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Sturgill Simpson

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Sturgill Simpson
Simpson in 2016
Simpson in 2016
Background information
Birth nameJohn Sturgill Simpson[1]
Born (1978-06-08) June 8, 1978 (age 42)
Jackson, Kentucky, United States
  • Singer-songwriter
  • actor
  • Vocals
  • guitar
Years active2004–present
Labels Edit this at Wikidata

John Sturgill Simpson (born June 8, 1978)[2][3] is an American country music singer-songwriter and actor.[4][5] As of October 2020, he has released five albums as a solo artist. His first two albums, High Top Mountain[6] and Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, were independently released in 2013 and 2014, respectively.[7] The latter was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Americana Album,[8] listed 18th on Rolling Stone's "50 Best Albums of 2014,"[9] and named among "NPR's 50 Favorite Albums of 2014."[10] His third album, A Sailor's Guide to Earth, was released on Atlantic Records and was Simpson's first major-label release,[11] later earning him Best Country Album at the 59th Grammy Awards while also being nominated for Album of the Year.[12] Simpson's fourth album, Sound & Fury, was released on September 27, 2019. He released two albums of bluegrass music in 2020.

Early life[edit]

John Sturgill Simpson was born in Jackson, Breathitt County, Kentucky.[13] His given name, Sturgill, stems from his paternal grandmother's maiden name. His father was a Kentucky State Police Trooper who formerly worked undercover in narcotics, and his mother was a secretary; Simpson was their only child.[14][3][15] Due to his father's work, Simpson's family moved to Versailles, outside Lexington, where Simpson attended Woodford County High School.[15] His mother's family were coal miners,[16] and he is the first male on her side of the family to not work in a strip mine or deep mine.[17]

Simpson says of his educational career that he was "not a great student".[18] His parents divorced when he was in the seventh grade, and he sold drugs and experimented with LSD during high school. He only "barely graduated" from Woodford High, enlisting in the United States Navy in his senior year.[18] After three years in the Navy, where he worked in the Combat Information Center of a frigate, Simpson spent some time in Japan. He later lived in Everett and Seattle, Washington, where he waited tables at IHOP, before moving back home to Lexington, Kentucky.[18][19][20]


2004−2013: Early performances and recordings[edit]

Simpson formed the Country/Rock band Sunday Valley in 2004,[18] which played at the Pickathon festival in Portland, Oregon.[21] He later moved to Nashville, but says he "didn't have the foggiest notion of how to hustle my music ... [it] was a total bust."[18]

Setting his musical ambitions aside, Simpson focused on building a career at a Salt Lake City railroad freight-shipping yard for Union Pacific Railroad, which he eventually ended up managing. He credits his wife and friends with changing what he characterized as a hobbyist focus on songwriting and playing to convincing him to get serious about music as a potential career.[17] After playing local open mics and gigs, Simpson returned to Sunday Valley, touring and making an album with the band. He and his wife moved to Nashville when the group disbanded in 2012.[22]

After going solo, Simpson released his debut album High Top Mountain in 2013, which he self-funded, self-released, and had cut in Nashville.[21][23][24] The album was produced by Dave Cobb. Among the session musicians were Hargus "Pig" Robbins on piano and Robby Turner, a former guitarist for Waylon Jennings, on steel guitar.[19] The record is named after a cemetery near Jackson where many of Simpson's family members are buried.[25] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic rated High Top Mountain 3​12 stars out of 5, comparing its sound favorably to Waylon Jennings.[26] The album's style has also been compared to that of Merle Haggard.[24] Erik Ernst of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel also compared it to Jennings, saying that it had "rich vintage sounds, heartbreaking ballads, and juke-joint ramblers".[27]

2014–2016: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music[edit]

In 2014, Simpson released his second album, again produced by Dave Cobb, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, to positive reviews.[28][29][30][31] The lead single was "Living the Dream".[32] The album has been described as "flesh[ing] out a deep and unconventional relationship between traditionalism and new ways of thinking," and a departure from Simpson's more traditional hard country debut.[33] Simpson said that "recording and mixing was done in five and a half days for about $4,000. I was pretty proud about that."[34] The album was ranked as one of the ten best of the year by The New York Times writer Nate Chinen.[35] Metamodern Sounds in Country Music received a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album in 2014.[8]

Simpson made his US network television debut on July 14, 2014, on the Late Show with David Letterman, playing "Life of Sin".[36] That year, he would go on to play "Living the Dream" on a September episode of Conan,[37] "Turtles All the Way Down" on an October episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,[38] and "The Promise" on a December episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers.[39] In 2015, he returned to The Late Show and Conan, respectively playing "Long White Line" in February and "Just Let Go" in April.[40][41] He played the Grand Ole Opry,[16] and he also opened for Willie Nelson at Austin City Limits.[42] In late 2015, he was the opening act for Merle Haggard.[43]

