Teddy Robb owes a lot to Shane McAnally. The country newcomer was playing Lower Broadway honkytonk gigs and thinking about going back to school when the celebrated hitmaker and star of NBC's Songland called him for what would eventually become a songwriting and record label partnership.

Things have worked like that for him during a nearly decade-long rollercoaster ride from mid-Ohio to Nashville, with a quick trip to Vail, Colo., in between.

“From the time I was 22 until now, which is eight years," Robb tells Taste of Country, "I kept saying, ‘Well if things progress I’ll keep doing this.’ It wasn’t like I was really setting off to have a record deal and be on the radio.” A degree in Business Administration was his backup plan, one he figured he'd use eventually.

Instead, Robb released his self-titled EP on McAnally's Monument Records last month. The five-song set features him as a pop-friendly vocalist with a sharp pen and a good ear for songs that he didn't write. "Me On You" stands out. Ryan Beaver and Deric Ruttan penned the melodic love song, and McAnally's team helped shape it into an easy-to-repeat singalong.

Unlike so many stars in Nashville, Robb didn't grow up wanting to be on the radio. He didn't even grow up country. The Kent State University graduate admits he earned a classic rock education long before he started to dig country radio mainstays like Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Kenny Chesney. While interning at a radio station, he worked a Dierks Bentley concert and thought, “Man, I wonder if I could do that some day.”

One open-mic night later he was hooked. "It kind of set my soul on fire,” he says during a phone conversation with ToC.

The last decade has brought endless performances at Nashville favorites including Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, Honky Tonk Central, the Swingin' Doors Saloon (now Losers) and more. He played them all while slowly digging into the catalogs of legends.

"Someone would say, ‘Hey you need to listen to some Glen Campbell,’ and I’d say OK. So I’d listen to it and then I would listen to it for a month straight," Robb says laughing.

There's a long ways to go on that education, and his EP is reminder that he's influenced by a variety of sounds and styles. "Tell Me How" is the most vulnerable song on Teddy Robb, but "Lead Me On" (co-written with Aaron Eshuis, Ryan Beaver and Matt McGinn) is the song fans have flocked to, with over 20 million streams on Spotify. This was also the first taste of songwriting success Robb felt.

“I remember when Shane (McAnally) lit up over it I was like, ‘OK, we got something here,'" Robb says, referring to his SmackSongs boss and mentor.

He'll go as far as to call McAnally a hero, but part of finding your way as an artist is being intentional about what works for you, and that means telling someone his or her ideas about what works for you aren't quite right. So, how do you tell Shane McAnally — a writer with 40 No. 1 hits — he's wrong?

“I just make sure I’m really confident in how I feel before I disagree with him,” Robb says, laughing once again.

Had the coronavirus not canceled all live music events, Robb would have been on tour with Walker Hayes, somewhere between Missouri and Las Vegas when he took Taste of Country's call. Instead he was home in Nashville, at about a 6 on a 1-10 mental health scale. Like so many artists, he enjoyed the break at first but is now itching to get back to work.

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