by Patty Rasmussen
Drew Parker moved to Nashville to pursue his dream of country music superstardom. He has since co-written a No. 1 song with Jake Owen, appeared at the Grand Ole Opry and performed alongside some of the industry’s biggest names, including Luke Combs.
How does one go from high school graduate to co-writing the No. 1 country song in the United States in five years, from playing gigs in a small Georgia town to performing in the Ryman Auditorium at the Grand Ole Opry, from working part-time as a hospital X-ray technician to signing a songwriting deal and performing with some of the biggest names in Nashville? Drew Parker, a rising country music songwriter and performer, offers a simple answer.
“For me, it’s work ethic,” he said. “You have to have the total desire to be passionate about country music and to write a song that relates to as many people as you can relate it to.”
Along with the rest of America, 2020 has been quite a year for Parker. However, while everyone else was shutting down in late March thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, he was celebrating one of the most momentous weeks of his life. “Homemade,” a song co-written by Parker and performed by Jake Owen, went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay Chart on March 22; and if that did not provide enough excitement, just two days later, Parker and his wife Mallory welcomed something else homemade when their daughter Harley Greer was born.
“Yeah, what a week that was—the No. 1 song in the country and the No. 1 daughter,” he said. “I didn’t get a lot of songwriting done that week.”
That was unusual for Parker because of his aforementioned work ethic. He is a daily writer and does not wait for the mood to strike. It is the culmination of a lot of ideas, time and something he is far too humble to mention: a truckload of talent.
A Musical Obsession
“He was obsessed with music as a kid,” said John Johnson, a longtime friend and owner of TuneDesigner, a Covington-based recording studio. “I tell people who want to be in the music industry all the time that you really do have to be obsessed with writing and singing. Drew had that obsession as a kid.”
Johnson’s family attended the same church as Parker and his family. In fact, Johnson and his brothers formed a gospel singing group that performed at the church. Parker remembered seeing other people perform, and despite feeling shy, he knew he wanted to be on stage someday.
“I think I was about 6 years old,” he said. “Talking onstage was uncomfortable, but as long as I was singing a song, I was OK.”
Parker took piano lessons as a child but figured out that was not where he wanted to spend his time. He was grateful for the exposure, though. “It taught me how music worked and a lot of music theory,” he said. Parker used to perform at church, not only singing but playing drums in the praise band, according to Johnson, who remembers him being an excellent drummer. When he was in his mid-teens, he picked up a guitar for the first time and started picking out tunes, usually the guitar-driven power ballads popular during the 1990s. He listened to a lot of the classics—Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings—but he liked the popular artists of the day, too, from Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt to Brooks & Dunn. However, Keith Whitley was his favorite.
“The first song I ever learned to play on guitar was Keith Whitley’s ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes,’” Parker said. “In my opinion, Keith Whitley was the best country artist that ever walked the face of the earth. That’s just my opinion. I just connected with him.”
Parker graduated from Alcovy High School in 2010, and though music was his passion, he still had the good sense to get his certification as an X-ray technician from the School of Radiologic Technology at Grady Hospital in Atlanta. That enabled him to work at Newton Medical Center—now Piedmont Newton Hospital—on a part-time basis while he worked on his music.
“I know he put in a lot of late nights writing and doing X-rays,” Johnson said. “A lot of people might have given up because they didn’t have the record or writing deal yet, but if it’s in your blood, you can’t help it.”
Nudge to Nashville
Parker by 2014 was working at the craft of songwriting and performing in the Covington area. Along with many other aspiring writers and performers, he was invited to begin the audition process for the popular NBC singing show, “The Voice,” which included preliminary auditions in Nashville and his first-ever airplane flight to Los Angeles to sing for producers. He was selected to be one of the Top 100 in the blind auditions on Season 8, which was set to air in February 2015, so he returned to Los Angeles the preceding October for four weeks of filming. Parker performed “Workin’ Man’s Blues” by Merle Haggard for the four judges—Blake Shelton, Christina Aquilera, Pharrell Williams and Adam Levine—and though none of the them opted to turn their chairs, he was enthused by the encouragement he received from his fellow performers.
“‘The Voice’ introduced me to a lot of people already in Nashville who told me they thought I had what it took to make it there,” he said. “It was a great experience. I don’t know if I ever would have made it to Nashville if it hadn’t been for people [at the show] influencing me to move.”
“I think everything in country music is about real life and how we’re put in this position, this particular heartbreak, this certain love or this experience with your buddies. Songwriting is our way of telling that story.”Drew Parker
In September 2015, Parker made the move to Nashville and started playing gigs at some of the local clubs that held writer showcases. Not only did he get valuable feedback on his songs from other writers, but he also learned more about playing in front of bigger, livelier crowds and how to keep their attention. Having watched Parker as a young performer, Johnson admits he finds the difference between then and now remarkable.
“He never had a problem singing,” Johnson said, “but when he was younger, he was shy in between songs. It’s amazing to see him now, controlling the stage in front of thousands of people. He’s got the crowd interacting with him the whole time.”
Part of Parker’s success involves the relationship he has built with his fans. He lets them into his life, introducing them to Mallory, also a Newton County native, his beloved pup Whitley and, of course, daughter Harley via active and popular social media platforms. He has also revealed more intimate moments, like a post in April sharing security camera footage from 2019 when Mallory discovered him sobbing in the backyard after he learned “Homemade” was going to be Owen’s next single. That kind of authenticity caused more than one fan to comment, “I love it when good guys win.”
However, it took more than being a good guy. There has to be good music. Fortunately, Parker has plenty of it. He was signed to a publishing deal with River House Artists in September 2017, just two years after arriving in Nashville. In addition to the No. 1 single “Homemade,” Parker has co-writer credits on Luke Combs’ singles “Lonely One,” “Nothing Like You” and the hit single “1, 2 Many,” which featured Brooks & Dunn.
Parker’s recently released single “While You’re Gone” drew attention from Rolling Stone magazine, which included a mid-August review in its online weekly music picks; and while the pandemic significantly slowed down in-person performing for 2020, Parker already has tour dates lined up for 2021. He will head out on the road with Combs on the “What You See Is What You Get Tour.” How does Parker write songs that transcend barriers and connect with so many different people?
“I just write what I know,” he said. “I channel the things I grew up on, simple things. When I sit down to write, the idea is born out of real-life situations and a lot of times it’s something I’m drawing back on, something nostalgic from back in the day. I think everything in country music is about real life and how we’re put in this position, this particular heartbreak, this certain love or this experience with your buddies. Songwriting is our way of telling that story.”