Chris Stapleton wrote this Traveller cut with bluegrass songwriters and vocalists Ronnie Bowman and Jerry Salley. He recalled: "This is a song that was born out of the music. I had the guitar lick long before there was a melody or lyric. Writing with Ronnie Bowman and Jerry Salley I offered up the riff. We didn't get very far that day, but Jerry and Ronnie did get us to a verse melody. Turns out it was enough. Before we could get back together to finish it, I had lyrics come to me that seemed to fit the mood. Pieces of my own life that I felt convicted to sing about and share."
Eric from S.w. VirginiaThe Mysterious "Outlaw State of Mind" by Stapleton, Bowman, and Salley.
This song, like most from this album, and most of his songs in general, I'd say, are stories about his life. That is what country singer/songwriters do as a rule, at least the great one's do, whether they want to or not. The controversy in this particular song comes from the very first verse, so after a little Google genius-ing, here's the scoop. The only scoop available that correctly addresses each of the 4 lines in that first verse. That's why I wrote it. It's not saying much about me, I'm just an average guy that loves music, more so that folks rarely take the time anymore to get the whole story based on facts and common sense.
The first line refers to a guitar, specifically his father's Gibson LG-0 (zero) acoustic guitar. Now, I couldn't find any verifiable data about the exact year of his Dad's LG-0, but they came out in late 1958 as a student level guitar, "In 1958, the LG-0 was also introduced as the low-end model of the series", which sold, back then, for about $80.00. Chris plays and writes a bunch of his songs on what he calls, "A Gibson LG-2 from the late 50's, well the body is anyway, the neck's a replacement, so I mean ... I paid 300 bucks for this thing", "I could never give this guitar up, for sure", and "It feels like puttin on your favorite shirt, or ya know ... one of those kinds of things". That late 50's LG-2 model in good condition sells for between $700.00 and $1,200.00 today, according to reputable sources like Reverb.com and eBay's completed sale listings. The quotes from Chris Stapleton were all transcribed by yours truly, from an interview Mr. Stapleton did on a Howard Stern show interview, and that I easily found on YouTube.
The second line, at least as far as I can put together, refers to the trip that he and his wife took together to Arizona to pick up an old 1979 Jeep Cherokee. Morgane had bought him the "old vehicle" because, as only a good wife could see, she felt it would be a much needed distraction. She planned for the two of them to drive it back to Nashville. Smart lady! Just prior, the first single as a solo artist from Chris Stapleton was released, and it didn't even break the Top 40. Followed only by weeks later, the death of his father, so off they went. "I've owned old vehicles before," Chris Stapleton said, "I knew it was going to break down.", but he agreed to go anyway. Apparently, after they picked up the Jeep, they took it to the nearest gas station to fill her up, but "... then gas started spewing everywhere," Mrs. Stapleton said, "We called the seller and he said, 'Oh ... you can't fill the tank up all the way.'" Chris said that he thought "We're not going to make it back." and Eric, your friendly author thought, "I still remember how to use 'nested quotes'." Even with the correct ending punctuation. Correct in both instances, I also Google genius-ed that to double check myself, but I digress. Apparently, so did Chris. As all of the little things started breaking on the Jeep while they traveled, he left the main subjects of the single and his father's death temporarily. Distraction successfully achieved, great work Morgane! Seriously, good job! As they traveled across, you guessed it, ... New Mexico, and with his wife and their guest asleep, Chris wrote "Traveller". Can you imagine the spectrum of emotion and thought that must have "traveled" in that man's head during that short time? I can easily. That second line, "And I lost my mind somewhere in New Mexico" pretty much paints that picture for you. As I prefaced this theory, this is only what I could piece together, but it makes sense and Occam's razor and all. It'll be interesting to see if Mr. Stapleton ever reads this and decides to give his wife even more credit for this album. Whattaya say Chris?
The third line in that same first verse, "T.W. Put a snake on my back" is, according to all credible interviews and articles I've read, about Chris' friend who killed a snake, skinned it, and made it into a guitar strap for him. That explanation was quoted in publications like Rolling Stone Magazine, and after going to ChrisStapleton.com, which I figured probably would be a good source for accurate lyrics, you'll notice "T.W." are clearly initials. Could they possibly be initials for Tennessee whiskey, as so many lyric sites have incorrectly guessed at, sure they could, but wouldn't that be "T.w."? I'm going with Rolling Stone here. Although, since whoever T.W. actually is, and Mr. Stapleton didn't want to blow his cover obviously, as there isn't a hint of the name anywhere on the internet, there is no actual name to be put to those initials. You have to love the mystery of the artist, it's what makes us awesome! "And yes it's whoever, not whomever, I didn't even have to Google remind myself of that rule.", thought the author.
