Since he had his first hit in 2007, Jonathan Singleton has been known as a top songwriter in Nashville. Impressively, he has co-written nine Top 10 country hits, several which have reached number one on the Billboard charts. Originally from Jackson, Tennessee, he’s also been an artist, and he’s a partner in the successful music publishing & artist development company, 50 Egg Music.
Currently, Singleton is on the charts again; he co-wrote Luke Combs’ anthemic, playful new hit, “Beer Never Broke My Heart” (co-written by Combs & Randy Montana). This single is #3 and moving up on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and it’s also #22 on the Hot 100 pop chart.
Singleton, who is affiliated with ASCAP, had his first hit when he co-wrote Gary Allan’s hit, “Watching Airplanes” (in 2007). In the next four years (2008-2011), he co-wrote four more hits, including “Don’t” by Billy Currington, “Red Light” and “Let It Rain” by David Nail, and “Why Don’t We Dance” by Josh Turner. Also during this period, he formed a band called Jonathan Singleton & the Grove, which signed with Universal South Records and released an album in 2010.
In recent years, Singleton co-wrote the hits “A Guy Walks Into a Bar” by Tyler Farr, the Grammy-nominated hit “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” by Tim McGraw, and the 2017 hit “Yours If You Want It” by the group Rascal Flatts. He’s also had cuts with Blake Shelton, Darius Rucker, Chris Young, Little Big Town, Ronnie Dunn and other artists.
Notably, in 2016 Singleton struck up a friendship and songwriting collaboration with country star Luke Combs, who at the time was just emerging as a new artist to watch. He signed Combs to a music publishing deal, and began co-writing with him. Then earlier this year (2019), Singleton, Combs and A&R exec Tali Canterbury announced the launch of their own publishing & artist development venture, called 50 Egg Music. Canterbury serves as President of the company, and the roster includes Combs, Kenton Bryant and Reid Isbell.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Jonathan Singleton, He tells how he got started in the music business, how he co-wrote several of his hits, including “Beer Never Broke My Heart” with Luke Combs.
DK: I read that you’re from Jackson, Tennessee (west of Nashville). How did you get started as a musician and songwriter?
Here’s the video of Luke Combs’ hit “Beer Never Broke My Heart,”
which was co-written by Jonathan Singleton.
Jonathan Singleton: My mom had a country-rock band back in the day, and my dad was a preacher. Me and my brother, Joshua, sang in church and we did harmonies. And once we got started playing instruments, there was never much question about us doing anything else. That’s what we were good at…all the other kids played baseball, football and basketball, and we had band practice after school. Then Joshua and me started playing in bars from when we were 16-17 years old, until now (laughs). That’s what we always did.
When we started, we weren’t good enough to play many cover songs. Thank goodness for “Louie Louie” and Nirvana and Green Day. We could play those songs, and then we started to write our own songs. Our songs weren’t good, but that’s how we got into songwriting.
My brother Joshua was always the guy I looked up to—he’s still fantastic and he’s got a publishing deal here in Nashville.
DK: How did you go from being a teenager playing bars, to getting a music publishing deal and having your first hit?
Singleton: My brother and I had a band that played blues—he played harmonica and I played drums. We did showcases for a lot of record labels. But then Joshua ended up going to France to play blues, and I stayed here and I continued to play bars. Then I met a guy who had a publishing deal at Murrah Music, which was (hit songwriter) Roger Murrah’s company. We started to write songs, and we came to town and cut demos at Steve Cropper’s studio. At the studio, there was a guy who was trying to be a producer, and he was passing the demos around. He was showing everybody the songs that he was cutting in the studio, and that’s how my name got around town. People would hear the demos and say, “Who’s that guy singing?”
I was singing demos and writing songs for people, and then I met Katherine Blasingame, who is Eric Church’s wife. Katherine is also from West Tennessee, and we hit it off. She started setting me up with co-writes, and she was great at putting me with guys who were more seasoned and could show me the ropes. And from doing this publishing deal, I got offered a record deal.
Here’s the video of Gary Allan’s hit “Watching Airplanes,”
which was co-written by Jonathan Singleton.
