He’s not quite coming home this weekend. Still, just being in Kentucky is good enough for Steven Curtis Chapman. One of the most popular contemporary gospel artists of his generation, the Paducah native will wind up his extensive solo acoustic tour, a trek that began last August, on Sunday at the Lexington Opera House.
“I think it’s pretty apropos to be winding up in my old Kentucky home,” Chapman said last week by phone following a performance at New York’s Town Hall. “It seems only right. The whole tour is very much me telling my story and sharing my whole journey, so I get to talk about Kentucky and Paducah and growing up there. It’s going to be a perfect place to wrap this great tour.”
The journey back to his home state is especially timely, given the nature of Chapman’s newest studio recording. A five-time Grammy winner, seven-time Dove Award Artist of the Year and multi-million selling recording artist, Chapman placed his intentions for the record right in its title — “Deeper Roots: Where the Bluegrass Grows.”
“Bluegrass music is the earliest music I heard. It really formed the earliest memories I have as a little boy,” he said. “They came from the sounds of banjos, dobros and acoustic guitars coming from the kitchen where my dad would gather with his buddies. They would play music and write songs and then play on weekends all around Western Kentucky where I grew up, so I’ve always had that music in my DNA.
“If you listen to my albums, you’ll hear an occasional banjo snuck in there or a dobro. I mean, I really did have to sneak it in a little bit because my record label was like, ‘Hey, that sounds like country music. Does that fit?’ I was always trying to explain, ‘Yeah. Absolutely it fits.’ Thankfully, in recent years, a lot of young, hip, cool groups have come along making a banjo cool again. It’s always been cool to me.”
A specific reason for the rootsy slant of “Deeper Roots” was more personal. Chapman wanted an opportunity to record with his family.
“I really wanted to record again with my dad and my brother, because I grew up singing and really learning a love for music. That came from my father, who was a great musician. He has a little music store in Paducah called Chapman Music. It’s still in operation. He’s going to be 80 years old in June. You can still find him in there every day of the week teaching guitar at 79. He still sings great, but he’s had some health issues, so I’m not really sure how many more years he’s going to be able to sing with me. So while I still can, I want to capture some more music with my father and my brother. That’s really what started the project for me.”
As the recording sessions progressed, Chapman decided to extend his Kentucky connections. In retooling his immensely popular 1999 song “Dive” for a bluegrass setting, he called on an old friend, one that knows a few things about the natural links between gospel and bluegrass music, Lawrence County native and veteran country/bluegrass star Ricky Skaggs. Their new version of “Dive” hit No. 1 on the Bluegrass Today airplay chart last week.
“I thought ‘Dive’ could be a great bluegrass song.’ So I started playing it, picking around on it and it tuned into something really cool,” Chapman said. “That’s when I called up Ricky. I figured if you’re going to do a bluegrass album, you want to get the best of the best. You call on fellow Kentuckian Ricky Skaggs. He came in and sang in it with me and it turned into a really, really special project.
“If somebody told my 19-year-old self that I would someday get to do a duet with Ricky Skaggs on a bluegrass song, I would have said they were crazy. When Ricky came on to the scene back then (in the early ‘80s) with ‘Heartbroke,’ ‘Highway 40 Blues’ and ‘Country Boy,” I was a huge fan. He had that bluegrass sound and was just a world class, phenomenal player and picker. But on top of that, he was a great singer who brought bluegrass into the mainstream in a way that no one had really done before. As he was also a man of faith and a brother, I became a huge fan right out of the gate. I never imagined that we would hang out together.”
Steven Curtis Chapman
When: 7:30 p.m. May 19
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short
Call: 859-233-3535, 800-745-3000