Brett Eldredge made an immediate impression on fans and critics with his touching debut single “Raymond,” which told the story of a young man’s friendship with an elderly woman who suffered from Alzheimer’s, and who thought he was the son she had lost in death decades earlier. “Raymond” continues to climb the country singles chart, having just reached Top 30 status. In addition, Brett Eldredge has had the opportunity to perform on the Grand Ole Opry, and has extended the invitation for his fans to share their own experiences with Alzheimer’s on his official web site, and to share how his song has affected them. In a recent interview, Brett discussed the inspiration behind his special song, as well as his connection to country fans and to the hallowed Grand Ole Opry.
Ben: Would you like to tell a little bit about your background, and what led to you making the decision to move to Nashville and to pursue a career in country music?
Brett: Yeah, I’m from Paris, Illinois, which is a tiny little town of about 9,000 people, about 4 ½ hours from Nashville. I lived there until I was about 18, and then I moved to Elmhurst, Illinois, to go to my first two years of college. I found myself in love with Nashville one time when I came to visit to see my cousin [Terry Eldredge] play – He’s a bluegrass musician in the Grascals. So I came down to see him down at the Station Inn, which is now my favorite venue still to this day. I got up there, and I sang a song with him. I was hooked. I’ve done a lot of different genres, and sung a lot of different stuff. My love was already country music, but when I got down here and saw that in the flesh, and got to hear the actual instrumentation and the fiddle and all that stuff, I was like ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.’ So I transferred schools down to MTSU, and I was like ‘I’m gonna go make this happen. I’m gonna figure out how to make this happen. I didn’t know what I was doing really; I just kind of showed up! I didn’t really know anybody. I got to Nashville and went to MTSU for college, and I’d go back and forth every day after class. I just started writing songs with people, and playing those songwriter night when there would be like two people there. It was a crazy, crazy experience. There was actually one time when my buddy’s dad came to visit, and it was just his dad in the crowd, and I was just playing these songs that I wrote, and I was just starting to figure out how to write songs. So I started to develop songs, and eventually signed a publishing deal. I just kept writing and eventually developing myself as an artist, and figuring out who I was. I was eventually showcased, and found myself a record deal. It was a fun journey so far.
Ben: So would you like to describe your songwriting process?
Brett: There’s no certain exact process that I do. Sometimes I’ll have a title or something that I’ll just write on this paper sitting here, like from the newspaper, or something I might hear in some kind of conversation that somebody had at the McDonald’s. There’s never an exact form that I follow. If I have a title, I might go and say “This is something I heard. This could be a cool title for a song.” I might write that, or I’ll just show up and start singing something, especially if it’s a co-write. You know, somebody’s sitting there playing something, and I’ll just start singing. I don’t even know what I’m singing. A lot of times people would laugh because it’s actually gibberish, and most of the time it is gibberish and I’ll start to put words with it. With some of it, it’s not like we’re going to record any of that gibberish. But sometimes on some of the work tapes and recordings, you can hear some of those random lyrics come out. But eventually we put real words to it, but it’s a fun thing. I love to write songs, and I still write songs all the time. I’ve got at least two hundred unfinished songs. On my phone, I’ve got a recorder, and I’ll just record something, and I’ve got a million of those that I’ll probably never ever listen to again, but maybe one day I’ll have a bored day on the airplane. I’ll hit PLAY on something and then all of a sudden I’ll have it back in my head, and I’ll start writing it. So it’s cool. I love songwriting.
Ben: Would you say that you’re a singer first, or a songwriter first?
Brett: I moved to town as a singer first. I still always want to be a singer first for sure. That’s how I grew up, and that’s how I started. That’s why I moved here. Then I discovered songwriting, and I discovered a whole other part – singing songs that you wrote, and being able to tell a story even more if you lived it, or had a part in making that song. Singing has always definitely been my passion, but now songwriting is too – a little bit of a combination of both, if that’s a fair answer.
Ben: Yeah, kind of like “Which wing does the bird like better?”
Ben: So would you like to tell about the artists that have influenced your style the most?
Brett: Yeah, there’s a wide range of artists that I love. I love Ronnie Dunn, Brooks & Dunn. Ronnie Dunn’s voice – I just was captured by it. One of my favorite singers of all time. Frank Sinatra – huge fan of him and that whole generation. The way he phrased words and sang songs, you could believe everything he said. I’m a scholar for singers – I love those crooner kinds of guys. I love Ray Charles and Vince Gill. They’ve got this naturally God-given gift to feel, and sing their butts off. I love those kinds of singers.
