Kentucky-born singer and songwriter Sturgill Simpson dominated headlines in December when he landed himself among the ranks of Justin Bieber, Adele, Beyoncé and Drake as contenders for Album of the Year at the 2017 GRAMMY Awards (Feb. 12).
And while many were left wondering who exactly was this underdog coming up against today's biggest musical heavyweights, Sturgill, 38, isn't exactly a newcomer to the country scene. His latest and third studio album, A Sailor's Guide to Earth, debuted at number one on the Billboard Country Albums chart last April – and the critically adored Nashville-based singer-songwriter is considered one of the fastest-rising stars in music today.
Still, even he was surprised by the Best Album nomination. “I can’t believe I’m mentioned in the same breath with Adele, Beyoncé and all these huge pop artists,” he told told the L.A. Times. Here's what you need to know about the buzzed-about country artist shaking up the music industry.
1. He's considered a country music outlaw. In the likes of Kris Kristofferson and his hero Merle Haggard. For is outspoken views on contemporary country music, Sturgill earned himself the reputation as the widely adored dark-horse saviour of the genre.
2. He's already a GRAMMY-nominated artist. Sturgill's 2014 breakout album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music was nominated for Best Americana Album (he lost out to singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash's The River & the Thread). Fans are hoping 2017 could be his year to clinch music's highest accolade.
3. He’s now sold more than a half-million copies of his three albums. Including his self-released LP High Top Mountain in 2013, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (2014), and this year's best album contender, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.
4. He performed on SNL. Sturgill found a new mainstream audience after making a fiery debut on Saturday Night Live last month with his searing performances of "Keep It Between the Lines" and "Call to Arms" from the new album.
5. The late country music legend Merle Haggard sang his praises. In 2015, Sturgill was invited by the iconic singer to open his show at Bluestem Center for Arts in Moorhead, Minn. "As far as I’m concerned, he’s the only one out there," Merle proclaimed before passing away last April. "He comes out and does a great show."