Before Chris Stapleton became one of the most-respected country artists currently working, the singer-songwriter went years without earning recognition outside of those "in the know." The 39-year-old says, in the spotlight or not, he's content to let his music lead him.

"I have always only ever been able to be me, even though that means different things at different times," Stapleton shared with The Boot and other reporters at a recent media event. "And I always just tried to make it about music first, and let music lead, and everything else will just fall wherever it will.

"Fortunately for us, that’s kind of worked out, but I think that’s always the right thing, when it’s about the music and about the fans, and about treating music with respect and treating people with respect," he adds. "Those are never wrong decisions; regardless of awards or anything, those are never wrong decisions."

In 2017, Stapleton headlined his own All-American Road Show Tour. During the trek, he witnessed firsthand his fans singing along to his songs, even those that never made it onto the radio.

"I’m incredibly fortunate -- we’re all incredibly fortunate out on the road -- that people come to the shows, that fans dig that deep," says Stapleton. "It’s a rare thing, and I don’t know what mix of things we’ve done right to get that to happen, but it sure is a powerful thing when you can pull out an album cut and have everybody sing along and have somebody be excited about it, and watch that be somebody’s song that they’re hoping you’re going to play that night. It’s something that I care a lot about the album, quite a bit."

It's a lesson that Stapleton says he learned from a fellow artist: the late, great Tom Petty -- specifically, Petty's 1994 album Wildflowers.

"That album really made me appreciate the album top to bottom," Stapleton notes. "I try to think about that record a lot when making records. None of them are throwaways, ever; no song on a record should ever be something you’re just sticking on. Play songs that you love, even the deep ones … That’s the way I feel about albums. I want them to be good, top to bottom."

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