A single chance to make a good first impression? That’s what the “experts” say. And they say it a bunch when it comes to the music industry. But don’t tell that to rising – and resilient – country music artist Stacy Burk. The up-and-comer chatted with me recently in an exclusive interview about his remarkable personal journey and unwavering career.
The artist was on the fast track to superstardom after signing a record deal with Warner Bros. But the can’t-miss performer walked away from it all to take care of his ailing mother in her final days. While the loss of his mother put his personal life in manifest perspective, it also put his promising professional life on hold.
Burk stayed close to his love of music after her passing, embarking on an unassuming journey that led him to co-starring performances in Branson, Missouri – garnering a “Male Newcomer of the Year” award – and ultimately to New Mexico, working with youth at a Boys & Girls Ranch. Ironically, he found himself telling kids to chase their dreams and passions – realizing that he was preaching a belief that he wasn’t practicing.
But now after the life-changing “false start,” the up and comer is making the most of his second chance with an immensely popular – and very long-awaited – first video, “Til Your Boots Are Dirty,” starring his good friend Maksim Chmerkovskiy.
The “Bad Boy of the Ballroom” may not be the first person to come to mind for the role of a cowhand, but Burk professed that the choice to cast Chmerkovskiy was an easy one. “I became friends with a songwriter named John Ramey and he had two songs on my album. He introduced me to Dave West – one of the video producers on 'Dancing With the Stars.' He played the song ‘Til Your Boots Are Dirty’ and he loved it.”
“He’s great friends with Maks and he had this idea; ‘If Maks likes the song, he might want to be in the video.’ So we played it for Maks and before Dave even got to asking him anything about it, Maks told him, ‘I’m in. Whatever it is, I'm in.’ (Laughs). So he was all for it and it’s become bigger than we ever thought. We may have a chance to go on 'Dancing With the Stars' with this. It’s just been a blessing all the way around.”
Interestingly, Chmerkovskiy plays a city boy trying to find his way in the country, a place where he clearly does not fit in. Fitting into the country has certainly never been a problem for Burk, a native of Van Alstyne, Texas. But there’s a difference between Nashville then and Nashville now; the industry, the music and the man are all different. Even though Burk has persevered, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the “modern traditionalist.”
“At first I took it rough when it happened,” admitted Burk. “That’s the reason why I just stopped everything. I had that contract deal with Warner Brothers and I had everything going for me. When she passed away, I just kind of lost all my nerve because she had hauled me all over Texas. She had been my driving force for all the years growing up.”
“I don’t know what it was, but it took a decade. I just had this big regret in my gut and it just kept growing and growing. I kept thinking of all she put into me and released in me. It just kept building and building and it really came to fruition when I went to work for Boys & Girls ranch and I was teaching those kids. I just couldn’t take any more. I just said, ‘I've got to go do this.’ Those kids are helping me see what I'm doing and have been a blessing to me.”
Unforeseen roadblocks to the best laid plans make for a better musician, performer, songwriter – and individual. The durable cowboy made the most of the experience. “As far as the songwriting goes,” he shared, “I wrote some of my best songs through some of the hardships. It was during that hardship that I wrote some really touching stuff.”
“I have a much deeper understanding of what it takes and much more value of everything that I've been through and what others go through. I’m just very appreciative that I'm able to do this. I made so many excuses for too many years and I've just determined that I'm not going to do that anymore.”
Perhaps the hardest thing about dealing with life’s inevitable challenges is that lessons learned are too easily forgotten. The down-to-earth artist was quick to acknowledge that it would take some work to keep the “amnesia” at bay.
“It seems like it’s easier to forget as we get comfortable. I've seen this happen to people that I love. I've seen it happen to me. I get in my own bubble and when I stay there too long, it’s hard to get out. And I see the same thing happening to my father right now in his older age.”
“I've learned that when I force myself to keep going and travel in other parts of the country and meet new people and see what they’re going through, I stay out of that bubble. I stay where I don’t get too comfortable in that situation. It keeps me where I don’t get too lazy to see what other people are going through. It makes you value what you have and be able to reach out to them. It makes you think of others instead of just yourself all the time.”
If anyone can remember the tough lessons that he’s learned in life’s classroom, it’s Burk. Like the perfect country song, he’s already loaded up his truck with his life savings, his dog and his guitar once to regain his elusive career, he “ain’t gonna hafta do it again.”
For more information on Burk, Chmerkovskiy, and the video check out: stacyburkmusic.com.