His cover of "The Promise" by 1980s band When In Rome was featured in the Season 2 Episode 9 of the HBO series The Leftovers in November 2015. The first track from this album, "Turtles All The Way Down," was featured in the soundtrack for Season 1 Episode 5 of HBO's series Watchmen in November 2019.[44] Simpson also wrote and performed "Sugar Daddy", the theme song to the Martin Scorsese/Mick Jagger-produced TV show, Vinyl.[45] As of July 2015, Simpson's songs are represented by Downtown Music Publishing—an agreement that followed his record deal with Atlantic Records.[46]

2016–2017: A Sailor's Guide to Earth[edit]

Simpson's A Sailor's Guide to Earth includes a cover of "In Bloom" by Nirvana, pictured here.

In March 2016, Simpson released the first track from his third album, A Sailor's Guide To Earth, a song called "Brace For Impact (Live a Little)", with the album itself released in April.[47] The album, which was recorded live,[47] has been described as a "heartfelt"[47] guide to living from Simpson to his infant son,[47] and Simpson produced it himself, replacing Dave Cobb, the producer of his two previous records.[45] It features work by The Dap-Kings from Brooklyn's Daptone Records, as well as a cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom."[48] Sailor's Guide, which marked Simpson's major label debut,[20] was nominated for Album of the Year and won Best Country Album at the 59th Grammy Awards.[49] In January 2017, Simpson appeared on the Felicity Jones-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live, playing "Keep It Between the Lines" and "Call to Arms."[50][51]

Simpson had planned to take a break from touring for the entirety of 2017 to focus on his family, but reconsidered after his Grammy nominations. He began touring again in May 2017 by playing a show at the Wharf Amphitheater in Orange Beach, Alabama, with Margo Price.[52] He also performed as the opening act for three shows during the Guns N' Roses "Not in this Lifetime" tour in the summer of 2017.[53] He helped produce fellow Kentucky singer/songwriter Tyler Childers' 2017 album Purgatory after being introduced to Childers by drummer Miles Miller.[54] Simpson would work with Childers again as producer on his next album, 2019's Country Squire.[55]

2018–present: Sound & Fury and Cuttin' Grass[edit]

In a March 5, 2018, interview on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, Simpson revealed that he was working on his fourth studio album, and hinted that it would be a double album, though this was ultimately not the case.[56] The title, Sound & Fury, was announced on July 21, 2019, at the San Diego Comic-Con, with Simpson describing it as a "sleazy, steamy rock'n'roll record". A companion anime film bearing the same name was also released on Netflix.[57] The album was officially made available for pre-order on August 20, 2019, with the track "Sing Along" being released the same day. The album itself was released to positive reviews on September 27.[58] Breaking with Simpson's established country style, it featured a fuzzy hard rock sound augmented by extensive use of synthesizers, influenced by psychedelia, funk, and electronic rock.[59] The tracks "Sing Along" and "A Good Look" both featured music videos which included clips from the anime.[59][60] Pitchfork praised the album as "synth-rock at its scuzziest". [61]

Simpson was originally going to perform at the Woodstock 50 music festival in August 2019, before the festival's cancellation.[62][63]

On October 16, 2020, Simpson released his first bluegrass album, titled Cuttin' Grass Vol. 1: The Butcher Shoppe Sessions.[64] The album features 20 songs, including bluegrass renditions of tracks culled from his first three albums, as well as songs dating back to his mid-2000s band Sunday Valley.[65] The album was Simpson's first release on Thirty Tigers, to which he was signed after ending his contract with Elektra.[66] On December 11, 2020, Simpson released Cuttin' Grass, Vol. 2, consisting of 12 more bluegrass recordings that Simpson was "too afraid to do on volume 1."[67]

Acting career[edit]

Simpson made his acting debut with a cameo in the 2011 indie film Orca Park.[68] In 2018, he also had a role in the short film Black Hog Gut.[69] He secured his first substantial role the same year, appearing in several episodes of the CBS All Access television series One Dollar, in which he plays the part of Ken Fry, a laid-off steel mill worker who sells stolen goods.[68] In 2019, he wrote and performed the theme song for Jim Jarmusch's horror-comedy movie The Dead Don't Die, in which he also appeared as "Sturgill Zombie".[70] A short time later, he secured a role as a police officer who is killed in a struggle with one of the protagonists in the movie Queen & Slim,[71] and in 2020, he also appeared in the horror movie The Hunt.[72]

Musical style[edit]

