John Sturgill Simpson (born June 8, 1978) is an American Grammy Award-winning country music and roots rock singer-songwriter. As of August 2017, he has released three albums as a solo artist. He released two albums independently, High Top Mountain in 2013 and Metamodern Sounds in Country Music in 2014. His second album is notable for being nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Americana Album, being listed 18th on Rolling Stone's "50 Best Albums of 2014," and also being named among "NPR's 50 Favorite Albums of 2014." His third studio album, A Sailor's Guide to Earth, was released on Atlantic Records and was Simpson's first major-label release, later earning him Best Country Album at the 59th Grammy Awards while also being nominated for Album of the Year.
Simpson was born in Jackson, Breathitt County, Kentucky, the son of a secretary and a state policeman who formerly worked undercover narcotics. Due to his father's work, Simpson's family moved to Versailles, outside Lexington, where Simpson graduated from Woodford County High School. Simpson's mother's family were coal miners. Simpson is the first male on his mother's side of the family to not work in a strip mine or deep mine.
Simpson took a break from music, focusing on building a career at a Salt Lake City railroad freight-shipping yard for Union Pacific Railroad, which he eventually ended up managing. He credits his wife and friends with supporting what he characterized as a hobbyist focus on songwriting and playing to convincing him to actually focus on getting serious and trying to make music for a living. After playing local open mics and gigs, Simpson returned to Sunday Valley. The band toured and made an album. He and his wife moved to Nashville when the group disbanded in 2012.
After going solo, Simpson released his debut album High Top Mountain in 2013, which he self-funded, self-released, and had cut in Nashville  before signing to British independent label Loose, who released the album in Europe in 2014. The album was produced by Dave Cobb. Among the session musicians were Hargus "Pig" Robbins on piano and Robby Turner, a former guitarist for Waylon Jennings, on steel guitar. The record is named after a cemetery near Jackson where many of Simpson's family members are buried. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic rated High Top Mountain 3 and half stars out of 5, comparing its sound favorably to Waylon Jennings. The album's style has also been compared to Merle Haggard's. Erik Ernst of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel also compared it to Jennings, saying that it had "rich vintage sounds, heartbreaking ballads, and juke-joint ramblers".
2014-2016: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
In 2014, Simpson released his second album produced by Dave Cobb, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music to positive reviews. The album's lead single is "Living the Dream". The record is described as a "deep and unconventional relationship between traditionalism and new ways of thinking," and deviates from Simpson's more traditional hard country debut. Simpson said that "recording and mixing was done in five and a half days for about $4,000. I was pretty proud about that." The album made two separate "Top Albums of 2014" lists in The New York Times (ranking 4th and 8th) and was also called the best album of the year by American Songwriter.
Simpson made his US network television debut on July 14, 2014, on the Late Show with David Letterman, playing "Life of Sin". That year, he would go on to play "Living the Dream" on a September episode of Conan, "Turtles All the Way Down" on an October episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and "The Promise" on a December episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers. In 2015, he returned to The Late Show and Conan playing "Long White Line" in February and "Just Let Go" in April (respectively). He has also played the Grand Ole Opry and at Austin City Limits. He has opened for artists like Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and the Zac Brown Band.
His cover of "The Promise" by 1980s band When In Rome was featured in the Season 2 Episode 9 of the HBO series The Leftovers in November 2015. Simpson also wrote and performed the theme song to the Martin Scorsese/Mick Jagger-produced TV show, Vinyl. The song is called "Sugar Daddy." As of July 2015, Simpson's songs are represented by Downtown Music Publishing—an agreement that followed his record deal with Atlantic Records.
