How Eric Church Got Nicknamed ‘The Chief’

"The band starting joking with me, when I put the hat and sunglasses on, they go ‘Alright, its Chief time, Chief’s here,'" Church recalls. 

Written by Lauren Laffer
How Eric Church Got Nicknamed ‘The Chief’
Eric Church; Photo Courtesy Country Music Association

Sunglasses, a hat, and a make your own rules kind of attitude is what Eric Church is well known for, in addition to his musical prowess. The North Carolina native has long been known as “The Chief,” a nickname he unintentionally took on when his career first began.

The title first starting floating around before Church became a country music icon, during the days he spent much of his time on the road playing bars, clubs and honky tonks. When the lights, positioned just feet away, shined in his face, the singer turned to his shades for a little relief. Eventually, with the shades and a hat, Church assumed a new persona.

“I wore contacts, where this all started, the initial inception was, my contacts would fall out, pop out on stage, and I would be blind for half the show, so I started wearing sunglasses, then I put on a hat to stop the sweat and it just became this thing, and we got in bigger venues, I tried to adjust that, but people in the crowds would have on hats and sunglasses and wouldn’t let me adjust that, so it just became this thing naturally,” Church explained. “So, [when it] was show time, it was kind of my uniform. The band starting joking with me, when I put the hat and sunglasses on, they go ‘Alright, its Chief time, Chief’s here.’ But I laughed about it, it was a joke.”

What the band didn’t know, however, was that the nickname Chief had been in his family for years. Church’s grandfather was the chief of police in Granite Falls, North Carolina and everyone referred to him as such.

“Everybody, my dad called him chief as his son-in-law, so it was just very neat to me, that across generations, it became my nickname naturally and nobody knew about it being my grandpa’s nickname, nobody.”

As the nickname caught on, Church decided to name his third album Chief as the perfect homage to his grandfather, as well as his adopted moniker.

“When it came time to title the record, because it felt live, and because it was something I wanted to show — a part of the live show, ‘Chief’ was the right title from my point of view, but also because of my grandfather and what he meant to me,” added the singer. “And I just thought it was the right title, and you know it happened so naturally, it happened so not thought out, you know. When I said the title of the record, I had to explain to everyone why, you know. They were going, ‘What’s chief?’ ‘Well, Chief’s a nickname.’ Then it became a cool thing when they heard about it being my grandfather’s nickname, too. It just felt like the perfect title to me.”

The 2011 project went on to earn Eric Church his first two No.1 songs with “Drink in My Hand” and “Springsteen,” and was eventually certified triple platinum by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) for more than three million copies sold. Since the release of Chief, Church has gone on to release three more albums, including his most recent release, Mr. Misunderstood. The record claimed the title of Album of the Year at the 2016 CMA Awards, one year after he dropped the album with no announcement at the same awards show.