I referenced ChrisStapleton.com in the last paragraph as a "probable good source for accurate lyrics" for Chris Stapleton songs for a specific reason. At least 70% of the lyric websites, including GOOGLE, songFACTS.com, and lyricWIKI all use the incorrect lyric of Red Bar. Sorry for shouting, but what a huge waste of time for people, especially me. Some went so far into trying to explain "red bar", that they just made up facts about vintage KA-BAR® knives that had reddish colored leather handles, saying those were "red bars" and that's what Chris was carrying. KA-BAR® calls those knives KA-BAR® 120th Anniversary U.S. ARMY and KA-BAR® 120th Anniversary USMC, among a plethora of other names, none of which include "red bar". They could have just made up that the "red bar" was the super secret WillY Wonka platinum ticket candy bar Chris was carrying, and at least that would have had some creativity to it. I digressed again, and I apologize, but it will serve a purpose. Before Childish Gambino threw a monkey-wrench into the mix, it should have been obvious that, out of the two choices, Mr. Stapleton wrote of the dark-red or tan Coonhound, and probably not the African American with light skin with red undertones. Again, I'm assuming here, because I found no actual quotes or credible statements about this particular lyric, but at some point, we all have to get over it.
This song is 3 years and 3 albums ago, and will stay at the forefront of modern country music and what it should be, for many more years and, hopefully, many more albums from now. I started writing this article because of all that I saw while I was trying to find a video for someone. A fellow Musicphile and truly wonderful, dear friend, who had recently posted "Tryin' To Untangle My Mind" as his favorite song from the latest album. Thanks a lot Mark! I, of course, had to counter with my pick, and then throw in my still favorite "Tennessee whiskey". I always picture myself dancing with a beautiful woman who totally digs me in a dank, dark, and dirty country bar here in the South Western Virginia mountains, and that makes me happy. Of course that brought to mind, when I first saw the artist I knew would eventually be the Chris Stapleton we all know and love today, doing Buck Owen's "Fool Me Again". I'm on record saying that to whomever would listen at that point, I'm sure. It was a documentary from 2007 that featured Delbert McClinton and his superstar list of cronies, that I had to bring up to my friend, because I was cool first. In an effort to not have to knock the dust off of all the DVD's and rip it to my PC, I had hoped it may already exist in cyberspace. Little did I know, that shortcut was, as always, the long way here. I saw all of these things that I wrote about, which I would usually leave as mystery, because that's the art of it, but I also saw the distraction of it as well. It was so bad, lyric websites had pages saying "These lyrics aren't available yet, be the first to post them", for Nick Cave's "Outlaw State of Mind". Yes, Nick Cave did a bunch of songs for the "Hell or High Water" soundtrack, and YES! ..., Chris Stapleton's "Outlaw State of Mind" was on that soundtrack, but c' ... MON folks. Really?
As I said before, 3 years and 3 albums ago, and you know what I didn't see any of? The best, in my opinion, most soul crushing, heart breaking, wonderful, and terrifyingly beautiful artistry from that album, "Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore". I firmly believe that all artists are made stronger, from birth, or before somehow, to be able to endure living through intense and chronic pain, yet still have the endurance and courage to share it publicly. It's the gift and the burden. That's why I cry still when I see the kids on the "Idol Voice of Talent in Britain" show's sing a harsh song and nail it. They lived that pain, and that's why they did so well, and I feel their pain, which means it's a killer song. You can hear it in the man's voice, ... literally ..., in the recording on that album. That's great art, and it was being beaten down and dulled by distraction. Not the good kind of distraction like Morgane gave Chris when he needed it, so that we could all have the title track of the album. The ironic thing about "Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore" is that it was written in 10 minutes, 10 years before his father died, and I would assume for Chris it had a whole new meaning when it was released. Actually, I don't have to assume on this one, It's evident in his voice and the fact that it sat in the can for a decade.
That was a good distraction for Mr. Stapleton, losing that gem for a decade, but most of what I wrote about were bad distractions. A lot of those bad distractions were based on bad assumptions. I made a few assumptions in this writing, which I felt were good ones, and which hopefully led to some good distractions here. I paid attention to Morgane, and for that I say "Thank You Mrs. Stapleton, lesson learned." To Mr. Stapleton, I apologize for robbing some of the mystery from one of your songs, but hopefully it shed light on a another, and a world of others to come. Of course, that could have been a bad assumption on my part, that led to a bad distraction. Only time will tell I guess, ... maybe read this again in another decade, and it may have an entirely new meaning. Thanks to everyone for reading!
"Without art and music, life would truly suck!" E.S. Cook
... you read it on the interwebs, so it must be true.