Lyrics Uncovered: Chris Stapleton, ‘Nobody to Blame’
Chris Stapleton's "Nobody to Blame" lyrics and arrangement have brought an air of gritty authenticity back to country music, and according to one of its writers, the song came straight from real life.
"Nobody to Blame" is the third single from Stapleton's acclaimed, award-winning debut album, Traveller, but at the time Stapleton, Ronnie Bowman and Barry Bales got together to write it, Stapleton was one of Nashville's most highly-respected best-kept secrets and had not yet signed his deal. The trio all knew each other and were collaborators, but it was one of the first times they'd written together as a trio.
"I go walking into his little writing house that he has out back, and there sits Ronnie, who's been a friend of mine for years and years and years. So that was great right off the bat," Bales tells us.
"Ronnie's quite a character. He came in, and he was all flustered. He and his wife had sort of had a little go-around or something, and he was telling us the story. He goes through the whole thing and he gets to the end, and he goes, 'But you know, I've got nobody to blame but me.' And me and Chris, immediately our heads just snapped, looking at each other and saying, 'That's our song, right there.'"
According to Bales — who, in addition to his successful songwriting career, is a 14-time Grammy winner and member of Alison Krauss and Union Station — the song came quickly in a single writing session. "It really didn't take an awful lot of time or banging our heads against the wall. With those guys, they're so talented, it came pretty easy."
"It was a group effort on lyrics, and Chris is such a force of nature that when you're writing with him, you've just got to jump on it and hang on for the ride. He's always oozing music, and words and melodies. He'll come into the room, and he'll be sorta scatting out an idea that he had on the way over. He launched it with a guitar riff, and we kinda jumped in with lyrics and little tweaks here and there."
Chris is such a force of nature that when you're writing with him, you've just got to jump on it and hang on for the ride.
The "Nobody to Blame" lyrics are a clever twist on a standard country theme: "I know right where I went wrong / I know just what got her gone / Turned my life into this country song / And I got nobody to blame but me," the chorus states.
They made a rough recording of the song, but never recorded a formal demo. It wasn't being pitched around Nashville, but "Nobody to Blame" still resonated with all three writers.
"Every once in a while I'd run into Ronnie or Chris, and they'd say, 'Man, that song is just stuck in my head,' and I always figured it would sure be great if we could get it to somebody to cut," Bales says. "I never dreamed it would be Chris cutting it and having success with it. That just makes it so much better, having been a friend and a fan for so long."
Stapleton ended up getting his own deal and including "Nobody to Blame" on his Traveller record, which was a much-celebrated album that was little-known outside of critical circles until Nov. 4, 2015, when Stapleton made one of the most surprising sweeps in CMA Awards history, winning Best New Artist, Male Vocalist and Album of the Year. He capped off his life-changing night with a star-making duet performance with Justin Timberlake that was the hands-down highlight of the show, and "Nobody to Blame" is his first new single since then. It is becoming a genuine hit at country radio as a result of the new attention focused on Stapleton, who is also a multiple Grammy nominee.
"As everybody has said, he's so deserving," Bales notes. "Chris was one of those guys that I heard so much about how good he was that before I ever met him, I hated him. It's like, 'Enough about Chris Stapleton already!' But then you hear him and you just can't describe it. It's a hundred times better than anybody ever alluded to, and then on top of that, he's an incredibly nice and humble guy. So you can't help but really be fond of him."