From ‘Body Like a Back Road’ to ‘Locked Up’: Country crossover star Sam Hunt performs at Jiffy Lube Live

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Sam Hunt at Jiffy Lube Live (Part 1)

Few country music stars have crossed over in recent years more successfully than Sam Hunt.

This Friday, Hunt brings his “Locked Up Tour” to Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia, for a blend of new radio hits like “Outskirts” and career-defining tunes like “Body Like a Back Road.”

“There’ll be some new songs and some songs that have been out for a while, a ‘Montevallo’-heavy set, I would say,” Hunt told WTOP. “We’re really still working out the set. We’ve only played three shows so far this summer with the set, so we’re still tweaking and changing, but we’ll kind of do that as we go. … I think it’s coming together.”

Born in Georgia in 1984, Hunt grew up wanting to be a professional football player as a Wendy’s High School Heisman nominee who played quarterback at Middle Tennessee State, then transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He even tried out for the Kansas City Chiefs before shifting gears to a music career.

“I was dabbling with the guitar in college, just tinkering around like a lot of college kids do, and I really fell in love with the writing side of it,” Hunt said. “I was using it as an outlet to express whatever feelings I was feeling and tell some stories and it was sort of like a musical journal I guess, but a few years passed, I graduated from college, the real world was coming on fast and I wanted to go to Nashville and see what Music City was all about.”

Arriving in Nashville in 2008, Hunt made a living writing songs for established stars like Kenny Chesney (“Come Over”), Keith Urban (“Cop Car”), Billy Currington (“We Are Tonight”) and Reba McEntire (“Love Somebody”).

“I fell in with some talented folks and we all kind of came up together,” Hunt said. “We were all struggling songwriters and we signed these publishing deals that allowed us not to have another job, even though it didn’t pay very much, but allowed us to pay the rent and groceries and keep our time free to write as much as we could, so that’s what I did for about two and a half years and got better … and finally started catching some traction.”

In 2014, Hunt signed with MCA Nashville for his breakthrough album “Montevallo.” It delivered a string of No. 1 hits with “Leave the Night On,” “House Party” and “Take Your Time,” featuring a unique style of spoken lyrics (“I didn’t mean to bother you but …”) before shifting into melodic singing (“I couldn’t just walk by and not say hi”).

“I was just experimenting and picking on the guitar and sort of stream-of-conscious trying to talk the lyrics and just speak what the lyrics should be instead of singing over a melody and it just came out in sort of this rhythmic way,” Hunt said. “At first, I didn’t necessarily think it had any potential, I was just trying to flesh out the idea of the verse … but I started doing it in front of a couple of my writing buddies and they were like, ‘Just do that.'”

The album also featured other radio hits like “Break Up in a Small Town” and “Make You Miss Me,” earning a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album, as well as an overall Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.

“It was very special to be included in that whole deal,” Hunt said. “I’ve been around long enough to know how prestigious the Grammy Awards are in a world of lots of different award shows, so I just felt fulfilled. That first record I spent a lot of time not cutting corners, dialing in every lyric and every sound … so I was glad that somebody at the Recording Academy and those folks heard that hard work hopefully and recognized it.”

In 2017, Hunt followed up with his biggest hit “Body Like a Back Road,” earning two more Grammy nominations and winning Single Record of the Year by the Academy of Country Music. On the radio, it broke the record of Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” by spending a whopping 34 weeks atop the Hot Country Songs chart. It even crossed over onto the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 6 to rival “Despacito” as the song of the summer.

“The timing of it was just right,” Hunt said. “I think the character and the lingo and the lyric, it was a cultural moment where that fit right into where things were moving. In country, you don’t necessarily hear a song like that, a flirty song with that type of lyric and personality, so I think it was just unique and that helped it stand out.”

Three years later, “Body Like a Back Road” would eventually appear on his second studio album “Southside” (2020) with additional hits like “Kinfolks” and “Hard to Forget.” This paved the way for his 2023 Grammy nomination for Best Country Duo/Group Performance with the talented singer/songwriter Ingrid Andress on “Wishful Drinking.”

“I’m really grateful to Ingrid for making that happen,” Hunt said. “She made it really easy on me, she had the song, sent it to me and had already put her vocal on it. I happened to be at a writing retreat down in Florida so I had my producer right there with me, so when we got it and decided to be on it, it took me about an hour and 30 or 40 minutes to sing a vocal, send it back and they did the rest. Next thing you know, it was on the radio doing well.”

Now, his tour is named after his latest album and title song, “Locked Up,” in which he tries to make amends for mistakes in his personal life, including a DUI arrest in 2019 and 2021 conviction that saw him spend 48 hours in jail. This was publicly followed by a near divorce in 2022 before reconciling with his wife to become parents.

“I have been locked up before, so I was able to draw from personal experience, but I didn’t want to tell my story, I wanted to write in a way that was general and could be a metaphor for the night I messed up and did whatever stupid thing that nearly lost me my lady,” Hunt said. “You really don’t know how much your woman loves you until you put her into a position to make it hard to stay, then when she does, you know how much she cares about you.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Sam Hunt at Jiffy Lube Live (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on the podcast below:


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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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