The Writers Round With Josh Osborne

The hit songwriter has 24 No. 1s to his name including Kenny Chesney’s “Come Over,” Midland’s “Drinkin’ Problem,” Sam Hunt’s “Hard To Forget” and “Body Like a Back Road.”

Written by Annie Reuter
The Writers Round With Josh Osborne
Josh Osborne; Photo credit: Rachel Deeb

Welcome to the Writers Round, a monthly column where Sounds Like Nashville sits down with Nashville-based songwriters and learns about each writer’s journey to Music City. This month, Josh Osborne sheds some light into his life as a songwriter as well as shares the stories behind some of his many hits including Kenny Chesney’s “Come Over,” Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go ‘Round,” Sam Hunt’s “Take Your Time” and Darius Rucker’s “Beers and Sunshine.”

Josh Osborne was drawn to music from a young age. Growing up in Virgie, KY, his home was filled with the music of Phil Collins, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Keith Whitley, Alabama and Randy Travis. He vividly recalls asking for a subscription to Billboard one year for Christmas and studied every name within the magazine’s pages. He soon learned the names of the songwriters, the producers and the people making the music he loved. At eight, Osborne began taking guitar lessons and by the time he was 12 his father encouraged him to start writing songs.

“My dad was a child of the ’60s, so he loved the Beatles and turned me onto the Beatles’ music,” Osborne tells Sounds Like Nashville over the phone. “He said, ‘These guys were the greatest band of all time and they wrote all their songs. Maybe you should try writing songs.’ He bought me a Beatles tape set of all the Beatles’ hits. I got obsessed with it and was so drawn to how the words flow together and how the melody fits the words and how happy the music sounded. Even as a little kid I just wanted to write songs.”

That same year Osborne wrote his first song titled “The Shelter of Your Love.” He laughs as he remembers some of the lyrics. “I thought it was very poetic sounding for 12-year-old me,” he recalls. “The thing I remember about it now from an embarrassment point of view as a songwriter is I that I rhymed dove with love, which is very obvious.”

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 19: (L-R) Singers Kacey Musgraves and Josh Osborne perform onstage during the CMA Songwriters Series showcase at the Paramount Theatre on March 19, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

The more he listened to the Beatles, the more Osborne fell in love with the craft of songwriting. Country voices like Randy Travis and Keith Whitley left the biggest impact on him, and soon he fused his passion for songwriting with country music.

Osborne’s father noticed this passion and researched the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). He discovered there was a local chapter that met in Kingsport, TN, so he took his son when he was 13 and they listened to others talk about how they wrote songs and took part in song critiques. The following year they learned about a NSAI seminar in Nashville and attended. It was here that Osborne met veteran songwriter Terry Vonderheide. After Osborne performed a song, Vonderheide approached him and said he had potential. He then offered to write with Osborne the next time he returned to Nashville.

Pretty soon Osborne and his parents, both schoolteachers, would make monthly trips to Nashville. When school finished Friday afternoon they’d drive to Music City where Osborne began booking gigs Friday and Saturday evenings. On Saturday mornings he’d have a standing writing session with Vonderheide. The monthly trips turned into two and three weekends a month and one night while performing at Caffe Milano in downtown Nashville someone in the crowd recognized Osborne’s talent. Jerry Smith from Warner Chappell Music was looking for a young, up-and-coming songwriter. When Smith approached BMI’s David Preston asking if he had any recommendations, the executive suggested Osborne. Realizing he had just seen Osborne live, the pair met, and Smith offered him his first publishing deal.

“That was a lot of luck on my part and just good timing,” Osborne says. “For me first coming to Nashville when I was 14, it was about four years of coming back and forth before I landed a situation to where I could work here full-time.”

Osborne signed his publishing deal at the age of 18 and relocated to Nashville two days after he graduated high school in 1998. “I moved here and never looked back,” he says.

While he admits it was fairly easy to get a publishing deal in the ’90s, it took Osborne over a decade and several other publishing deals before he garnered his first major label cut with Chris Young’s “Neon.” The title track of Young’s third album, “Neon” peaked at No. 23 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart in 2012. That same year he had his first No. 1 song with Kenny Chesney’s “Come Over.” Osborne penned “Come Over” with Shane McAnally, who he first met and began writing with in 2009 before becoming a partner and writer with his publishing company SMACKSongs in 2015, and a then-newcomer, Sam Hunt.

“That song was so experimental for its time. Sam has always been creative, inventive. He likes to take risks, likes to try things that are different,” Osborne says. “He came in and had that melody for the chorus but didn’t really have a hook. He was like, ‘Man, I wish we had something that lifted into this great chorus, but the verses were a little more not spoken, but more subdued and down.’ So, we started messing with it and we stumbled into the idea of the song being called ‘Come Over.’

“Originally the chorus ended with just the line come over. When we were putting the work tape down on that song at the very end of the work tape, as we’re doing the outro, Sam goes, ‘Come over, come over, come over, come over, come over,’” he recalls. “I stopped playing and I said, ‘What’s that?’ And he was like, ‘Oh, I just thought that’d be something cool to do for the tag. If you think it’s distracting, I won’t do it.’ Shane and I looked at each other and we were like, ‘No! That’s the hook. That should happen every time. The urgency of that should happen every time.’”

