Singer-songwriter overcomes life's setback

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Big plans can change in the blink of an eye.

Luke Bryan says his brother's death changed the course of his life, for bad and for good.  Special
Special
Luke Bryan says his brother's death changed the course of his life, for bad and for good.

Luke Bryan knows: His dreams of country stardom were deferred after his older brother died in a car wreck.

The 30-year-old graduate of Georgia Southern University is back on the fast track, though:

- His debut single, All My Friends Say (Capitol Records), was released Feb. 12, backed by a funny music video filmed at a fraternity house on the University of Georgia campus in Athens.

- He co-wrote Billy Currington's new hit, Good Directions.

- He is booked to make his Grand Ole Opry debut April 7.

- His debut CD, Introducing Luke Bryan, is due in June. It's a great album full of potential hits, including my favorites, Baby's on the Way (a toe-tapping country rocker about a guy eager to see his girlfriend), We Rode in Trucks (about guys' relationships with pickups) and Tackle Box (country life memories reminiscent of Alan Jackson's When Daddy Let Me Drive).

I recently talked with Mr. Bryan as he was traveling through Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains heading for a radio station appearance in Baltimore. It's a far change from his life 10 years ago when he was fresh out of high school and playing middle Georgia nightclubs with a band called Neyami Road.

His high school drama coach, Robbie Davis, told Mr. Bryan that he should follow his music dreams, and that's what he set out to do at the age of 19 with an intended move to Nashville, Tenn.

It didn't quite happen just like that, as Mr. Bryan recalled.

"My brother, Chris, and I about that time went to see Hank Williams Jr. at the Savannah Civic Center," Mr. Bryan said. "That day was kind of neat, because my brother and I were just starting really to close our age gap. He was 6 years older than me. It was the first time we really had started to hang out a lot. But a month to the day after that concert, he was killed in a car accident.

"My brother didn't play any instruments, and, Lord knows, he couldn't sing a lick, but he was a consummate country music fan and loved everything about it. He was a big reason why I was listening to country, because you kind of do what your older siblings do."

With his parents and younger sister, Kelly, grieving over his brother's death, Mr. Bryan decided to stay home and help out with his father's fertilizer and chemical business in Smithville, Ga., and peanut mill in Leesburg. He enrolled in a community college for two years and then spent two more years earning a business management degree at Georgia Southern in Statesboro.

"My brother's death did kind of change the course of my life and put my life on hold for a little bit and sent me in another direction," Mr. Bryan said. "But, if there is anything positive to gain from it, it was God's plan.

"I think if I had moved on to Nashville at 19, I probably wouldn't have been mature enough to necessarily handle everything that would have been possibly thrown my way. So, it was probably something that falls in the lines of 'That's just the way life is.'"

Finally at 25, Mr. Bryan did move to Nashville, where he has been writing songs (also recorded by Travis Tritt and the band Ricochet) and has been working on his debut album.

"Anything that happens from today on in my life is what I consider bonus stuff for me," he said. "I'm just happy at the place I'm in. We're all not promised another day. We have to make the most of each day, and that's how I'm trying to do it."

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 36 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at don.rhodes@morris.com.

LISTEN UP

Click here to listen to part of the song All My Friends Say.

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