Bryan White: Looking Back…and Looking Forward

Written by Chuck Dauphin
Bryan White: Looking Back…and Looking Forward

“God Gave Me You” was a track from Bryan White’s 1999 Asylum release How Lucky I Am. The song made it to No. 40 on the Billboard Country Singles chart, but the story of that song doesn’t end there. Over a decade later, the song picked up steam across the globe… the Philippines, no doubt.

“I guess you could say that it all started with a song. Most things in my world usually start that way,” White says with a sense of wonderment concerning his latest success story. “Things just happened overseas the way they do – on their own timing. About 2011, the song caught on in the Philippines, and several other surrounding Asian countries. I had heard about it, and caught wind that things were happening. But, in the past year, there has been this couple that skyrocketed to stardom on this very popular variety show – actually, the biggest one in the Philippines. They made it their theme song, and that just kind of set the song in orbit,” he said of the song’s exposure on the series Eat Bulaga, on which Maine Mendoza (aka ‘Yaya Dub’) and Alden Richards, known as the National Couple, have incorporated the song right into the heart of their budding televised romance.”

Suddenly, White’s social feed began to blow up – and the phone rang. “We started getting offers to come over and do a big arena show over there, and we did that in December. We did a press tour, a concert, and two of the biggest TV shows over there. We did an event for Food For The Hungry while we were there, as well. It’s been one of the most overwhelming things in my career on a personal level. I don’t want to sound cheesy or anything, but it’s the most bizarre thing. I felt so connected with Filipinos, not just there, but over here too, and all the support they’ve shown me. It’s been overwhelming in a very emotional way. I’m just very thankful.”

The success of “God Gave Me You” is just the latest in a long line of career triumphs for White, who first hit the limelight at age 20 in 1994 with “Eugene You Genius.” Only a minor hit, charting just inside the Top-50, it still brought his first appearance on the Billboard charts – a big experience for the Oklahoma native. “It was a really big deal for me to look and see my very first chart entry. I remember it being a big deal. It wasn’t a huge hit, but it helped to pave the way for everything else that came after that. It had energy, and was different at the time.” His next single, “Look At Me Now,” provided his first Top-40 hit, enabling his name to be mentioned by Bob Kingsley for the first time on the weekly American Country Countdown. “That was another monumental step – just being included on the countdowns. I listened to him as long as I can remember, and to be a part of it was another huge moment.”

His third release, “Someone Else’s Star,” topped the charts, setting off a firestorm of career highlights that he says he didn’t have a chance to effectively soak in as it was going on. “You can’t celebrate,” he related. “You don’t have time. You have number one parties and things like that, but there’s management and the label, and everybody is just going forward so fast. That’s all left in the dust as soon as it happens. You’ve left it behind, and there’s no time to reflect. It’s only now that I can look back and get a chance to enjoy it. I look at old clippings and charts, and think ‘Wow. This really did happen.”

One thing he does remember from that time period was getting a phone call from his musical mentor. Steve Wariner. “He called my answering machine, and congratulated me when we hit the top 40. I wish I had kept that, but just him leaving me a message – you can’t even imagine what that meant to a kid who idolized somebody so much, and they’re calling them and congratulating them. That was so cool, and it made me feel included.”

Wariner has always had a special place in White’s heart, and he says that the first musical memory he has of Steve was a defining moment for him. “It was a duet he did with Nicolette Larson, ‘That’s How You Know When Love’s Right.’ It was on his Greatest Hits album. I remember hearing his timbre and phrasing. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. It’s probably the clearest moment in my life where I knew that something had happened to me. It was an immediate response. From that point on, that was my vision.”

Possibly the biggest moment in White’s career came in 1996, when he won the Horizon Award from the Country Music Association. He says that moment meant validation. “It didn’t make sense for me at the time. You’re in the middle of it, and you just show up. You’ve got an energy about you that you didn’t know existed. You know you’ve got to step up to the plate and deliver. It was a great night in my life. It wasn’t so much the award as it was standing up there in front of the industry knowing my family was watching. The accomplishment for me was knowing they could finally let me go, that I was going to be alright and I was doing what I wanted to do.

White is still doing just that, having started work on a brand new project that he is immensely excited about. “I’ve been writing quite a bit, and trying to work the creative muscle. I just recorded a new single. It’s such a blessing to have your own studio, and when something comes along that you’re proud of, you can record it and have it ready for people as opposed to back in the 90s. I’m still staying after it, travelling a lot. Last year was one of the busiest years I’ve had on the road, so things have been at a great pace. I’m extremely blessed.”

He admitted to that his writing has evolved over the years. His past two sets, Dustbowl Dreams, and Shine, both featured a more personal feel lyrically. “It feels good to be that honest with music. I think that the older I get, the more honest I am. I don’t do stuff based on what someone else may think out there. When you’re younger, you’re focused on that kind of stuff because you’ve got a label that is on you constantly about writing for the market and those kinds of things. Now, I just try to write what’s going on with me, and write what’s on my heart – and just be honest.”