Since releasing his first single, “How ‘Bout You,” in 2006, Eric Church has captivated country fans with his honest songwriting, his country-rock production and his outlaw persona. The trajectory of Church’s career has always seemed to trend upwards, with each new album being a reinvention of the last. As one of the hardest touring artists in country music, Church has built a reputation for his loud and high-energy shows, which finally earned him the title of Entertainer of the Year at the 2020 CMA Awards. The artist has also won a handful of other country music awards and has been nominated for nine Grammy awards.
Despite all his success, Church is one who still tends to keep a low profile — not sharing too much on social media and sometimes even surprising his own record label with new music. One thing everyone knows about Church is that he follows his own set of rules, but here are 10 more things you may not know about the singer.
- His first name isn’t Eric.
Although this fact can be found out by a simple Google search, Church has been in the music scene so long that some may have forgotten, or may have never known, that the singer’s first name isn’t actually Eric. Church was born in Granite Falls, North Carolina as Kenneth Eric Church, with his real first name coming from his father, Ken. The exact reason for the name change is unclear, but Eric is the only name he goes by now.
2. He grew up in the furniture business.
In the early years of his life, Church spent time in and worked at his father’s furniture store, Clayton Marcus. His father was well-known in the furniture industry, starting his career at Broyhill Furniture and then becoming the president of Clayton Marcus, as well as Ladd Upholstery and Southern Furniture. Although Church didn’t follow his father’s exact footsteps, the singer did partner up with Pulaski Furniture to launch his own line, Highway to Home, in 2015.
3. He’s a talented athlete.
Church now positions himself as somewhat of an “outsider” in the country music world, but he was a bit of a jock in high school. Church played pretty much every sport, including football, baseball, and basketball. Of all the sports, he says he was the best at basketball. Church also took up golf just so he could get out of class on some mornings.
“I even played golf because in my junior and senior years of high school, I realized that if you were a golfer, you got to leave at 10 a.m. to go to matches,” he told greensboro.com. “You didn’t have to be at school all day, and, well, that’s me right there (laughs). So I picked up golf real quick when I realized you got to get out of class.”
Although his high school sporting days are over, Church says he now treats the stage as his sport. “I focus on the show the same way an athlete would focus on a game,” he said.
4. He has a marketing degree.
It would be hard to imagine an outlaw artist like Eric Church working at a buttoned up, suit-wearing, 9-to-5 corporate job, but he certainly could have gone that route if he had wanted to. Before finding fame as a country artist, Church did the responsible thing and earned a degree from Appalachian State University in marketing. It doesn’t seem like he had any intention of following that career, though, as he moved to Nashville immediately after graduation with his father’s support. The country music world sure would have missed out on his powerful music had he gone into the corporate world, but there’s no doubt that Church’s creative mind and unique writing would have benefited him in a marketing career.
5. He has Tom Hanks partially to thank for kickstarting his career.
Early in Church’s career, he had some success writing songs for other artists, including “The World Needs A Drink” for Terri Clark and “Whiskey Wings” for Dean Miller. When it came time for him to forge his own artist career, he had some initial interest from Capitol Records, but they did not offer him a record deal. However, after watching the Tom Hanks-led movie, The Green Mile, which depicts Hanks as a prison officer working death row, Church was inspired to write a powerful song about he death penalty called “Lightning.” It was that song that, after he played it for record label executives, earned him his record deal.
6. He was ‘let go’ from a Rascal Flatts tour.
Eric Church comes by his outlaw attitude honestly, as he’s never been one to do things in a strict, mainstream fashion. Early in his career, when he was on one of his first tours opening for Rascal Flatts, he got ‘fired’ from the tour for playing longer than his allotted set time on multiple occasions. The vacancy left by Church was filled by then-brand-new artist, Taylor Swift, which helped propel her career. As he left the tour, Church joked with Swift that she now owes him her first Gold record. She made good on that promise when she did send Church her first Gold record with a note that read, “Thanks for playing too long and too loud on the Flatts tour. I sincerely appreciate it. Taylor.”
7. He wears aviator glasses for a specific reason.
The outlaw persona that has been assigned to Church throughout his career is due in part to his signature style, which almost always features aviator glasses and sometimes features a trucker hat. This style was strongly established on the cover of his third album, Chief. While it may seem Church chose to wear the glasses to support his rebellious spirit, he actually began wearing glasses onstage because his contact lenses were drying out.
“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,” he once said.
8. His nickname ‘The Chief’ has a family connection.
Once Church started assuming the glasses and hat persona, his band started jokingly calling him by the nickname he’s still known by today: chief. However, his band didn’t realize how fitting the nickname really was for Church. He later explained that the name has a family connection, as his grandfather was the chief of police in Granite Falls, North Carolina and was also called by that name.
“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,” he said.
After that, he decided to name his third album Chief and the nickname has stuck ever since.
9. He had a life-threatening medical scare.
In a 2018 interview with Rolling Stone, Eric Church revealed that he was diagnosed with a life-threatening blood clot and had to have an emergency surgery in 2017. He said the first symptom he noticed was tingling in his hand, and when he noticed his hand wasn’t working properly while texting, he started to get suspicious. He then went to the bathroom mirror and realized his arm was red and swollen. Church went to the emergency room, where it was confirmed that he had a blood clot in his chest. The singer asked the doctor, “Can it kill me?” to which the doctor replied, “Today.” He called his wife Katherine and updated her on his condition and was then transferred to Duke University Hospital for an emergency surgery. The reason for the clot was a disorder called thoracic outlet syndrome, which occurs when the top rib is too close to the collar bone, causing the clot. The doctors also took out Church’s top rib. After a summer of recovering and doing physical therapy, Church was back on the road in September.
10. He and his wife Katherine give back to those who need it.
Eric Church has enjoyed an incredibly successful career in country music, but he also makes sure to give back to those less fortunate. In 2013, he and his wife Katherine formed the Chief Cares Fund, which helps people all over the world. The foundation has been used to help families in Tennessee and North Carolina, and it has even assisted orphans in Nepal, delivered Bibles to people in Haiti, and helped fund no-kill animal shelters. Proceeds from his furniture line go to the foundation as do concert ticket sales from his Chief Cares Platinum tickets.