Chris Stapleton Explains the ‘Gift’ That Gives Him Solace as He Mourns Lost Musical Greats
2020 has been a tough year for country music — and not only because the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns kept artists from hitting the road and seeing their fans in person this year. It's also been a difficult year in terms of the artists we lost.
Legends including Joe Diffie, John Prine, Kenny Rogers, Charlie Daniels and many more have died over the course of 2020. Just like any other country fan, Chris Stapleton says he's mourned those losses in different ways.
"Probably from a musical standpoint, I would have to say Charlie Daniels was probably somebody that I listened to the most. Those records were in heavy rotation for me when I was a young man," Stapleton recounted at a recent virtual press event when asked which of the country music deaths in 2020 hit him hardest.
"They were records that my dad listened to, and I met Charlie a handful of times ... He was always good to me and nice to me and, you know, took the time to shake my hand and say hello," the singer continues. "Kenny Rogers is obviously a huge influence. John Prine is a unique voice and slant on songwriting that I don't think is replaceable."
Some of those artists were honored at the 2020 CMA Awards (and some, including Prine, Billy Joe Shaver and Jerry Jeff Walker weren't, causing artists including Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires to speak out in protest at the lack of attention being paid to those essential artists).
Stapleton points out that while the loss the genre sustained in 2020 is indeed staggering, there's an upside to it that gives him some measure of solace.
"We lost a lot of people this year, we lost a lot of wisdom in them, and there's no amount of tributing on a television show that can fully give back to them and their families what they've given to us — just a wealth of music and joy," he says. "That being said, how lucky are we that we have their music still?"
The fact that these artists leave behind music after they're gone, he continues, is a gift unto itself.
"I was speaking to somebody about this, and they were like, 'Are you sad about all the wisdom that was lost?' Well, you know, my dad's no longer around," Stapleton continues. "I lost wisdom there. But there's no recordings of my dad talking about things and singing songs. My grandparents aren't around, you know — lost wisdom there. There's not recordings of that wisdom anywhere.
"But we as musicians, a little bit ... they get to live on," he says. "I think that's the thing: While we miss them in body, their spirits get to hang out a little bit more than other people who weren't musicians. And what a wonderful thing, or notion, that is, that they get to live on in that way."
In fact, there are examples of that on Stapleton's newest record, Starting Over, on which he includes two Guy Clark covers in tribute to a late friend and hero. Clark died in 2016.