For 30-year-old Sam Hunt, who grew up in rural Cedartown, Georgia seemingly destined for a football career, 2014 has been a barnburner of a year in country music. In January, a major label deal with Universal/MCA Nashville was announced and in August, a four-song EP, X2C, was released. That effort, led by the self-penned single “Leave the Night On,” reached #5 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and sold 25,000 copies. On Oct. 27, 2014, Hunt’s first full-length album, Montevallo, was released; it sold over 69,000 copies in the first week, earning the #1 spot on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and #3 on its Top 200 albums chart. That same week, “Leave the Night On” was not only certified platinum, but it also ascended to the top of the Hot Country Songs chart, knocking fellow Georgian Jason Aldean out of the #1 spot. And the following week? Hunt’s first headlining tour, Lipstick Graffiti, sold out its 15 dates within minutes.
Though he was starting quarterback at both Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the gifted athlete discovered guitar while in college and began learning songs by artists including John Prine and Townes Van Zandt. He briefly signed as a free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs after graduation, but ultimately decided to move to Nashville in 2009 to pursue a career in music. Though a rookie, Hunt’s songwriting chops garnered enough attention to earn him a publishing deal and writing sessions with some of Nashville’s most elite composers. One of the songs written with A-lister Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, “Come Over,” was a #1 hit for Kenny Chesney in 2012.
Subsequent cuts for Billy Currington (“We Are Tonight”) and Keith Urban (“Cop Car,” which is nominated for a Grammy® this year) also earned accolades, but it was Hunt’s collaboration with songwriter and beatmaker Zach Crowell that began to definitively shape his own sound, incorporating a love of country music with the soul, hip-hop and R&B influences he grew up with in Georgia. The pair recorded a batch of acoustic songs and released them as a free mix tape called Between The Pines in 2013. A significant buzz was generated, leading to the deal with Universal/MCA Nashville.
Hunt believes his success is reflective of music fans embracing more than one kind of music. Professing his admiration for both Steve Earle and Usher in an interview with Radio.com, he said, “I think a lot of the walls and stereotypes have come down. You can be a rock, rap and country fan all in one, and nobody’s going to look at you funny about it.”