Osborne has seen much success penning No. 1 songs with Hunt and McAnally over the years including “Body Like A Back Road,” “Hard To Forget,” “Leave the Night On” and “Take Your Time.” One of the most memorable writing session was the first attempt he and Hunt had with “Take Your Time.” Osborne recalls Hunt pitching the initial idea for the song to a veteran writer, saying that he wanted to speak on the verses as if he was talking to a girl before going into a lifted chorus.

“The hit writer in the room started laughing at Sam and he was like, ‘Man, nobody’s going to want to hear that. I don’t really want to work on that. No program director is going to play some guy talking on the radio,’” Osborne recalls. “He got up and went to get some coffee and I said to Sam, ‘Do not play that for anybody else. I love this idea. Take it to Shane. He’ll get it.’

“Shane was like, ‘I’m in, let’s try it. Whatever this is, let’s figure it out.’ I love those kinds of stories and I think it’s why the three of us are still so bonded and still enjoy working together,” he adds. “We’re always trying to go for something, even if we don’t get it, we’re trying to go for something. I think that just appeals to all of us.”

One song that hold special meaning to Osborne is Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go ‘Round.” A song that he wrote with Musgraves and McAnally, “Merry Go ‘Round” won the GRAMMY Award for Best Country Song in 2014. He says when they penned it, each collaborator was writing about their own respective hometowns.  

“There’s a line in that song that says, ‘Tiny little boxes in a row.’ In that song it’s referencing the trailers in the trailer park, but I grew up in a coal mine town and all the houses — the coal mine houses from the ’40s and ’50s — are built into the side of the mountain and they’re all like little boxes in a row,” he explains. “That is where that line came from in my head. That song still resonates a lot with me, but honestly, a lot of these songs do have very personal things. Sometimes it’s not even the song, it’s just something that happens with the song after the fact.”

Osborne also penned Darius Rucker’s single “Beers and Sunshine.” He credits Rucker for always being “a great spirit” in their writing sessions and someone who is laughing all the time. Osborne recalls a similar spirit taking over the virtual writing session while the song was written over Zoom last May with Rucker, JT Harding and Ross Copperman. He says Harding had the initial title “Bikinis and Sunshine” and the collaborators began writing a chorus.

While they were debating the title, Copperman suggested “Beers and Sunshine.” Soon they were all brainstorming a hook that included “the only BS I need is beers and sunshine” while trying to namedrop words that began with “B” and “S”: bonfires and summertime, back porch nights and South Carolina.

“It felt fun. It felt like what we needed. Honestly, as therapeutic as it may feel if you hear it on the radio, it was that therapeutic writing too, because we were laughing. I think at one point Darius even said, ‘The way it feels right now, I’d want to hear this.’ I think at the end of the day, those things have to be a little bit of a barometer of like, ‘I would be a fan of this if I heard it,’” he says.

When Rucker turned the song into his label Capitol Records Nashville they asked how soon they could put it out. Given the current state of the world and the COVID-19 pandemic, they thought it was a song people needed to hear. “Beers and Sunshine” was released August 2020 and is currently in the top 5 on the country charts.

“Luckily it connected the way we hoped it would because sometimes you write those fun, happy, feel-good songs and you don’t know how they’re going to connect,” Osborne admits. “But man, right now, the way the world is, I think we need that stuff.

“We all, as songwriters, get so caught up in, we want to make people feel something. We forget that happy is something that people feel. We overlook that and think that it has to be the person crying in the corner at the Bluebird because you wrote this really deep, poetic song. People also want to feel happy and sometimes songs can help them do that. So, I think this song was the perfect storm.”

Osborne has come a long way since he moved to Nashville in 1998. Now with 24 No. 1 songs, Osborne is a frequent name within the pages of Billboard and on the publication’s respective country charts. He previously hit No. 1 with Blake Shelton’s “Happy Anywhere” featuring Gwen Stefani and this week has the No. 5 song on the Country Airplay chart with Rucker’s “Beers and Sunshine.”

Other songs currently on the chart that Osborne wrote include Rascal Flatts’ “How They Remember You,” Morgan Wallen’s “7 Summers,” Hunt’s “Breaking Up Was Easy in the 90’s,” Carly Pearce’s “Next Girl” and Old Dominion’s “Never Be Sorry.” Osborne is ranked No. 3 on the magazine’s Country Songwriters chart and seeing his name in print in the publication he read religiously as a child is something he is grateful for.

“I really think about that all the time, and it affects me,” he says of his early days reading Billboard. “Somewhere, maybe there is a kid like me, who’s studying this stuff and seeing my name and maybe my name to them has the same excitement that when I saw Kim Williams or Skip Ewing or Craig Wiseman, Jeffrey Steele. If my name has a tenth of the weight to whatever kids’ reading it had to me, that means a lot to me. I take that stuff very seriously.”