Tyler Booth stands behind a microphone, hands in the pockets of his blue jeans, headphones wrapped over his curly brown hair. Music slips though the headphones from his band’s recording earlier in the month, and this night he lays down the vocal tracks to his original songs. He begins to sing in a low, powerful country baritone — a bit of a surprising voice from a 20 year old who looks a few years younger.
The Wolfe County native had been surrounded by music his whole life, but he only recently began to pursue it as a career. When Booth was a child, his father, Jason Booth, was the manager for the rock band Stitch Rivet, and his father’s twin brother, Gene Booth, played bass. Jason recalls 6-year-old Tyler helping to tune the band’s guitars and learning basic cords before picking up the instrument when he was 10.
“If your dad is a doctor or a lawyer, you can see that it is possible to be one too,” Jason said. “Tyler saw me as a musician, and the normal path was music.”
Keeping the rock ’n’ roll sounds of his upbringing, Tyler’s songs are pure outlaw country, with the notable sounds of Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and current star and fellow Kentuckian Sturgill Simpson.
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After Booth graduated from Wolfe County High School in 2015, he concentrated on music and discovered his passion. After a year, he auditioned at the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music at Morehead State University and started there last fall.
He hasn’t been able to play as many shows in Morehead as he would have liked, but that didn’t stop him from dominating his first concert in Lexington. Opening for Frankie Ballard at Manchester Music Hall in March, Booth captivated the audience and left them wanting more of the new guy.
The minute Tyler walked on stage, grabbed the mic and started to sing, I knew this kid was a star.
Music manager Scott Frazier
“He was incredible,” Jason said. “Frankie had to win back his crowd. Everyone wanted to meet Tyler after that.”
“I was really excited and nervous,” Tyler said. “When it’s time to play, I play. I feel that it’s important to be nice, but when I’m on stage, it’s like a switch is flipped.”
The show at Manchester Music Hall was Booth’s band’s first time playing together for a live crowd. They had rehearsed together four times, and Booth thought the show “felt very good.” They return to Lexington on Saturday to play at Austin City Saloon’s Outlaw Ball.
The band — Asphalt Outlaws, named after one of Booth’s original songs — has Tyler Halsey on lead guitar; Kevin Allen, who played with Jason and Halsey in Stitch Rivet, on bass; Travis White on rhythm guitar; and fellow KCTM student John Tanner Blevins on “slide guitar, banjo, harmonic and whatever else we need.”
The music that Booth and the band performed were all Booth’s original songs. He writes mature content for his age, singing about running from the law, love, life on the road, and a real foot-tapping number called “Thing or Two” that his dad claims is “a real booty shaker.”
“I write songs about different people that I know and a little bit about myself,” Booth said. “Some songs I write the melody first and go back and put words behind it, or other times I’ll write down different phrases and catchy hooks and then write a melody around those.”
Booth’s writing and singing talent has attracted a lot of attention, including from music manager Scott Frazier, president of Louisville’s Overtone Music Group, who has signed chart-topping bands Volbeat and Saving Abel in his 18 years in the business.
“The minute Tyler walked on stage (at Manchester), grabbed the mic and started to sing, I knew this kid was a star,” Frazier said. “I couldn’t believe his voice. He is so genuine and so original.”
I figured it would take longer. I don’t know how I got here so quickly. I’m blessed.
Under Frazier’s guidance, Booth traveled to Nashville for a week, auditioning for Sony Music Nashville, producing a song with Grammy-nominated Skidd Mills, who produced Saving Abel’s certified Gold single “Addicted,” and having a song-writing session with Phil O’Donnell, who has written songs for Kentucky’s own Billy Ray Cyrus and Montgomery Gentry.
“I figured it would take longer,” Booth said. “I don’t know how I got here so quickly. I’m blessed.”
Booth’s burgeoning success wasn’t a surprise to the former market president of I Heart Radio, Judy Jennings, whose careful ear helped put Keith Whitley and Billy Ray Cyrus on the country music track to success.
“Once I heard and saw him, I believed in him. His voice is just like Waylon Jennings and Keith Whitley,” Jennings said. “Since Keith (Whitley), he’s the most authentic country singer I’ve known.”
Booth has a simple goal for his career in music: “I want to be able to make a living playing music that makes people feel. I want people to have fun and feel whatever emotion I’m trying to convey in my songs.”