Right about now there are some quite confused people in the world. The Grammy Award nominations for 2017 were announced on 7th December and amongst the potential winners of Album Of The Year was something called A Sailor’s Guide To Earth by some fella called Sturgill Simpson. For the majority it’s a leftfield choice and has spawned that most 2016 of things: a hashtag. So let’s help to answer the big question: #whothefuckissturgillsimpson
Even in the genre that he’s frequently associated - country music - there’s a sense that no-one really knows him. Certainly there’s a giant swathe of country radio listeners who don’t get him. But let’s start at the start. With the basics.
Name: John Sturgill Simpson
Date of birth: 8th June 1978
Place of birth: Jackson, Kentucky
Number of albums: Three
Number of previous Grammy nominations: One
Record label: Atlantic Records
Best US Billboard 200 position: Number Three
Those facts alone show you one thing; this guy isn’t new, he’s a successful and established artist on a major label with a top ten album under his belt. So how come no-one really knows about the 38 year old? Well he generally shuns the limelight and lives quietly in Nashvill.e Though he does appeared on late night TV in the US and doesn’t hold back in interviews. In fact most people will have heard of him through his no holds barred views on mainstream Nashville. When The Music Fix interviewed him back in 2014 he was engaging, interesting, honest, and in the back of a van with Daniel Meade on the way to a tiny gig in Glasgow. Some things change, people don’t. We loved Sturgill then, we love him more now.
Musically it’s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth that really put him on the map, with it’s mix of motown, country, rock, and doo wap. From the beautiful recreation of Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’ to the touching ‘Breaker’s Roar’ and nuts out rock of ‘Brace For Impact (Live A Little)’ it’s a special creation, and a stunning artistic statement. Oh, and it’s self produced and written entirely by Simpson. We gave it a 10/10.
Before that though was the traditional country of his searing debut High Top Mountain which reintroduced music to the long forgotten idea of outlaw country. Then there was the left turn into the unknown on Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, a brave and skillful riff on the country sound that he mined to such effect on his debut. We pegged Simpson as a star in waiting back then.
Live it’s another story still. In his multiple visits to the UK he’s performed solo acoustic shows to really small crowds, full on full band shows to quite small crowds, and a couple of slap-about-the-face festivals shows. If you’ve seen the Kentucky native live you’ll remember it.
The fascinating thing about Sturgill Simpson is that he had a whole other life before finding a career in music in his mid thirties. He’d lived a little. Now he’s living a lot. And not letting the industry or expectations change him. To put it in bitesize chunks he's an explorer, innovator, risk taker, outsider, grafter, father, real and unique. So now you know exactly who the fuck Sturgill Simpson is. Hashtag that.