News Column

Country's Lee Brice takes the path less taken

July 23, 2013

YellowBrix

July 23--Lee Brice has had an unusual career trajectory.

The South Carolina native scored his first successes in Nashville as a songwriter, who wrote or co-wrote hits and misses for the likes of Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean and Texas' Eli Young Band, who took "Crazy Girl," a co-write with Liz Rose, to No. 1 two years ago.

But he's a singer, too, and Brice has had some pretty big hits of his own over the last couple of years, including "Love You Like Crazy," "A Woman Like You," "Hard to Love" and "I Drive Your Truck," all of which have gone Top 10 on Billboard's country singles chart, and the current Top 20 (and rising) "Parking Lot Party."

The man from Sumter, S.C., hasn't had a typical experience performing here either. His first time through El Paso was Nov. 27, 2011, when he played Whiskey Dicks. Nothin' different there. Most up-and-coming country acts (including Lady Antebellum and the Eli Young Band) do that.

The 32-year-old's last performance here wasn't in a club, theater or arena. Brice played a stadium -- Sun Bowl Stadium -- where he performed the halftime show for the 79th annual Hyundai Sun Bowl last New Year's Eve.

"It was cold," he said by phone, laughing at the memory, "and it was fun. I hadn't done anything like that. It was cool to kind of see how they got the stage out there

in 30 to 60 seconds. It was a fun experience to be there."

The singer-songwriter returns Friday for a free concert at 7 p.m. on the lawn at Fort Bliss' Freedom Crossing shopping center, part of its summerlong Let Freedom Sing concert series.

"I might throw in an extra 'hooah," he joked.

Brice has begun to cultivate a relationship with the military after the success of "I Drive Your Truck," a brother's lament to a sibling killed in action overseas. Brice didn't write the song. Connie Herrington wrote it with Jessi Alexander and Jimmy Yeary after hearing an interview on public radio with Paul Monti, whose son, Jared Monti, received the Medal of Honor posthumously for saving a fellow soldier in Afghanistan.

Brice met the elder Monti at a party in celebration of "Truck" motoring to No. 1 on the country charts. "It was a really special story (and an honor) to hang out with the family," Brice said. "I never had a No. 1 party like that before."

But he has had a few No. 1 parties since his debut album, "Love Like Crazy," came out in 2010. The title song went to No. 3, sold in excess of 1 million copies and was named Billboard's top country song of the year. Two songs from last year's "Hard 2 Love" album -- "Hard to Love" and "A Woman Like You" -- have gone platinum.

Brice is thankful for his first successes as a songwriter, but sounds more interested in talking about what he's trying to do now. Having success as a writer first "was all good for me," he noted, but the rising star wants to establish himself as a well-rounded artist. He co-produced "Hard 2 Love" and is starting to produce other acts, including the forthcoming record by country duo American Young, which features one of his co-producers, John Stone, and Kristy Osmunson, formerly of Bomshel, which cut one of his songs.

"Being in the business long enough, I've been able to learn it and able to be a part of it, to produce more, write more and play more, not just sing," he said.

He's also learning from some of the bigger names for whom he has opened on tour. Brice's Fort Bliss show comes between dates opening for Brad Paisley on his "Beat This Summer" arena and amphitheater tour. Brice, who is engaged and has a son, is elbow-deep into making a third album. He's got three songwriter buddies on tour with him and will precede Friday's show with a three-day break in Texas to write songs.

Since his label, Curb Records, wants to put out another single from "Hard 2 Love" this year, Brice figures he's got time to make album No. 3 the way he wants.

"I've recorded some stuff. I've been doing this in sections," Brice said. "I'm not going to go in and record the whole album at the same time. I'm trying to build tracks. If something's not right, I can work on things like people did in the old days, not just play it and say it's done."

Features co-editor Doug Pullen covers arts and entertainment and may be reached at dpullen@elpasotimes.com and 546-6397. Read Pullen My Blog at elpasotimes.com/blogs, at @dougpullen on Twitter and facebook.com/dougpulleneptimes.

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