In 2007, Luke Bryan scored his first No. 1 hit, a bright, melodic and ultra-radio friendly single called Good Directions. But there was a slight catch. The Georgia-born songsmith wasn't actually the one who took the tune to the top of the charts.
He wrote the song, so ownership was all his. But the version that became a hit was cut by country star Billy Currington.
Now, fast forward three years. In July, a more roots-savvy single, Rain Is a Good Thing, becomes No. 1. This time, Bryan is the artist, songwriter and, thus, the sole hitmaker.
So which is the bigger deal, an initial No. 1 hit that you wrote or a follow-up where you pretty much did everything?
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"It's a case of different emotions," says Bryan, who will help open Thursday's Rascal Flatts concert at Rupp Arena.
"With Good Directions, I had my first No. 1 as a writer, so that was just an amazing time. But when you have one that you've written, recorded and performed, it becomes very, very special. It's surreal, really. This whole experience of getting to do what I love to do and then having success at it is incredible.
So, yes, Rain has indeed been a good thing for Bryan. But he doesn't discount at all the kind of attention that Currington's hit version of Good Directions drew to what was, in 2007, a very young career.
"Good Directions gave me street credibility right off the bat," Bryan says. "That let people know who I was as a writer. Then as the song was going up the charts, Billy Currington wasn't just promoting it. He was promoting me as an artist, so it was an incredibly positive thing.
"A lot of people have asked if I regret at all that Billy was the one who recorded the song. No way. I don't regret it for a minute."
But the popularity of Rain Is a Good Thing came laced with more than a trickle of irony. The single's ascent on the charts coincided with devastating floods that crippled much of Nashville during the late spring. A song about yet more rain, you would expect, would be the last thing the city wanted to hear
"I know. I think it's kind of a testament to the song that it was still No. 1 at a time when a lot of people were still underwater," he says. "But I think the city of Nashville understood. Some of the radio stations there kind of dialed it back and maybe didn't play it much or make a big deal out of it. And I certainly understand their reasoning behind that. It was a very sensitive time around the Nashville area. I've been honored to watch how resilient the city has been and how quickly it has been able to emerge from such a volatile time."
While Nashville has been Bryan's home for much of his professional life, he hails from Leesburg, Ga., a city in the middle of one of the South's most fertile musical regions.
"Ray Charles was born in Albany. Over in Dalton, Ga., you had Otis Redding. You go to Macon or work your way through that whole South Georgia region and there is so much music," he says. "Then you have to look at the influence that artists coming out of Georgia have had on country music. It's a great state for all kinds of music. I think it always will be."
Bryan's debut album, I'll Stay Me, was released in summer 2007 with the gold-selling Doin' My Thing following in fall 2009. The second album's first single, the poppish Do I, topped out at No. 2 just before that year's end.
But 2010 will forever be the time of Bryan's breakthrough. Aside from the popularity of Rain Is a Good Thing, the year also brought an opening-act slot on a fall tour by Jason Aldean that set up the current trek with Rascal Flatts. A tour awaits later this winter and spring with Tim McGraw.
If that wasn't enough, Bryan's home life also got a boost in 2010. In August, he and wife Caroline welcomed the arrival of their second child, Tatum.
"You have to have a year like I did in 2010 to get from A to B," Bryan said. "I felt like last year kind of showed all of country music, radio, Nashville — everybody, really — that I'm hopefully on the path of putting out some music with a lot of impact. Hopefully they see I'm making that run at being a big headliner myself one day."