he wrote alongside lyrical masterminds such as Shane Minor, Phil O’Donnell and Justin Wilson would make its way on the radio.
And now the moment was here.
“I think the greatest lesson I learned from dad is that if I’m going to make a living writing and singing songs, it’s a lot of hard work,” Booth tells American Songwriter in a recent interview. “I was really shy about my singing and still at times feel a little reclusive by nature. He taught me that if I love music enough, it would push me through my fears of sharing my songs. I remind myself of that sometimes when I find myself reluctant to put myself out there. I just love music that much.”
Indeed, it’s never been a sure thing that the shy kid from Campton, Kentucky would find his way on the airwaves of country radio, much less on the lips of Nashville executives increasingly intrigued by the singer/songwriter’s authenticity in every note he sings.
An outlaw with the baritone voice, an endearing smile and a flowing mullet, Booth just might prove to be a breath of fresh country air in a world of far too perfectly coifed and filtered country superstars. He’s a kid that grew up on a steady dose of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash, and a man following in the footsteps of the Morgan Wallen and Hardy types of the world who have used their rough around the edges persona to propel them to produce their own, somewhat addictive brand of songwriting.
“I’ve been writing songs since elementary school,” Booth says with a laugh. “I didn’t even know what a work tape was at the time, but it ends up I’ve been doing them forever.”
Back in the day, Booth would record his music on an old TracFone he picked up at his local Wal-Mart and would often sneak out of his high school band class to write down a passing lyric.
“Songwriting was just something I couldn’t get away from,” he remembers. “Once I finished high school, I really couldn’t think of anything worth going to college for. I really wasn’t into science or history or any of that stuff.”
But he was into music, and it was that music that pushed him into looking into the Traditional Music Studies program at Morehead State University. But soon, his interest in the country music of old began to wane.
“I learned a lot and I still use what I learned to this day, but I realized then that I was more into modern country,” he remembers. “I mean, Waylon (Jennings) was too new for this program. (Laughs.) I just wanted to get out there and play some shows playing my music.”
So, he did. Booth’s first big show took place at Manchester Music Hall in Lexington, Kentucky and soon, a recording of that performance caught the attention of his professor Scott Miller, who sent it along to Booth’s future songwriting partner Phil O’Donnell in Nashville. In 2017, Booth released his first EP and wrote a multitude of songs, including the enchanting “Palomino Princess.”
“I had a girlfriend at the time, and there was this time that this beautiful palomino horse showed up in our yard,” remembers Booth of the inspiration behind the song that would eventually become his first solo write released by Sony Nashville. “That horse was just so pretty, and I felt some sort of connection to its majestic way, and then I started thinking about my girl. I went straight into my studio apartment at the farm and spent 10 hours just writing it all down. I wanted the song to be something like George Strait would sing.”
This mix of modern and traditional looks to be Booth’s sweet spot as he moves forward with his songwriting, along with a faith that the best song will always win.
“Anytime I sit down to write, I try my best not to think about any other song I have written in my life, so I can give any song coming out of me the best chance,” concludes Booth, whose sweet vocals are also featured on Brooks and Dunn’s Reboot album. “It’s all about coming in with a clean slate in the writing room. You never know when you will come up with the one song you will want to sing for the rest of your life.”
Photo by Matthew Berinato