Jeff Stevens, who began producing and co-writing with Luke Bryan for his 2007 debut album, “I’ll Stay Me,” in 2007, discusses his approach to working with the country star, and explains the highs and lows of his own career, including his time as a recording artist and as a songwriter with major cuts by Alabama, Tim McGraw, George Strait, and others. The program, presented in conjunction with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum exhibition “Luke Bryan: Dirt Road Diary,” was recorded on August 8, 2015.
Stevens opens with a performance of “All My Friends Say,” the single that introduced Bryan at country radio and established a long working relationship in the studio. He offers a behind-the-scenes look at creating the song (which he co-wrote with Bryan and Lonnie Wilson), from recording the demo to getting the attention of Capitol Records.
“If there’s a secret to Luke’s success, it’s that you can tell he’s giving you everything he’s got from inside,” Stevens tells the audience. “What more can you ask of somebody, especially an artist? That’s what I loved about him from the beginning.”
A West Virginia native, Jeff Stevens discovered a passion for performing as a boy, when he and his brother Warren received guitars for Christmas. Because their father was a dreamer, Stevens says, the boys entered talent shows and formed a band with their friend, Terry Dotson. They sent cassettes with their original songs to Nashville and landed two cuts with the band Atlanta, with both songs reaching the Top Ten.
Billed as Jeff Stevens and the Bullets, the band secured a record deal with Atlantic America and charted multiple singles. A clip of their performance on a TNN show hosted by Country Music Hall of Fame member Barbara Mandrell illustrates their country-rock style. The singles made little impact and Stevens tearfully remembers stepping away from the music industry for a time. However, label executive Rick Blackburn gave him a solo record deal, and although that album never came out, the project’s producer Keith Stegall helped Stevens secure a publishing deal at Warner Chappell led by Tim Wipperman.
That pivotal moment led to a feeling of artistic freedom and a successful songwriting career, with credits such as Alabama’s “Reckless,” John Anderson’s “I Fell in the Water,” BlackHawk’s “Down in Flames,” Tim McGraw’s “Back When,” George Strait’s “Carrying Your Love With Me” and others.
The program concludes with details about Luke Bryan’s album “Kill the Lights,” and Stevens’s acoustic performance of “Carrying Your Love With Me.”
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