Ben: Would you like to tell about the inspiration behind your current Top 30 hit “Raymond”?
Brett: It’s inspired by my grandmother who has Alzheimer’s. She still has Alzheimer’s now and has had it for several years. She was getting worse with it about three and a half years ago. That’s when I wrote this song. It was a call from my dad that sparked this idea to write this song. My dad called and said “Your grandmother’s starting to forget people in the family. She’s starting to slip up a little bit.” So I was torn up. She means the world to me. She’s the lady who cooked me fried chicken every Sunday, and just did everything for me. To hear that she was starting to lose some of who she was – It was killing me. I had to find some way to find comfort in the situation. A lot of times I go to songwriting. So I went and told a friend who I’d never met actually – He wasn’t even a friend at this point, Brad Crisler. I showed up, didn’t even know him, and I started telling him about the issue that was going on with my grandmother, which I never do. I’m not that kind of guy. I keep my family issues to myself. But I had to tell him, and he was taken in by the story. He had relatives in nursing homes growing up, and so did I, so it was just something that was so real to us. The song pretty much wrote itself at that point. We had both experienced it. We’d been there. All of a sudden it would just take off, and stuff would really start flowing out. We didn’t have an idea called “Raymond” anything. It just came. It was weird. It just came from some special place I guess. It only happens every once in a while as a songwriter, but when it does, you know it.
Ben: I understand you’ve also opened up the opportunity for your fans to share their own experiences with Alzheimer’s.
Brett: Yeah, on bretteldredge.com, my web site, there’s a little box where you can call. People can share their stories, and there will be a recording on my web site. People share their stories of how the song’s affected them or how Alzheimer’s affected them. It’s incredible how the song has touched certain people. A lot of times they’ve just got done listening to the song, and it’s crazy. They’re like already crying at the beginning. People are so passionate about it. They see it every day. A lot of people have Alzheimer’s, and live with it for a long time. You got to see that. So you hear the message of people that have the same struggles, and everybody’s in it together. It’s a big deal – 5.5 million people have Alzheimer’s. It’s like an epidemic now. So it’s crazy to see what kinds of people are getting affected by it. It’s a cool deal to hear their stories, and I enjoy that part of it, though I hate to hear it.
Ben: Would you like to also describe the creative process behind your music video for “Raymond”?
Brett: The music video is a crazy concept. This is my first major video. I roll up in a parking lot, and there’s two huge trucks with forty people of a crew, and I was like ‘Is this for me? Is this how this works? Am I at the right place?’ But it was a really cool process making the video for “Raymond.” Shaun Silva shot it, and he’s an unbelievable director. He’s done a lot of Chesney videos and all that stuff, but he’s just a really talented guy at making it real. For making a music video, a lot of people have different ideas of how the video could go. He was the one that I felt really brought it home in capturing the kind of relationship we’re trying to capture with this song. In a lot of the video, you’re seeing me and the lady, Katherine Davis, talking. Shaun said “Talk about something from your childhood – some really emotionally special point in your life.” She started telling me about when she was a kid around Christmas and all that stuff. She got teary-eyed and crying, and I was getting teary-eyed. It was an emotional kind of moment, and so in a lot of the video that’s the kind of stuff we’re talking about. That’s how he made it feel real, and I felt a good relationship with her, so it was a cool thing.
Ben: Yeah, it really brings the song to life. Seeing as you made your Grand Ole Opry debut last year, would you like to tell about that experience, and about your connection to the Opry?
Brett: The Opry is country music. It’s a special place – a place that I had been trying to get to play for a long time. When I signed with the agency, I had no reason to be on the Opry yet, but I kept telling them I wanted to be on it. They were like ‘We’re working on it. We’ve got to get there at the right point.’ I finally heard that I got to do it, and I was just pumped. There’s nothing like it. It’s a special place, and there’s so much history behind it. I’m gonna go stand on the same circle that Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and Elvis stood on – Elvis only one time, but he was there. So many people have been up there. To know that I was gonna do that was a special thing. So I got to bring my family, and Bill Anderson introduced me. He was a mentor of mine. The cool thing was I got to play a song that Bill and I wrote together. So all of it kind of came full circle. Literally, I walked out into the circle, and I saw my parents and grandfather and grandmother and brother and everybody. It was a special feeling. Though I was kind of nervous walking up – The closer I got to that circle, my heart beat a little faster. But once I got out in that circle and looked out in the crowd, I felt the warmth of the country music fans. They’re just so accepting, and I was home. I’ve played four times since, and I hope I get to play it for a long, long time.
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