I'm a big fan on the slow, steady climb to the top, says blue-collar country songwriter Clayton Anderson, whose recent years have been spent hand-building an audience fan by fan and show by show. It's been rewarding. I'd rather be the guy onstage who's been working nonstop than a flash in the pan. Raised in southern Indiana, Clayton learned the value of hard work at a young age. His musical hero, John Mellencamp, had grown up thirty minutes down the road, and his rootsy music resonated with Clayton, who would eventually release his own version of the 1980s hit Houses. Years before he strummed his first chords on the guitar, though, Clayton saw his own surroundings and aspirations reflected in songwriting. We're both from blue-collar, factory towns filled with farmers and factory workers, he says. Growing up around here, it's always instilled in you that you've gotta take care of those around you. It's the kind of community where everyone knows you, and everyone looks out for everyone else. I've been in a lot of places, but there's something about small-town America — and those deep, Midwest roots — that feels just a little different.
These days, Clayton Anderson is proud to be just a little different. While enrolled at Indiana University, he wrote his first song in the schools library and began playing fraternity parties around town, earning an audience long before graduation. Things changed dramatically in 2008, when he found himself onstage at the Riverbend Amphitheatre in Cincinnati, playing to 10,000 people as Kenny Chesney's opening act. Anderson had won a Battle of the Bands competition the night before; not only did his first-place finish allow him to open for Chesney, but it also convinced him to chase down his musical dreams with refueled energy. Newly inspired, Clayton quit his day job as a landscaper and moved to Nashville.
You can take the songwriter out of the Midwest, but you can't take the Midwest out of the songwriter. Now a Tennessee resident for the past decade, Clayton Anderson makes heartland country-rock that's emblematic not only of his new home, but also the region in which he was raised. He continues to tour Middle America at a relentless rate, balancing a busy schedule of headlining shows with high-profile opening dates, including a performance alongside Zac Brown Band at the Indy 500 — with 40,000 people in attendance. We play Midwestern rock & roll, Anderson says proudly. I've got a bunch of Indiana guys in my backing band, and our sound has always been a little more rock & roll than country, like Johnny Cougar or Bob Seger. It tells the stories and the struggles of the common man — the average Joe. The older I've gotten, the more I've been able to write songs that touch on those themes.
Clayton Anderson has explored his now-signature blend of Midwestern rock and independent country across three acclaimed albums: Only to Borrow, Right Where I Belong, and Torn Jeans Tailgates. With newer songs like Tennessee Take Me Down, he's mixing those musical roots with a wider range of sounds, including pop. Our audience is as wide and adventurous as we are, he says. We love every style of music, and we don't have a fanbase centered around a single genre or a single sound. We've got urban music fans. Rap fans. Pop. Heavy metal. R&B. So many people come up to us after the shows and say, I don't like country music, but I really love what you do, and that's a big compliment for us. Genres are fading, but we're growing — and we've always been something bigger than a country band, anyway.
Self-sufficient and fiercely independent, Clayton Anderson continues to expand his career on his own terms. We don't even have a booking agent, he says. We just hustle and work the hardest we can, whether we're playing to five people or 500. I’ve loved a lot, and when you love a lot, you lose a lot. Maybe that's my edge. I've won some and I've lost some, but it's not gonna stop me. I'm gonna keep fighting and clawing my way to where I wanna be. And everyones path is different, but I know I'll get there.