Steven Curtis Chapman readily reveals that there’s a double meaning behind the title of his latest album, “Deeper Roots: Where the Bluegrass Grows.” The record, released in March, is both a humble acknowledgment of his family roots as well as an homage to his earliest musical influence, Kentucky-based bluegrass.
As most fans know, Chapman has made his musical mark primarily in the contemporary Christian genre, where he’s won five Grammy awards and a record 58 Dove Awards. But part of his heart and soul still belongs to bluegrass. “I grew up in Kentucky near the home of bluegrass music,” Chapman, a native of Paducah, Kentucky, begins. “I came from a musical family. My dad played bluegrass music and he was really good. Some of his best friends were outstanding players. They would come over to the house and play bluegrass and those sounds were some of the earliest memories I had.”
Chapman’s dad Herb ran a music store and gave guitar lessons, which he still does to this day as he approaches age 80, Chapman proudly notes. A true chip off the old block, young Chapman, along with his brother Herb Jr., began learning to play guitar. Chapman remembers, “Dad would come home and say, ‘Let me show you a new song I learned today.’ It would usually be something he heard on the radio. I learned bluegrass, but a little blues and rock, too.” His dad taught him the signature lead part to Chuck Berry’s immortal “Johnny B. Goode,” Chapman distinctly remembers. “All of that has become a part of my music,” says Chapman. “Of course, now I’m in gospel and Christian music, but at the core is really that bluegrass sound. That’s what brought all this to the surface.”
And here’s a nice touch. Family patriarch Herb Chapman actually makes an appearance on “Deeper Roots” as a guest vocalist and guitarist. Continuing the family theme, Chapman brought in brother Herb Jr., son Caleb and daughter-in-law Jillian to sing on the album. “My dad will turn 80 in June,” Chapman says wistfully, “so I don’t know how much time I’ll have with him. He’s getting along well but he has had some health issues. It was special to get him on this album.”
Chapman has enlisted other special guests for the album, Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts and Country Music Hall of Famer Ricky Skaggs. LeVox sings on the poignant cut “Til the Blue,” written by Chapman and heavyweight songwriters Lori McKenna and Barry Dean. Skaggs is featured on the album’s first single “Dive,” already garnering some serious airplay on the Christian/Gospel charts. Chapman has long admired Skaggs, a fellow Kentuckian, whom he refers to as his “bluegrass hero.” He’s in a slight state of disbelief when he thinks about Skaggs’ appearance on the album.
“If you had told me a long time ago that I would be doing a record with Ricky Skaggs,” Chapman says and pauses, “well, I’d have told you, ‘That’ll never happen.’ Now, we’re good friends and we run into each other all the time. He calls me ‘little brother’ every time I see him,” Chapman adds with a warm smile. “It’s a gift and a blessing to have him on this.”
The emotional and uplifting “’Til the Blue” was inspired partly by the deadly hurricanes that have hit Texas over the last several years and also by his own personal grief. In 2008, Chapman’s young daughter Maria died from injuries suffered in a driveway accident. “’Til the Blue” is Chapman’s way of reaching out to others who have endured loss and sharing their pain. As the key lines state, ‘”Til the blue returns to your sky/’Til the laughter returns to your eyes/I’ll be here to cry with you.” Writing something this heartfelt proved difficult, almost too gripping to compose by himself.
“I had been watching the news about one of the hurricanes in Texas,” Chapman says. “I was really moved by some of the footage I’d been seeing. There were people who had lost everything. I could see something familiar because we lost our daughter. [The song] came from knowing that feeling of how will I ever survive this, or will I ever smile again? I thought, what would I want to say to those people. And it was that I really believe that the blue will come back to your sky. It won’t be like it was, but you will come through.” Chapman had the chorus and took the song to fellow writers McKenna and Dean. “It was hard to write,” Chapman says. “I felt that I might need these guys to help me get through this song.”
As it happens, Chapman had been looking for a vehicle where LeVox could come on board, and “’Til the Blue” seemed the right fit. “I thought that Gary could sing on it,” Chapman states earnestly. “He has the perfect voice for it. I think he has one of the best vices in any genre of music. It was such a gift to have him involved with this.”
“Deeper Roots: Where the Bluegrass Grows” also serves as a follow-up to Chapman’s 2013 album, “Deep Roots,” which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Bluegrass Album chart. This new 13-song collection includes Chapman’s hit “Cinderella,” bluegrass-tinged versions of familiar gospel favorites like “I’ll Fly Away” and “Life Is Like a Mountain Railroad,” and the title cut. “I finally got the opportunity to do another bluegrass record,” Chapman smiles. “It feels like the right time to make this album.”
Steven Curtis Chapman’s new album “Deeper Roots: Where the Bluegrass Grows” is available now on all music platforms.