For the past 14 years, Gordie Sampson has been a top songwriter & producer based in Nashville. He has co-written several #1 country hits, including “Jesus, Take The Wheel” for Carrie Underwood, which won the Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 2007. Two of his other big hits are “God, Your Mama, and Me” for Florida Georgia Line with the Backstreet Boys, and “Just a Dream” for Carrie Underwood.
Currently, Sampson is enjoying a new flurry of hits. He co-wrote the playful #1 hit “Knockin’ Boots” for Luke Bryan, plus the upbeat, soulful hit “Family Tree” for Caylee Hammack. In addition, he co-wrote the chart single “Heartbreak” for Hunter Hayes, and the new single “Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Asking)” for Tenille Townes.
Sampson has also co-written hits for Carly Pearce (“Closer To You”), Eric Paslay (“Song About a Girl”), Jack Ingram (“Measure of a Man”), Cassadee Pope (“I Wish I Could Break Your Heart”), Hunter Hayes (“Storm Warning”), Kree Harrison (“All Cried Out”) and Edens Edge (“Too Good to Be True”). His songs have also been recorded by top artists such as Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Miley Cyrus, Blake Shelton, Faith Hill, Bon Jovi, Rascal Flatts, Dierks Bentley, Billy Currington and Martina McBride.
Sampson grew up Nova Scotia, Canada, where he learned to play guitar and piano, and he became a local, professional musician in his early 20s. It was also around that time that he developed his songwriting skills. He subsequently took trips to Nashville to co-write and network, and in 2005 he got his big break, when Carrie Underwood recorded “Jesus, Take The Wheel” and it became a country and pop hit.
During this period, Sampson decided to move to Nashville, where he’s become a prominent songwriter & producer. Over the years, he’s also recorded four albums as an artist: Stones (1998), Sunburn (2004), For the Few and Far Between (2008) and Almost Beautiful (2011).
In addition to winning a Grammy Award for co-writing “Jesus, Take The Wheel,” Sampson has won awards from the CMA, ACM, NSAI and Juno Awards. He is managed by Sheri Jones of Jones & Co. artist management company.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Gordie Sampson. He tells how he got started in the music business, how he co-wrote “Jesus, Take The Wheel,” and he discusses his latest hits with Luke Bryan and Caylee Hammack.
DK: I read that you’re from Nova Scotia, Canada. How did you get started with music, and writing songs?
Here’s the video of Luke Bryan’s #1 hit “Knockin’ Boots,” which
was co-written by Gordie Sampson.
Gordie Sampson: My mom is a professional musician, so when I was growing up there was a lot of music in my house. It came pretty natural, and I started playing music when I was around four years old. I started writing songs when I was in my late teens, and it was in my early 20s that I realized I really liked the songwriting part of music. Around that time, I had been making a living mostly as a sideman for acts and touring, but I gradually leaned more towards songwriting.
By the time I got into my late 20s, I was having some success in Canada, and we started to come down to Nashville and [got into] songwriting down here. And we were very lucky—we were able to get a publishing deal relatively quickly. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened fairly fast, while I was still living in Canada. Then a couple of songs got cut after I signed my deal, and there was a game-changing one: “Jesus, Take The Wheel” for Carrie Underwood. Then I ended up saying, “Maybe we should just go and move to Nashville” (laughs).
DK: I read your bio, and it says you’ve released four albums as an artist. Was your original goal to be an artist?
Sampson: You might say that. I got a deal in Canada with A&M Records, and I had some moderate success there as an artist. But in hindsight, I feel that I just wasn’t born to be a full-time artist. I didn’t like the road. I enjoyed performing, but I feel like I was born to be in a recording studio, making music and writing songs.
DK: In 2005 you had a breakthrough, co-writing “Jesus, Take The Wheel” for Carrie Underwood. How did you and your co-writers write this song?