2016–present: A Sailor's Guide to Earth
In March 2016, Simpson released the first track from his third album, A Sailor's Guide To Earth, a song called "Brace For Impact (Live A Little)." The record is a commemoration of the birth of Simpson's son, and features work by The Dap-Kings from Brooklyn's Daptone Records, as well as a cover of Nirvana's, "In Bloom." Simpson self-produced the record – Dave Cobb, who produced his prior records, did not work on this record, marking a departure from prior efforts. Simpson also created the record with a focus on sequencing, and recorded tracks live. The record marks his major label debut. It was nominated for Album of the Year and won Best Country Album at the 59th Grammy Awards.
After a five-month break, in May 2017 Simpson began touring once again by playing a show at The Wharf Amphitheater in Orange Beach, AL with Margo Price.
Simpson helped produce fellow Kentucky singer/songwriter Tyler Childers' 2017 album "Purgatory" after being introduced to Childers by drummer Miles Miller.
It has been announced that he will perform as the opening act for the Guns N' Roses "Not in this Lifetime" tour in the Summer of 2017.
- Chuck Bartels – bass guitar (2015–present)
- Bobby Emmett – keyboards (2012–2013, 2015–present)
- Miles Miller – drums, percussion, backing vocals (2012–present)
- Kevin Black - bass guitar (2011–2015)
- Laur Joamets - electric guitar (2013–2017)
- Adam Davis - electric guitar (2012–2013)
Simpson is often compared to Waylon Jennings and the Outlaw Country genre of country music. Shooter Jennings says, "Sturgill isn't imitating at all, and he sounds like my favorite era of my dad, the Seventies, when he would sing quieter and more conversational. That's what struck me about Sturgill from Day One. And still does." Simpson himself counts Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Keith Whitley, and Marty Robbins as much bigger influences on his sound than Waylon Jennings. Simpson has also stated he tries to base his career around that of Dwight Yoakam. Indeed, Country Music Television noted that Simpson had "a voice that recalls Merle Haggard [and] guitar licks that bring Buck Owens to mind." His overall sound was described by Indiewire as "a mesmerizing and sometimes bewildering mix of traditional country sounds, contemporary philosophy, and psychedelic recording-studio wizardry."
Simpson is married and has lived with his wife in Nashville, Tennessee, since 2010. They have two sons; the oldest born June 2014, the youngest born January 2017. Simpson has talked about his struggles with alcohol; he has been sober since he was 28.
|Title||Album details||Peak chart positions||Sales|
|US||US Country||US Heat|
|High Top Mountain||—||31||11||—||—||—||—|
|Metamodern Sounds in Country Music||59||8||—||6||—||—||—|
|A Sailor's Guide to Earth||3||1||—||—||31||34||43|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
|Year||Single||Peak chart positions||Album|
|US Country||US AAA|
|2012||"Life Ain't Fair and the World Is Mean"||—||—||—||High Top Mountain|
|2014||"Living the Dream"||—||—||—||Metamodern Sounds in Country Music|
|"Turtles All the Way Down"||—||—||—|
|2016||"Brace for Impact (Live a Little)"||—||23||44||A Sailor's Guide to Earth|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
|2013||"Railroad of Sin"||Yosuke Torii and Shunsuke Ochiai|
|2014||"Turtles All the Way Down"||Graham Uhelski|
|2016||"Brace for Impact (Live a Little)"||Matt Mahurin|
|2014||Americana Music Awards||Emerging Artist of the Year||Himself||Won|||
|2015||Artist of the Year|||
|Song of the Year||"Turtles All the Way Down"|
|Grammy Awards||Best Americana Album||Metamodern Sounds in Country Music||Nominated|||
|2017||Grammy Awards||Album of the Year||A Sailor's Guide to Earth||Nominated|||
|Best Country Album||Won|
|UK Americana Awards||International Song of the Year||"Welcome To Earth (Pollywog)"||Nominated|||
|International Artist of the Year||Himself||Won|
|International Album of the Year||Nominated|
|Americana Music Awards||Album of the Year||A Sailor's Guide to Earth||Won|||
|Artist of the Year||Himself||Nominated|
|Song of the Year||"All Around You"||Nominated|