Simpson is often compared to Waylon Jennings,[73] and his style to the outlaw country genre of country music.[74] Waylon Jennings' son Shooter Jennings says, "Sturgill isn't imitating at all, and he sounds like my favorite era of my dad, the Seventies, when he would sing quieter and more conversational. That's what struck me about Sturgill from Day One. And still does."[75] Simpson himself counts Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Keith Whitley, and Marty Robbins as much bigger influences on his sound than Waylon Jennings.[76] Country Music Television suggested that Simpson has "a voice that recalls Merle Haggard [and] guitar licks that bring Buck Owens to mind."[77] His overall sound was described by Indiewire as "a mesmerizing and sometimes bewildering mix of traditional country sounds, contemporary philosophy, and psychedelic recording-studio wizardry."[78]

Personal life[edit]

Simpson's song "Oh Sarah", from A Sailor's Guide to Earth, is dedicated to his wife,[79] and his song “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)” is dedicated to his first son. The couple have three sons.[22][80]

Simpson is a Kentucky Colonel, having been honoured at the Kentucky State Capitol on March 20, 2018. Rep. James Kay described Simpson as "independent" and "very proud to be from our great Commonwealth," calling Metamodern Sounds in Country Music "one of the best albums of all time ... pure Kentucky and ... pure Sturgill Simpson."[81]



Title Album details Peak chart positions Sales


High Top Mountain
  • Release date: June 11, 2013
  • Label: High Top Mountain
  • Format: CD, LP, DL
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
  • Release date: May 13, 2014
  • Label: High Top Mountain
  • Format: CD, LP, DL
59 8
A Sailor's Guide to Earth
  • Release date: April 15, 2016
  • Label: Atlantic
  • Format: CD, LP, DL
3 1 1 31 34 43
Sound & Fury
  • Released: September 27, 2019
  • Label: Elektra
  • Format: CD, LP, DL
12 3 3 55 79
Cuttin' Grass, Vol. 1: The Butcher Shoppe Sessions
  • Released: October 16, 2020
  • Label: High Top Mountain
  • Format: LP, DL
24 2
Cuttin' Grass, Vol. 2: The Cowboy Arms Sessions
  • Released: December 11, 2020
  • Label: High Top Mountain
  • Format: CD, LP, DL
"—" denotes releases that did not chart


Year Song Peak chart positions Album

US Country

2014 "Living the Dream"[95] Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
"Turtles All the Way Down"[96][33]
"The Promise"[97]
2016 "Brace for Impact (Live a Little)"[48] 23 44 A Sailor's Guide to Earth
"In Bloom"[98] 48 37
2019 "Sing Along" 7 17 Sound & Fury
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Featured singles[edit]

Title Year Album
(Kesha featuring Brian Wilson, Sturgill Simpson, and Wrabel)
2019 High Road

Other charted songs[edit]

Year Song Peak chart positions Album

2019 "Remember to Breathe" 30 Sound & Fury
"Ronin" 44
"Mercury in Retrograde" 46

Music videos[edit]

Year Video Director(s)
2013 "Railroad of Sin"[101] Yosuke Torii and Shunsuke Ochiai
2014 "Turtles All the Way Down"[102] Graham Uhelski
"The Promise"[103]
2016 "Brace for Impact (Live a Little)"[104] Matt Mahurin
"In Bloom"[105]
"Breakers Roar"[106]
2017 "All Around You"[107][108]
2019 "Sing Along"[59] Jumpei Mizusaki
2020 "A Good Look"[60]
"Make Art Not Friends"[109] Michael Arias


Year Work Role Notes Ref.
2011 Orca Park Jackson Film [68]
2018 Black Hog Gut Top Hat Short film [69]
2018 One Dollar Ken Fry Television series (5 episodes) [110]
2019 The Dead Don't Die Zombie Film [70]
2019 Queen & Slim Officer Reed Film [71]
2020 The Hunt Vanilla Nice Film [72]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Category Nominee/work Result Ref
2014 Americana Music Awards Emerging Artist of the Year Himself Won [111]
2015 Artist of the Year [112]
Song of the Year[112] "Turtles All the Way Down"
Grammy Awards Best Americana Album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music Nominated [8]
2017 Grammy Awards Album of the Year A Sailor's Guide to Earth Nominated [113]
Best Country Album Won
UK Americana Awards International Song of the Year "Welcome To Earth (Pollywog)" Nominated [114][115]
International Artist of the Year Himself Won
International Album of the Year Nominated
Americana Music Awards Album of the Year A Sailor's Guide to Earth Won [116]
Artist of the Year Himself Nominated
Song of the Year "All Around You" Nominated
2021 Grammy Awards Best Rock Album Sound & Fury Pending [117]


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