One of the writers that Katherine set me up with was Jim Beavers (hit songwriter & producer). Jim is a great writer and great guy, and I learned a lot from him. Jim and I had three cuts in a row, which turned into three singles and three number ones. We wrote (the hits) “Watching Airplanes” (for Gary Allan), “Why Don’t We Just Dance” (Josh Turner) and “Don’t” (Billy Currington). I was super lucky—“Watching Airplanes” was my first hold, my first cut, my first single and my first number one.
DK: You play drums and guitar, and you sing. Do you also play other instruments?
Singleton: Yeah, I can kind of beat around on it if it’s got strings, and I’ve learned to play piano. When I was in a band, I wanted to be able to play the other instruments in case one of the guys couldn’t make the gig. And I’ve carried that into songwriting. I wanted to be able to run Pro Tools, to run sound and do all of that. My way of thinking was…a good mechanic can work on any car, so I tried to do the same thing. I wanted to know at least a little bit about what was involved in the process of making any kind of music.
DK: I like your hit, “Watching Airplanes.” Is there a good story about how you co-wrote that song?
Singleton: “Watching Airplanes” is a pretty great story. Jim Beavers had that song idea, and he came in that day. We knew Gary Allan was cutting…we knew we could probably write for him, because melodically our voices are similar. So Jim tried to imagine what he was looking for, and I remember him asking me, “Have you ever gone out and just watched airplanes take off at an airport?” And I said, “No, I’ve never done that,” and I was supposed to say yes (laughs). Then he said, “You know, people do that, and we can probably write a song about that.” In my mind, I’m brand new in town and I thought…Man, I’m just gonna follow this guy with this crazy idea about watching airplanes (laughs).
As it turned out, there was so much more to that song. We had long conversations about what would happen (with the story) in the song. Jim had the first couple lines of the song, which is my favorite part. He had the lines, “Sittin out here on the hood of this truck, looking up at a caramel colored sunset sky.” And I thought that was a beautiful line for a country song.
Here’s the video of Rascal Flatts’ hit “Yours If You Want It,”
which was co-written by Jonathan Singleton.
When we got to it musically, “’Watching Airplanes” had a big key change in the chorus, and I was actually trying to change the key of the whole song. Jim had stepped out for awhile, and when he came back, he said “Oh cool, you did a key change in the chorus.” And me being brand new, I just said “Of course.” So that’s how that chorus ended up having that weird progression.
DK: I like your current hit with Luke Combs, “Beer Never Broke My Heart.” Can you talk about how you, Luke and (hit songwriter & artist) Randy Montana wrote that song?
Singleton: We went out on tour with Luke…I think it was Indiana. Things were getting crazy busy for him. That morning, Luke said, “Let’s get some song ideas going, and we’ll kind of beat them out.” It was Luke who came up with the title, “Beer Never Broke My Heart.” Luke wanted to do a big, up, kind of anthemic song. He wanted a song that everybody at a big show could go nuts over.
We worked out the chorus, and then Luke’s day got very busy. So me and Randy Montana worked on key parts of the verses. Through the rest of the day, Luke was going back and forth on the bus. And we’d ask him, “Hey man, what about this and what about that?” as he was passing by. He’d say “Oh yeah, I love that. Man, as soon as I get done (with other stuff) we’ll get back in and finish this thing up.” A little later, we finished the rest of it.
DK: I read that you, Luke Combs and (music exec) Tali Canterbury are partners in a music publishing company called 50 Egg Music. How did you decide to form this company?
Singleton: We’re just having a ball with it. I had been thinking about [starting a publishing company] for a long time. About three years ago, I saw Luke in a bar, and we became friends and songwriting buddies. And Luke’s really smart—he knows himself as a musician, and he knows what songs he wants to do. So I signed him to a publishing deal back then. We also did a co-venture deal with Big Machine. So we had that together.
[Then more recently], Luke and I decided that we wanted to start this new venture, to publish and develop new artists. And we wanted to have a head of the company who would stay there for a long time, and we thought of Tali Canterbury. We’re excited that Tali joined us, and it’s been great. We’ve signed a bunch of new artists that we’re developing. And it’s been fun to have that going on, and to be a part of their careers.