Ask Virgie native Josh Osborne what it was like to win a Grammy Award, and he directs you to a song.
It’s “Setting the World on Fire,” a 2016 hit by Kenny Chesney and Pink about a delirious night of revelry: “Up all night and we were feelin’ so good ... we got a little higher than we probably should.”
Osborne co-wrote the song based on the night of Jan. 26, 2014, when he, Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves took home the Grammy for best country song for Musgraves’ hit, “Merry Go ’Round.’”
“It was such an amazing night, and it was in Los Angeles, my wife and I were just on top of the world,” Osborne recalls. “We went back to the hotel, and they had found out we won at the hotel and they had gotten us a bottle of champagne that was in our room, and it was just this amazing night. The song is about that night of winning the Grammy and how everything felt so amazing.”
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Osborne, 36, has two shots at more inspiration this year, as he was on the teams for two Grammy nominees for best country song: Midland’s “Drinkin’ Problem” and Sam Hunt’s mega hit “Body Like a Back Road.”
We should also note there is another Kentucky competitor in the category: Chris Stapleton for his hit “Broken Halos.” “Setting the World on Fire” is one of four Osborne co-written tunes on best country album nominee “Cosmic Hallelujah” by Chesney, and he co-wrote “Smooth Like Summer” on Thomas Rhett’s best country album nominee “Life Changes.”
Which is all to say, Osborne is all over country music these days, usually in the company of McAnally, with whom he’s a partner in the songwriting company SMACKSongs.
Reaching beyond this year’s Grammys, Osborne has written or co-written hits such as Luke Bryan’s “Crash My Party,” Eli Young Band’s “Drunk Last Night,” Keith Urban’s “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” and a bunch of songs with Hunt, including “Make You Miss Me” and “Leave the Night On.”
But whether it wins a Grammy or not, it is safe to say “Body Like a Back Road” has been a career milestone for Osborne and everyone else involved. It spent a record 34 weeks atop Billboard magazine’s hot country songs chart and reached No. 6 on Billboard’s overall Hot 100 singles chart, the highest charting country song on the chart since Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” in 2013.
Osborne says the song became the focus of a 2016 songwriting trip to Charleston, S.C. with Hunt, McAnally, and producer Zach Crowell.
“Sam said, ‘I have this idea, that I think would be a fun song, but it might be goofy — I don’t know,’” Osborne recalls. “He said, ‘Do you think there’s any potential to the title, ‘Body Like a Back Road’?’ The other three of us looked at each other and said, ‘Yeah, there’s a lot of potential in that song.’ It already had alliteration, it had a flow, it already sounded like, ‘Wow, how’s this not already a hit?’”
It had a bit more of a journey to go, writing the song and then subsequently paring down some heavily written verses. Osborne said he started to have a sense of the song’s potential when he heard Crowell’s production, but still, “for it to go on and do what it’s done, none of us saw that coming.”
The Midland experience, which included Osborne’s producing debut, was quite different and rather personal.
“When they came in to write with us, I said, ‘What kind of music do you like?’ and they said, ‘Well, we like a lot of music that’s not played on the radio as much now, like Gary Stewart and Keith Whitley and people like that,’ and I was like, ‘You guys are like the band for me.’”
In fact, Osborne says if he and McAnally ever recorded — which they have no intention of doing — it would sound a lot like the rooted harmonic sound of Midland, music that harkens back to a late 1970s-early ’80s sound he remembers growing up in Virgie. So it made sense that he brought out “Drinkin’ Problem,” a song idea he had been carrying around for a while.
It has turned out to be a sentimental favorite for Osborne as it was his father’s favorite song from his catalog, and he died this past September.
“He loved that music, too, and luckily, he lived long enough to see it go to No. 1 and have that success,” Osborne says.
The two nominees and his win — Osborne and McAnally were also nominated last year with Miranda Lambert for her hit “Vice” — illustrate a distinctive aspect of Osborne’s career: He has had success writing radio-friendly hits for artists like Hunt and Chesney, but is also adept at writing more traditional, criticallly acclaimed work for artists like Musgraves and Midland.
“I grew up liking so many different kinds of music, I have no problem putting a foot in different worlds,” he said, “I am proud of the diversity in my catalog, and the ability to bring something into different rooms to work with different people.”
But we do have to ask, with the Grammys approaching, if he has a favorite among his contenders.
“I’m hoping for a tie,” Osborne demurs. Ultimately, he says he would love to have another big night, but having a Grammy at home does take some of the pressure off.
“My one Grammy gets lonely, and it would be nice if it had a friend,” Osborne says. “But if not, it can learn to live on its own. I can accept that.”
Rich Copley, @copiousnotes