By Peter Cronin
Jon Stone's Nashville 101
Any young hopeful struggling to break into Nashville ’s music scene would do well to have a long sit down with SESAC songwriter Jon Stone. These days the Eugene, Oregon native is sitting pretty at the top of the country charts, but chronicling his climb to that lofty and coveted position is like following a winding triptych through the ins, outs, ups and downs of Nashville’s music business.
“I went through the whole machine, no doubt about it,” Stone says. “After you’ve tried everything, then it becomes ‘I’m gonna do exactly what I want to do and I don’t care, because I have nothing to lose.’ It’s almost like it needs to get to that point.”
Stone moved to Music City back in 1999, full of fire and ready to conquer the world. Heading directly to an open mic night, he received his first cold shot of reality.
“It was at the Hall of Fame lounge, and Trent Tomlinson was hosting,” he recalls. “I thought I had the greatest songs ever, and then Trent gets up and sings one song and it was so freakin’ good I went out and got a job the next day.”
Stone spent the next few years working various jobs, finally landing at the Shop at Home Network, where he hired another fledgling songwriter by the name of Eric Church. Working by day and writing songs by night, the pair were soon hanging with a group of country wannabes that included Church and fellow future stars Jamey Johnson and Jerrod Niemann.
A sideman gig with country artist Mark McGuinn led Stone to his first major label record deal, and he was quickly ushered into co-writing sessions with some of Nashville’s top tunesmiths.
“I felt embarrassed to be in the room with these people, because they could write me under the table,” Stone says. “But I really paid attention and I learned a lot.” When his label went through the inevitable corporate restructuring, Stone found himself dropped and back at square one. What could have been a disaster became a creative turning point as Stone got down to business and started writing with a vengeance and from the heart.
“It was adapt or die, and I knew I had to get good at writing songs,” he says. “They can take away a record deal, but you can write for the rest of your life.”
Through countless writing sessions and several publishing deals, Stone spent the next few years writing his way to the top, with hitmakers including Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton and Rascal Flatts cutting his songs. Meanwhile, old running buddies Church, Niemann and Lee Brice began to have hits of their own. In fact, “A Woman Like You,” Brice’s recent No. 1 smash, was co-written and produced by Stone.
Ironically, all of his songwriting success caught the attention of Curb Records and led him right back to a major label recording deal. Along with former Bomshel member Kristy Osmunson, Stone is now officially half of a hot new country duo known as American Young.
“I really did not want to do the artist thing at all, but the first time Kristy and I played together it was magic,” Stone says. “There are some things that are just beyond my control.”