Grammy nominations cap off stellar year for Nova Scotia songwriter
Jacques Boissinot/canadian press
It’s been a year of surprises for Canadian songwriter Gordie Sampson, whose massive country hit, Jesus Take the Wheel, has opened the door to a string of superstar collaborations and a shot at one of music’s most sought-after prizes.
After conquering the charts with the monster single — partly inspired by a Cape Breton road crash -— the affable Nova Scotian says his upcoming trip to the Grammys is a surreal turn in his exploding career.
Although he’d found modest success writing album tracks for various artists, the song was his first to be released to U.S. radio.
“The first single I had was Jesus Take the Wheel and it was just such a bang to happen as the first single,” Sampson says by phone from his home just outside Sydney, N.S.
The soaring inspirational tune, co-written with U.S. songwriters Hillary Lindsey and Brett James and sung by former American Idol winner Carrie Underwood, topped the Billboard charts for six weeks and transformed Sampson from a fledgling country music writer into one of Nashville’s hottest newcomers.
The 35-year-old musician, known in Atlantic Canada for his early career as a Cape Breton roots performer, had been travelling to the music capital on-and-off for eight years looking for a break, and scored his first big songwriting gig three years ago with a song on a Faith Hill record.
“This is all relatively new stuff for me,” says Sampson, who’s recent collaborators include Rascal Flatts, LeAnn Rimes and Bon Jovi.
“Nothing had really happened before then and the Faith cut, which was followed by a Keith Urban cut, a couple of other little things, and then boom I got this Carrie Underwood cut, which was a single. Right after we got that, the doors just opened as wide as they could.
“I’ve had a lot of cuts since then, some of which might be singles .... As a writer, singles are what you want to have because they generate so much more money than just having a cut.”
A recent collaboration with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora may land on a country-tinged Bon Jovi album.
“Bon Jovi is probably the biggest guilty pleasure in the world, everybody’s a fan kind of in a way. They’re enigmas, they’re legends,” says Sampson. ”I was actually quite nervous writing with them because it was just a bit surreal but they turned out to be ... incredibly great guys.”
Sampson’s radio success with Jesus Take the Wheel has also brought a slew of professional accolades. So far, they include SOCAN’s songwriter of the year award at the Canadian Country Music Awards, the ASCAP song of the year in the United States, the Academy of Country Music Awards (ACMA) Single of the Year and the Nashville Songwriters Association’s international songwriter achievement award.
Now the song is up for two Grammys at a gala bash in Los Angeles on Feb. 11 and Sampson still marvels at its success. “I don’t even know that song anymore, it doesn’t even know me. It’s taken on a life of its own, it just flew away.”