The authentic Ashley McBryde

The Rusty Nail is one of those Nashville bars where songwriters come to celebrate songwriters. Country music is, after all, about stories, and Ashley McBryde had notebooks full of hopefuls. “When you’re playing in places like this, you’re trying to find out where you are in the pack,” she said.

She was good! Unafraid to write lyrics that both struck a chord – and maybe a few nerves.

Patti’s got an upper to get her through her shift
And a downer so she can lay down with the kids
Hallelujah, hallelujah
Jesus loves the drunkards and the whores and the queers
From “Gospel Night at the Strip Club”

“The people, that that line crawls all over, that’s why the line is in the song,” McBryde said. “The people that that just makes, ‘She has no business…!’ Yeah, that’s why it’s in there.”

Just to tweak them? “Oh, just because you know you’re wrong!” she laughed.

Ashley McBryde. CBS News

Suffice it to say Ashley McBryde isn’t playing dive bars anymore. Her dark hair with a streak of silver stands out in Nashville. So do her many tattoos. But it’s her music that’s turning heads.

In 2019 she won the CMA award for New Artist of the Year, and last year, with Carly Pearce, she won the Grammy for Best Country Duo, for their recording of “Never Wanted To Be That Girl.”

What makes it all the sweeter is that almost all of that success arrived after McBryde took on one of her demons: alcohol. “It was just such a part of my persona,” she said. “I was like, what do I even do, what does anybody do, if they’re not drinking?”

So pass me a bottle, and I won’t refuse it
Put Patsy on vinyl
And, good Lord, I’ll lose it
No, nothing takes the edge off when I’m going through it
Like the whiskey and country music
From “Pass Me The Bottle”

McBryde had more than dipped her toe into the music scene. After all, drinking is to country music what whisky is to Tennessee.

She’s now celebrating almost two years sober. “Several times I have said, my God, if you’d told me how good things get, pretty quickly, I would’ve stopped drinking a long time ago,” McBryde said. “I had no idea that I was this far in my way.”

To hear Ashley McBryde perform “First Thing I Reach For,” click on the video player below:

Ashley McBryde – First Thing I Reach For (Official Music Video) by Ashley McBryde on YouTube

She grew up near Mammoth Spring, Arkansas, playing the trumpet, and later the French horn, but she was always more comfortable with the guitar. She wrote her first song when she was just 12. “It’s about some, you know, terrible heartache and terrible, torrid love affair. Like, ‘Looking back on the way things used to be,’ which is literally the first line. The way things used to be? You’re 12!”

There was always a musical maturity about her. Fast-forward to when she cowrote this song about moms and their late-night advice given under the light in the kitchen:   

Ashley McBryde – Light On In The Kitchen (Official Music Video) by Ashley McBryde on YouTube

“Light On In The Kitchen” hit big, especially with her own mom, Martha, who was always one of Ashley’s biggest supporters.

Martha recalled when Ashley got her first guitar: “She came downstairs crying. And she said, ‘I can’t play and sing at the same time.’ I said, ‘Neither could Randy Travis. Go back and keep trying.’ And she did!”

However, McBryde’s dad, Bill, an ER doctor and a preacher, never really liked the idea of his daughter pursuing music professionally. Martha recalled him telling Ashley, “I know you wanna do this, but that’s not gonna happen.”

And how important was his approval to Ashley? “I didn’t really care,” she replied.

Even in school, when she expressed her dream to a teacher, she encountered brutal skepticism: “She said, ‘What do you plan on doing for a living?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to write songs and they’ll be on the radio.’ And she said, ‘That is stupid. That will never happen. And you’d better have a really good backup plan.'”

She did have a backup plan. McBryde went on to Arkansas State University where she studied music – taking classes during the day, but was still playing for gas money in bars at night. And she was always writing, struggling to get some radio play. But to many, she was just too different. “Sometimes they’ll even look at me and say, ‘Man, we really love your records, we just don’t know what to do with you,'” she said.

Singer-songwriter Ashley McBryde. CBS News

But just before her 34th birthday, the Grand Ole Opry invited McBryde to perform and stand in that iconic circle of wood, center stage. She sang a song she’d written just for that occasion:

Don’t waste your life behind that guitar
You may get gone, but you won’t get far
You’re not the first, you won’t be the last
And you can tell us all about it when you come crawling back
That road you’re on, just winds and winds
Your spinning your wheels and wasting you’re time

But when the lights come up and I hear the band
And where they said I’d never be is exactly where I am
I hear the crowd, I look around
And I can’t find an empty chair – 
Not bad for a girl goin’ nowhere
From “Girl Goin’ Nowhere”

Ashley’s mom remembered the first time she heard her daughter on the radio: “It was awesome. I was asleep, and I had my alarm set to come on to wake me up with music, and it was you.”

She’s no longer a guest at the Grand Ole Opry; she’s been inducted as a member. She’s found her moment … or maybe the moment finally found her. Either way, Ashley McBryde has arrived, as authentic a musician as she can be. 

“Sometimes you are just getting punched in the face over and over,” she said. “But if you can keep your head on your shoulders and stay on your feet, this is what it looks like. The lights go down and everybody applauds. And then the stage starts to glow and then music starts. Yes!

You can stream Ashley McBryde’s album “The Devil I Know” by clicking on the embed below (Free Spotify registration required to hear the tracks in full):

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Story produced by Aria Shavelson. Editor: Carol Ross.

Source : Cbs News