Johnny Gates Drowns His Country Rock Sorrows on ‘Dive Bar’

His smooth-burning standout premieres today.

Written by Chris Parton
Johnny Gates Drowns His Country Rock Sorrows on ‘Dive Bar’
Johnny Gates; Photo credit: Joshua Shultz

Singer-songwriter Johnny Gates has a gift for fusing the infectious energy of rock with the story-driven soul of country music, and he shows it off on the slow-grooving “Dive Bar.” The track premieres on Sounds Like Nashville today.

Mixing rock propulsion with country heartache and Gates’ whiskey-soaked vocal — soothing but intense, just like a Jack on the rocks — “Dive Bar” gets served up as a confessional cocktail, all about pining for the dingy embrace of a hole-in-the-wall bar and a sad song on the juke box. It starts out like an acoustic ballad but soon takes an unexpected turn, with electronic beats joining the emotionally conflicted standout. Gates says the whole thing was inspired by a similar storm of feelings.

“I was in the middle of cleaning out my apartment a few months ago, and I found some old photo-booth photos of an ex-girlfriend and I that we took at our favorite dive bar in East Nashville,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville. “All the emotions and memories kind of hit me, and honestly, it made me want to go grab a beer over there and escape for a bit. I remember it was around 7 p.m., just early enough to still be empty-ish in there, but late enough for the sun to be down, and some old country songs were playing in the background. It was just weirdly therapeutic, and after that I went home and wrote this one pretty quick. Maybe the buzz helped?”

“I could use a dive bar / To get me over my sweetheart / With a cowboy band playing sad, sad songs / Oh, I could use a cheap shot / To fire up my old heart / It ain’t been the same since you been gone / Oh I could use a dive bar,” goes the 100-proof chorus.

“Dive Bar” will appear on Gates’ self-titled solo EP debut, due on August 30 and produced by Tyler Thompson. It finds him returning to Nashville after a whirlwind ride in music and will also include the roots rocking “Hell Outta Here,” which came out earlier this month.

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Gates first gained attention as lead singer of pop rock trio Runaway Saints, who were founded in Rhode Island but turned enough heads in Nashville to land them a publishing deal on the West Coast — plus a tour with rock icon Rod Stewart. They released the album BLVDS and the pop fusion single “Weekend” before splitting up, with Gates going on to appear as a contestant on Season 12 of NBC’ The Voice.

“Now that I’m living back in Nashville, it just feels inspiring,” he explains. “I moved here when I was just starting in this crazy industry and I was so hungry, and I feel all that excitement and hunger again. I’m ready to take my guitar and play for whoever, whenever.”

Johnny Gates EP Track Listing:

1. “Hell Outta Here” (Johnny Gates, Tyler Thompson, Lauren Luiz, Michael Costello)
2. “Dive Bar” (Gates, Thompson)
3. “Church Girl” (Gates, Thompson, Luiz, Costello)
4. “Bandit” (Gates)