An artist like Drake White doesn't come along every day. As his Dot Records debut It Feels Good: Live demonstrates, the Alabama native is a commanding, deeply expressive singer, a riveting, charismatic performer and a one-of-a-kind songwriter whose vivid lyrical insights are rooted in his small-town Southern upbringing and honed by his experiences touring America with his band the Big Fire. White's effortlessly infectious songcraft combines swagger and sensitivity, channelling a bottomless well of American influences into timeless music that's firmly planted in the here and now.
White has already generated significant amounts of fan excitement and music-industry buzz while on tour with acts such as Little Big Town and Zac Brown Band, as well as scoring a Top 40 country hit with 2013's "The Simple Life." He was named and dubbed "an electric performer with a gospel howl" by Rolling Stone Country and boasted to have “a voice as soulful as Stapleton’s” by Taste of Country.
At the end of 2015, White released his single “Livin’ The Dream” to Country radio, which All Access called “a ready-made hit, sure to launch White in to a successful 2016.” White was also listed as one of Huffington Post’s "Top Country Artists to Watch in 2016."
It Feels Good: Live is a lean, mean five-song EP that serves as a compelling introduction to Drake White's indomitable musical spirit, as well as a tantalizing preview of the full-length album that he's working on with noted producers Ross Copperman (Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, the Eli Young Band) and Jeremy Stover (Justin Moore, Jack Ingram, Martina McBride). It Feels Good: Live's five original compositions offer an impressive encapsulation of Drake White's expansive vision, from the title track's sly rustic raucousness to the brash barroom rock 'n' roll of "I Need Real" to the anthemic punch of "Elvis" to the working-class bluegrass of "Story" to the poignant introspection of "Back to Free."
"I had about 100 songs to choose from," the young artist notes, "but I felt like these five would give people a good sense of who I am and what we're trying to accomplish. I'm just doing what comes naturally to me, and I try not to overthink it. I go out there and do what I know and what I love, and I try to write honestly and say what I think, and trust that people will recognize that it's authentic."
The qualities of fearlessness and forthrightness that run through Drake White's music were instilled in him early in life, while growing up in rural Hokes Bluff (population 4300) in northeast Alabama. His early musical consciousness was shaped by his parents' deep love for music, by the choir in the Southern Baptist church in which his grandfather preached, and by the gritty, open-hearted musical traditions of nearby Muscle Shoals.
"I definitely think our sound reflects the place where I grew up," White observes. "Being raised in a small town in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, there's inspiration in the pine trees, in the rivers, in the mountains, in the wind, in the wildlife, in the changes of the seasons. Early on, I met some people who were very art-driven and who were really into music, and that was an inspiration too. But the biggest inspiration was my parents and my family encouraging me to be my own person and follow my gut and just go for it."
The freedom he felt to pursue his own path led White to pursue such adventures as rebuilding a century-old cabin to live in while he attended Auburn University, starting his own landscaping company to make ends meet while working to establish his musical career, and spending several months hitchhiking and playing music through New Zealand. White's music embodies the same iconoclastic sense of adventure, and reflects the insights he's gained through his experiences.
"I always knew I had a voice, because we all sang in church when I was a kid," he says. "And I'd always been into poetry and writing, so I was drawn to songwriting. But I definitely had to work at it and learn the mechanics of it. The more you work at songwriting, and the more you exercise those songwriting muscles, the better you get at it. Now it's my favorite part of this whole thing, and it's really been therapeutic for me. Sometimes it comes easy, and sometimes it comes really hard, but I love the challenge of figuring out how everything fits together."
Another key aspect of White's creative maturation has been the development of his band, the Big Fire, which has evolved into a formidable, close-knit unit through years of hardscrabble roadwork.
"Growing up listening to The Band and the Eagles and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, I realized how powerful it can be to get a group of likeminded individuals who all have their own voices, but who share a common goal," White asserts, adding, "We're definitely a diverse bunch, but we all have a common vision for what we want this band to sound like. They're all very well-versed in Southern roots, in country music and gospel music and rock music, and that all comes through in what we create together."
"We had another record deal that didn't work out," he explains. "After that fell apart, I just told my agent to keep us on the road. Ever since then, we've been cruising around in this Sprinter van, playing wherever we can, either to ten people or a hundred people or a few thousand people, playing in a bar or opening up a bigger show for somebody. We're not afraid to get out there and work, and as long as we're playing and spreading this music and people are showing up, I'm happy. There are a lot of good people out there, and we've met tons of them and gotten all kinds of fans out of it."
A set opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium proved fateful, as that night's audience included Big Machine Label Group President/CEO Scott Borchetta and Dot Records General Manager Chris Stacey, who were impressed enough to sign White to Dot.
"You never know what's gonna happen, you just have to go out there and do the work and be OK with it," he concludes. "My dad used to tell me, 'Don't pray for an easy life, pray for the heart to get you through a hard one.' Looking back on all the crazy crap that's happened, it's been like being in the middle of a hurricane. But it's also been like the pieces of a puzzle coming together."