Sampson: It was inspired by a couple of things, from when I grew up in Nova Scotia. There was a story my aunt told me when I was a kid, about her losing control of a car (while she was driving) on an icy road. I was very young when she told me that story. I asked her, “What did you do?” She said, “I threw my hands up in the air and I asked God to take control of the vehicle.” It was just one of those things you hear as child, and I didn’t think about it for maybe 20 years. Then I was coming to Nashville for a trip, and I drove by an accident site, where a friend of mine lost her sister. And unlike the song, where my aunt had a happy ending, this real life story didn’t. It just jarred this old memory, and so I wrote it down as a title for a potential song. A lot of us do that—we write from the title. Then I got together with (hit songwriters) Hillary Lindsey and Brett James, and that’s how it got written.
Here’s the video of Caylee Hammack’s hit “Family Tree,” which
was co-written by Gordie Sampson.
DK: Two years ago, you had a big hit with “God, Your Mama, and Me” by Florida Georgia Line with the Backstreet Boys. How did this song come together?
Sampson: I wrote that with Josh Kear and Hillary Lindsey. That was a great example of a song being written from the title. It was a title that Josh had. Josh is really the King of titles…he’s got such a great work ethic. He said, “I got this idea for a song—it’s called God, Your Mama, and Me.” And I remember when he threw it out in the room, the first time I heard it, it went over my head. I asked him. “God, Your Mama, and Me…what do you mean?” He said, “You know, like no one’s ever gonna love you more than God, your mama, and me.” And my jaw dropped. It was like, “Ohh…I get it.” And at that point I realized…you don’t get those moments every day. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you did. And on this song, Josh and Hillary really connected on the idea. Between the two of them, they’re both such great lyric writers and such great singers, and the melodies are incredible. They’re so good that you get in the mode of, “Yeah, that’s such a great idea; all we have to do is not mess it up” (laughs). So we had a great day with that…we wrote it relatively quick. And I spent a lot of time on [producing] that demo. I spent the better part of a week recording the demo of that song.
DK: Currently, you have a number one hit with Luke Bryan’s “Knockin’ Boots.” Can you talk about the story behind that song?
Sampson: Yeah, that was with (co-writers) Jon Nite and Hillary Lindsey. “Knockin’ Boots” was a title that Jon had. It was just an opportunity to have so much fun with the lyric…we kind of seized that. That one was written fairly quick as well. The lyric is a little bit nutty. On this song, you’ve got three people chiming in on the lyric…it tends to happen really fast, because it’s so fun. And you can get away with being a little nutty in a song like that. We did a lot of laughing when we wrote it.
DK: I like your other current hit, “Family Tree” by Caylee Hammack. How did you, Caylee and Troy Verges write this song?
Sampson: That was the first time I wrote with Caylee, and I think it was the first time that Troy wrote with her. Troy and I are really good friends and we write a lot together, but that was the first time for the three of us to be together. And Caylee walked in with that sort of small town, authentic vibe. Caylee is so good and her songs are so artful…it was very refreshing to be able to write something that authentic.
Here’s the video of Carrie Underwood’s classic hit “Jesus, Take
The Wheel,” which was co-written by Gordie Sampson.
Everybody in town was talking about her. We went to see her show when she’d just signed a label deal (with Universal Music Group Nashville). The label invited some writers to see her, and we were completely blown away. It was Cyndi Forman from Universal Music Publishing who set up our writing session with her. And shortly after we saw her show, we wrote that song together.
DK: I read that you also have a new single out with Tenille Townes.
Sampson: Yes, it’s called “Jersey On The Wall” by Tenille Townes, and the single came out a couple weeks ago. That’s a really interesting song. It was inspired by her visiting a school (in Canada where she’s from), where she did some motivational talks. Tenille would go around to schools in Canada. At one school, there was a jersey hanging on the wall at a gymnasium, from a hockey player who was killed in an accident. She was very moved by that, so we wrote a song about it. The lyric is very emotional…it’s a pretty powerful song.