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It's been said countless times that the drive to play music --especially in public-- is simply in one's blood. If that's so, then you'd be hard pressed to find a more convincing example of innate talent and desire than Chuck Courtenay.
Born in the fabled, swampy, Deep South coastal community of Savannah, Georgia, Chuck witnessed firsthand the mesmerizing spell live musicians can weave on an audience, as he grew up watching his father travel the country as a keyboard-playing frontman, living the hardscrabble life of a touring entertainer. “Some of my very best memories are of the times I spent with my dad over summer vacations,” he now recalls. “I got to go to his gigs, and he'd get me up sometimes to sing Elvis Presley songs. Those were my earliest performances.”
Equally formative in young Chuck's musical education were the years spent as a child with his mother and stepfather on a cattle ranch in Central Florida. It was there that the future singer, guitarist and bandleader first became exposed to such Golden Age country and western greats as Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Vern Gosdin and Conway Twitty.
These and other timeless artists would ultimately reveal themselves as Chuck's seminal musical influences. Their singles, albums and TV appearances (all of which he soaked up as a child) inform Chuck's own sense of what constitutes a good song, a great vocal and a killer arrangement. However, it was years before he even considered making a living as a musician. In fact, it was only after graduating high school that he even picked up the guitar -- yet, he took to it immediately, and quickly went from learning basic chords to entertaining friends and family to being the featured attraction at nightclubs and restaurants in the greater Savannah area.
The day Chuck won the Jimmy Dean True Value Country Showdown, he knew the die was cast: his calling was to be a professional performer.
Soon thereafter, he and his brother Jason --a gifted guitarist and singer in his own right-- formed an acoustic duo. Billing themselves as The Courtenay Brothers and boasting impressive “brother harmonies” and a setlist of well-known cover tunes ranging from classic and modern country and western to '70s soft rock and pop hits, they became an in-demand act in Southeastern Georgia, and could be found gigging several times a week at all manner of venues -- from bars and eateries to outdoor festivals and private engagements.
Almost immediately, the duo began racking up local awards. Being named Savannah's Best Country Act in a respected local newspaper poll three years in a row made a real impression on promoters, and that led to high profile opening slots for major modern day country and western stars and icons like Mark Chesnutt, Chely Wright, Blake Shelton, Joe Nichols, Craig Morgan and Lee Greenwood.
But all the while, fate was slowly and methodically leading Chuck to a slightly different destination.
“Back then, I was juggling my artistic ambitions with a job selling newspaper advertising,” he reflects. “But in the last five years, I've really made a push to make a name for myself with my music. I realized I had a lot of support and that people were really behind me, digging what I was doing. Now it's full speed ahead.”
Since that change of heart, Chuck's certainly put the hammer down on his music career.
He quickly formed the popular, hard-rocking, electric group that bears his own name. Made up of veteran players with several decades of combined experience as professional musicians (touring and/or recording with several major country stars), The Chuck Courtenay Band has emerged as one of the tightest and most versatile outfits of its kind, and their lengthy, memorable shows at honky-tonks, country dance clubs, bars and festivals nationwide have cemented their position as one of the most promising acts on today's club circuit.
They now play over two dozen shows a month (mostly one-nighters or two-night stands) in an ever-widening radius and travel in their own customized tour bus – just like the big boys.
"Being on the road so much is very hard and definitely takes a toll,” Chuck admits. “But I have a very patient wife who really believes in me and what I am doing, so that makes it a little easier."
The group's high-energy setlist straddles the line between classic country and twangy, roadhouse rock and roll -- an intentional blend that's a source of great pride for Chuck himself, who's no fan of the bland, overproduced pop which is far too often marketed as “country music” these days.
One thing about modern, radio-friendly country he is comfortable with is the top-notch recording quality found on today's major label albums – and that's something he's finally achieved on his own.
Chuck's first CD release was expertly co-produced by his longtime pedal steel man Tommy Butler and tracked in Nashville with some of Music City's finer players. It was an impressive debut all around, and was released to positive reviews on a small, independent, Nashville label. Yet, as strong as that disc was, the difference between that record and GOOD SIDE OF THIS BAR (his brand-new four-song EP) is evident from the first note.
Credit that “million dollar shine” to Dave McAfee, who for the past 13 years has played drums both on records and stages around the world for Toby Keith, and who co-produced and drummed on Jamey Johnson's massive hit album THAT LONESOME SONG (which was nominated for three Grammys and five American Country Music Awards, and which also contained the Song of The Year “In Color”).
The result is a stunningly well-crafted collection of potential singles that easily rivals most anything you'll hear on Top 40 country radio today.