Artist - Chris Stapleton 2
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‘Tennessee Whiskey’ by Chris Stapleton - Lyrics & Meaning

July 20, 2023 8:51 am GMT
Last Edited August 15, 2023 2:37 pm GMT

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Chris Stapleton - ‘Tennessee Whiskey’

Label: Mercury Nashville

Release Date: May 5th 2015

Album: Traveller

Producers: Dave Cobb & Chris Stapleton

Songwriters: Dean Dillon & Linda Hargrove

Chart Performance:

  • No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs
  • No. 20 on Billboard's Hot 100
  • No. 57 on Billboard's Country Airplay
  • No. 63 on Billboard's Year-End Hot Country Songs chart in 2016

The Background:

The country world stopped on November 4, 2015. It was the night of the 49th Annual CMA Awards, where one of the genre's newest and most hypnotizing artistic voices single-handedly stole the show.

In addition to sweeping all three of his potential categories – Album of the Year (Traveller), New Artist of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year – Chris Stapleton took the stage to perform a jaw-dropping duet with popstar Justin Timberlake. Together, they sang Timberlake's hit 'Drink You Away' and Stapleton's rendition of 'Tennessee Whiskey'.

Just two days after the broadcast, the bearded singer-songwriter's recording of 'Tennessee Whiskey' soared to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, landed at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold 131,000 copies. The next week, it peaked at No. 20 on the latter and sold an additional 118,000 copies.

In May of 2016, only a year after its release on Stapleton's debut solo album, Traveller, 'Tennessee Whiskey' was certified Platinum, and by January of 2017, it had sold over a million copies. Each year since, the song has notched a new Platinum certification, and by December of 2021, it had achieved Diamond status from the RIAA for surpassing 10 million units sold. As of April 2023, it has achieved Platinum status fourteen times over.

Stapleton and 'Tennessee Whiskey' became overnight sensations after that fateful November night, and now his soulful, five-minute crooner has become a standard in modern day country music.

But the life of 'Tennessee Whiskey' started long before Stapleton decided to cut it in 2015. In fact, to get back to its origins, we have to travel back over 40 years ago to 1981.

'Tennessee Whiskey,' written by Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove, was born at 4am after a night out at Nashville's Bluebird Cafe. Originally pitched to and turned down by George Strait, the song was first recorded by outlaw country artist David Allan Coe in 1981. His original take on 'Tennessee Whiskey' only rose to No. 77 on the Hot Country Singles chart.

Two years later, country icon George Jones gave the song a go and took it to a new peak at No. 2 on the Hot Country Singles chart. Jones' version of 'Tennessee Whiskey' became a major hit and remained a mainstay in his live sets for years, including at the inaugural Farm Aid event in 1985 which saw Coe join Jones on stage to sing a bit of the tune.

However, Stapleton has taken the decades-old and much-covered tune to new heights since 2015.

With 'Tennessee Whiskey' essentially becoming synonymous with the Kentucky-bred entertainer, it's ultimately become one of the biggest songs in modern day country music, also winning over legions of fans from outside the country genre... and it was never even released as a single.

The Sound:

Depending on which of the three primary versions of 'Tennessee Whiskey' you listen to, you'll get three very different experiences.

On Coe's original recording, we find the most country edition of the tune, led by an acoustic guitar with plenty of harmonies stacked on top of each other. If you want to feel like you're sitting in a smokey dive bar drowning your feelings as a country band plays, this is the one for you.

On the other hand, Jones' version takes a much more modern approach, though it's still very country-esque. With a trusty harmonica playing its way through, the production here feels larger. It's also worth mentioning that, though these two earlier versions clock in at about the same time – just under three minutes – Jones speeds up the cadence a bit, while providing some bigger notes vocally then Coe.

However, with Stapleton's arrangement, the average listener would almost think it was a different song altogether.

Artist - Chris Stapleton 2
newsBREAKINGChris Stapleton's ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ Is Certified Fourteen-Times Platinum

The soulful ballad has become one of the most recognisable country songs of the past ten years.

With a much bluesier, grittier sound, Stapleton's 'Tennessee Whiskey' has been compared more closely to soul than to country. Brining in some strong R&B and even jazz influences, the 2015 version has a runtime at just under five minutes, as Stapleton slow rolls his way through, letting his vocals and a warm electric guitar guide the way.

Stapleton's rendition sometimes feels like we've stepped into a full band jam session, which is ironic since that's essentially how the song came into being.

Holler’s favorite bearded wonder first sang his version of the tune on the spur of the moment, while his band were soundchecking before a show in Charlottesville, Virginia. Merely existing as a warm-up song, it eventually found its way into his live shows, until one day producer Dave Cobb suggested he record it.

We're willing to bet that no one at the time realized just how much of a blockbuster idea this was, but we're sure thankful for Cobb, who's been the mastermind behind much of Stapleton's discography over the years.

