Adam Rutledge remembers that he became a singer mostly by necessity. What first lit his performing fire was the guitar, sparked by the mother of all guitar anthems, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird.” Becoming the next guitar hero would have been just fine by him, but eventually the Virginia native grew into the dual role of player and singer.
It’s taken a few years, but Rutledge is now getting the chance to showcase those talents on his first full-fledged EP, “Runway,” set for release on June 22nd. The collection features the current single “Love Kickin’ In” along with the story-song “Rub a Little Dirt on It” and five other selections. With “Runway,” Rutledge lets his rock and country influences shine, with catchy guitar intros and a lyrical depth to his songwriting.
“Our sound is pretty organic and natural,” says Rutledge, seated on a couch inside his Nashville publicist’s office. “I think the record has a good mix of rock and country and pop.” It was that ear-friendly hybrid that first caught the attention of fellow Virginian Phil Vassar, who has helped advise and mentor Rutledge through the myriad ropes of Music City. Vassar tapped Rutledge as his opening act for several shows throughout 2018.
“Phil has just been super valuable for me,” Rutledge says. “He can make phone calls and help get me in front of people, but he can also guide me in what not to do, which is also important. I always felt I was in good hands with him, because I have to say that my view of how all this went down was pretty different than how it really is. It is harder than people think.”
Rutledge grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, and gravitated toward music early in life. Like many country-oriented acts, he learned his first musical lessons in a local church. “My dad was a church organist,” he explains, “and I sang in the choir. I grew up on Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kiss. The whole reason I picked up the guitar was I heard a live version of ‘Freebird’ and decided I had to play guitar.” Kiss, the original glam band, also had a profound influence on Rutledge’s performing style. “My dad took me to a Kiss concert on their reunion tour at the Roanoke Civic Center and that was mind blowing,” Rutledge smiles. “There was nobody better at connecting with the audience than [Kiss front man] Paul Stanley. He sold me. I said at the time that’s the kind of impact I want to have on my audience.”
Guitar was originally perceived as his ticket to musical acclaim. “I was the guitar player in my first band,” Rutledge says, “and I didn’t sing at all. But the singer quit, and I didn’t want to give up the gig. So I decided, well then, I’ll sing. It was really out of necessity. I wasn’t sure about my voice at first,” he adds with a laugh, “but I kept on practicing. I’ve never been afraid to get up in front of people, so that part wasn’t hard.” The only downside? “I had to give up some of the guitar parts I was used to playing,” he smiles. “It’s not easy to play and sing at the same time. If I had my way, I would just want to write rock [guitar] riffs all day.”
Fortunately for him, Rutledge became adept at writing clever, descriptive lyrics along with cool guitar parts. One cut from “Runway,” the nostalgia-filled “Rub a Little Dirt on It,” aptly shows a knack for penning a tune with warmth and tenderness.
“I remember back in Virginia when I would scrape my knee or something,” Rutledge says. “My dad would say, ‘Just rub a little dirt on it.’ You know, get back out there and you’ll be fine. I incorporated that into the story of how I met my wife. I knew her in high school and I really did wear Skynyrd shirts and torn up blue jeans, which is why I put that in the song.” The title offers up a clear example of his writing style, emphasizing wordplay and perhaps even a sense of mystery. “It’s just a different way of saying something we’ve all heard before,” Rutledge notes.
Rutledge has some touring under his belt, opening for such acts as Lee Brice, Old Dominion, Cassadee Pope, LoCash and others. Recently, he performed at CMA Music Festival in Nashville. “That was a blast,” Rutledge raves. “That was my first full-on festival and it went great.”
He’ll be playing a full lineup of shows this summer in support of “Runway,” many of them in his home state of Virginia. “I’m excited to have ‘Runway’ out,” he says. “We’ve been playing a lot of songs from the record already and the reaction has been great. I finally get to release an official record, and that is a dream come true,” Rutledge adds with a pleasing grin. “I’m a very lucky guy.”
Adam Rutledge’s EP “Runway” is out now.