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Luke Bryan's a hunky country party crasher
Luke Bryan titled his first album "I'll Stay Me." And back in 2007 he had no idea that staying him would be the big deal it is eight years later.
During the intervening years Bryan has established himself in the upper echelons of country music. He's scored 13 No. 1 country hits during the past five years, and his last three albums have each debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard country albums charts -- with 2013's "Crazy My Party" and this year's "Kill The Lights" also topping the Billboard 200.
He's placed two of his "Spring Break" EPs atop the country charts as well, and his trophy case is brimming with prizes from Billboard, the Country Music Association, American Country Artists, CMT and the Academy of Country Music -- whose annual show he co-hosts with good buddy Blake Shelton. He's also the ACM's reigning Entertainer of the Year and is up for four Billboard Music Awards in November.
And this year he's been filling stadiums, joining the ranks of country colleagues such as Kenny Chesney, the Zac Brown Band, and, if she still counts in country, Taylor Swift.
That's a lot of success in a short amount of time, and Bryan says each successive accomplishment only drives him to do better each time out.
"My main thing is to continue to move the needle on the fans," Bryan, 39, explains by phone from his home near Nashville. "I want to show (that) I'm upping my game constantly and coming with better songs and singing better than ever and fueling the live show...into bigger and bigger and bigger venues, constantly, for as many years as I can."
And, Bryan adds, he's proud that "my music is me. I didn't change my music to make it global. I want the audience to come to what I'm saying and selling, and if I can do that, it's a success."
Brian Kelley of the duo Florida Georgia Line, whose own platinum success owes partly to Bryan taking it on tour with him regularly, vouches that those stated ambitions are no mere hyperbole, either.
"He's just somebody we've always looked up to," Kelley notes. "He's a legend already, and he's a great man. He's one of our favorite humans. It's a blessing every time we take the stage in front of him, especially in these huge stadiums he's playing now, and we're very, very thankful and it's a dream come true to be in stadiums with Luke Bryan. We try to soak that up as much and as slowly as we can."
Bryan -- who's sold more than seven million albums and 27 singles worldwide -- established his vision in Leesburg, Ga., where he grew up the son of a peanut farmer and was as influenced by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson as he was by Alan Jackson, Alabama and Earl Thomas Conley. He earned a degree in business administration from Georgia Southern University, where he also met his wife Caroline (they have two sons and are raising a nephew after the death of his sister and her husband). With his family's encouragement, Bryan headed to Nashville in 1999 as a songwriter before signing a recording contract of his own.
"I just loved listening to music and how it affected me," Bryan recalls. "It always affected me more than anybody, really, around me. When I heard a song that really changed something for me, I went and seeked that song out and found it and really got into it. I've always been that way. I've always had a love for that. The love of a song taking you to a special place is pretty special."
That said, Bryan has been all about recording the best song possible throughout his career. He co-wrote 10 of the 11 songs on his debut album but just two on "Crash My Party" and six of 13 for "Kill The Lights." "My thing is I just look for a great song, as many great songs as I can find," he explains. "When it comes down to picking songs, all you can do is kind of follow your heart and your gut.
"You just never know. I feel like you're always one or two songs away from that song that just nails everybody -- whether I wrote it or somebody else did."
Some of the songs from "Kill The Lights" were written or discovered even before "Crash My Party," according to Bryan, and placed in "a little file that says 'next album.'" And this time out he also wanted to up his game in the studio.
"I've always felt like a live singer. Now I feel like I've become an even more slid recording artist," he says. "I was having a blast singing these song and always pushing myself vocally to become a better recording artist."
"i just want the albums to progressively sound better and try to grow. I felt like I grew with this album. I think it's a progression."
Where that will lead remains a question Bryan is looking forward to answering. More albums and "Spring Break" EPs are ahead, and he's already announced a 2016 arena tour after this year's stadium run. He's aware that a ceiling looms at some point but he hasn't hit it yet, and Bryan claims he's not sweating that, either.
"Y'know, I don't feel any pressure," he says. "After I record and my record label falls in love with it and I truly feel like they love it and nobody's blowing smoke up my...My family, my buddies I play my new album for, once they start loving it, the pressure's off for me.
"Listen, I'm so much farther down the path in this business than I ever could've dreamed of. I"m just trying to enjoy it and take it all in and make sure I truly enjoy where I'm at."
Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Randy Houser and Dustin Lynch
7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30.
Ford Field, 200 Brush St., Detroit
Tickets are sold out.
Call 313-262-2000 or visit detroitlions.com.
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