The Meaning:

"Used to spend my nights out in a barroom
Liquor was the only love I'd known
But you rescued me from reachin' for the bottom
And brought me back from bein' too far gone"

'Tennessee Whiskey' is your staple country drinking song, but comes with a bit of a twist. We open on a man who is, admittedly, a drunk. He's singing about how he's only ever found love and happiness from a bottle. However, thanks to a woman, who he's apparently singing or dedicated this to, he's found real love.

Because of her, he no longer has to find the bottom of a bottle, and similarly, won't have to hit rock bottom because of his drinking. She's brought him back from the darkness and shone him the light that only love can provide.

"You're as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
You're as sweet as strawberry wine
You're as warm as a glass of brandy
And honey, I stay stoned on your love all the time"

Chock full of references to various forms of alcohol, the singer likens the woman who's shown him love to a variety of liquors, including whiskey, wine and brandy. One interpretation is that the only way he knows to describe his love for her is by drawing parallels to the former love of his life. Smooth, sweet and warm are all words that, while they can describe people, are also used to compliment different types of alcohol, whether it be on their taste or other qualities.

Some have gone on to explain that because of his inability to separate his love for this woman from his love for the drink, it almost signals an addiction to her love rather than a genuine sentiment of care for her. In some ways, it could appear that he loves the feeling of inebriation she gives him – similar to the feeling he gets when he drinks – rather than her love.

"I've looked for love in all the same old places
Found the bottom of a bottle's always dry
But when you poured out your heart, I didn't waste it
'Cause there's nothin' like your love to get me high"

In the second verse, we get a reiteration of how his lover has saved him from his addictions, but this time with some less subtle liquor-centered imagery at play.

Our narrator has tried to find love before, but its always landed him at the only place he's found solace and relief: at the bottom of a bottle. However, after this woman let him in and shared some of her love with him, he's felt like he was on a high.

"And you're as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
You're as sweet as strawberry wine
You're as warm as a glass of brandy
And honey, I stay stoned on your love all the time"

What has Chris Stapleton said about ‘Tennessee Whiskey’?

As aforementioned, no one could have guessed the leaps and bounds that Stapleton’s version of ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ would make, especially the song's writers, Dillon and Hargrove.

Back in 2017, Dillon caught up with Nash Country Daily to chat about ‘Tennessee Whiskey’s journey and his thoughts on Stapleton’s phenomenal rendition.

“I pitched [‘Tennessee Whiskey’] first to [George] Strait, but he turned it down. I pitched it to [George] Jones and he had a number [two] with it,” Dillon told Nash Country Daily. “David Allan Coe cut it, and Brad Paisley cut it, and then a couple of years ago Chris Stapleton was messing around with it during rehearsals and started playing it the way he plays it, and it had a whole new life of its own”. He continued, “I was blown away when I heard Stapleton’s version. I had written with Stapleton and I knew what kind of throat he had, and the first time I heard him sing it, I thought, ‘Man, that’s got some big ol’ legs on it’”.

@hollercountry Everyday we’re hoping for an announcement of a new @Chris Stapleton album 🥲 #chrisstapleton #countrymusic #newmusic #startingover #holler #fyp ♬ original sound - lapround__downunder

When talking to Fader about his debut record in 2015, Stapleton shared the story behind him cutting ‘Tennessee Whiskey,’ noting, “It’s always been a favorite song of mine. We had a show in Charlottesville, Virginia, and we were sound-checking, waiting around for the mics to get set up. Me and the guys in the band started playing a little bit and got into that groove.” He added, “For whatever reason, I started singing ‘Tennessee Whiskey’.

“At the time, we had a steel player by the name of Steve Hinson who used to play with George Jones on the road - maybe that was part of the equation. But we decided to do the song that night and every night since. By the time we got into the studio, it was something we all enjoyed playing. It's a part of the fabric of things that influenced me over the years”.

Prior to Stapleton giving the tune a go, it was already a country standard, but since 2015, his bluesy twist on ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ has become one of the biggest songs in all of country music history.

For the full lyrics to Chris Stapleton’s ‘Tennessee Whiskey’, see below:

"Used to spend my nights out in a barroom
Liquor was the only love I'd known
But you rescued me from reachin' for the bottom
And brought me back from bein' too far gone

You're as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
You're as sweet as strawberry wine
You're as warm as a glass of brandy
And honey, I stay stoned on your love all the time

I've looked for love in all the same old places
Found the bottom of a bottle's always dry
But when you poured out your heart, I didn't waste it
'Cause there's nothin' like your love to get me high

And you're as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
You're as sweet as strawberry wine
You're as warm as a glass of brandy
And honey, I stay stoned on your love all the time

You're as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
You're as sweet as strawberry wine
You're as warm as a glass of brandy
And honey, I stay stoned on your love all the time

You're as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
Tennessee whiskey, Tennessee whiskey
You're as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
Tennessee whiskey, Tennessee whiskey"

For more on Chris Stapleton, see below:

Written by Lydia Farthing
Author - Chris Stapleton
Chris Stapleton
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