Humble beginnings best describes this natural gas worker turned country star on the rise. The Arkansas native was surrounded by the sounds of southern gospel music from a young age, but turned to music as a side gig as a way to make money during 2017. After catching the attention of thousands thanks to his cover of Chris Stapleton’s “Either Way” going viral on Facebook, Nashville came calling. As a down-to-earth country-lovin’ man who’s lived out everything he writes, and finds peace in life’s simplest things, its easy to connect with Sander's music. In January of 2021, Sanders released his debut EP, Common Ground. The four-track project, co-written by the singer, includes the stirring and heart-rending title track, an anthemic up-tempo love song, “Love Needs Makin’,” the emotionally-rich “Can’t Undo I Do” and his debut single, “Old School’s In.” Giving a voice to the common man, Heath Sanders is tapping back into the roots of country music and helping people find a little "Common Ground"
I had the chance to sit down with Heath earlier this month! Check it out below!
Where did you find your love of music?
I think it really started with my grandpa and my dad. My dad was a Pentecostal preacher and we didn't really have a TV or anything like that. We didn't even hardly listen to secular music really, it was pretty much all gospel music. From old choir gospel to more Southern gospel, with those bluesy tones and amazing beats that only gospel can bring to the table. I lived for that stuff back then. I played the drums in church, that’s really where it took off. My grandpa played the guitar. He could sing, about everybody in my family could sing. It really all started there. However, I didn't pick up the guitar till I was 21 or so. I was kind of a late bloomer when it come to the guitar, but I'm glad, I'm glad I picked it up now. It all worked out.
Who or what inspired you to post your Chris Stapleton cover to YouTube? What surprised you the most about the reaction?
What surprised me the most was the fact that it actually went viral. When I started playing and singing out, my goal wasn't to make it in music, or become famous or anything like that. It was to pay the bills. They'd cut my hours at work, and I was trying to make a little extra.
I hadn't had my Facebook page but about three or four months, maybe about 500 to 600 followers. A buddy of mine dared me to cover Chris Stapleton's “Either way.” We went from 500 followers to 50,000 in just a few days. It was really overwhelming because I lived out in the middle of nowhere. I mean I lived down three or four miles of dirt road out in the middle of a national forest. So that kind of publicity or that kind of attention really rocked my world. Even to look back on it today. It's still pretty bizarre.
When Bobby Bone’s called, I had never been to Nashville. Orlando's about the biggest city I'd ever been to. I'd never been out of Arkansas much. For me, going to the big city was going to Little Rock. So Nashville never crossed my mind.
When Bobby reached out to me, it was pretty bizarre because I knew I'd been listening to Bobby for about five years every morning. He was my go-to him from 6 to 10am, riding around in the truck by myself out there. I knew how important Bobby was in the music industry. I knew the weight that he carried. I'd never seen him do what he'd done for me though. I'd never seen him just pluck someone from the middle of nowhere and put him on a national stage. I'll be able to tell my grandkids about. And it's pretty awesome.
What lessons from working in the oil field do you still use now in your music career?
I think it's just that “get up and get after it work ethic." I actually got a tattoo on my arm. It says “earn, not given.” I remember just shortly after left the oil field, I caught myself sleeping in until eight or nine in the morning. Since I was 15 years old, I’ve been getting up at 5:30, 6 o’clock. So I got the tattoo to remind me this is just a job, just like anything else you gotta get up. You have to show up and put in the work.
Those values carried over. That “getter done” attitude that somebody else is depending on your attitude. There is a lot of camaraderie in the oil field, your life's depend on each other out there. I feel like that that “got your brothers back” is something that really comes to fruition here in Nashville. People have seen Nashville from afar, just like I had my whole life until I got here. Then, you realize the brotherhood and the sisterhood. The family of songwriters that are laying underneath all this and carrying this whole thing. Even though the people that you see on the award shows and coming up to make the speeches, they're all suit and ties and in their fancy dresses and stuff, there's a family of good old boys and girls carrying this thing on our backs here in Nashville. And it's pretty special.
Who are you hoping to connect to with your music and why do you feel like country music is such a great vessel to connect with people?
If you're raised in a small town, like I was, my hometown it ain't hardly grown at all. When you drive down the main highway there and I would say 70 or 80% of the businesses that were alive and well when I was a kid are now gone. The doors are closed. I feel like there's a mass migration just cause we have to. The world's moving, you in a path toward technology, everybody's kind of migrating to the city. Yet there are still people tucked away in these little cities and towns trying to make a living. These people are still so attached to that small town life and the way we live and the way we were raised.
If I can make somebody's day by giving them a little taste of home while they're grinding a way at work or whatever they're doing that makes me happy. I look back to Brantley Gilbert’s A Modern Day Prodigal Son album. That one I really, really loved. I listened when I would be out working. It’s just so freeing to hear that and just go back home for a little bit. That's my job as country music Country music is a really special way to communicate with people. I'm just honored that I've got the opportunity to do it. The fact that there's people out there who will listen to what I got to say and relate to it What a job, what a life.
What do you feel that you bring to the country music table that maybe isn't out there? What makes you so unique?
Without sounding braggadocious or without sounding arrogant or like I'm cutting anybody down in the industry. But I think what it all boils down to me. I was talking to a buddy of mine yesterday down on the back porch. I have a tree that blew down in the storm back a few weeks ago and I still ain't cut it up. He was like, “Man, you gonna that tree up?” I'm waiting to get my saw back from the shop.
I was telling him that and somehow we got back to the subject of country music. There might be better singers out there. There may be better songwriters or definitely better looking people out there. But when it comes to me, you can look on stage and know I cut down my own tree with my own saw. I think that's what most people want.
I think for the most part, for years now we've been fed this image of shiny cowboy boots and polished hats. That look comes and goes. Then you look at me I look like everybody you have ever been to a barbecue with. You can just be yourself.
My manager always tells me before I go on stage, “Remember you are just them on stage.” That's what I try to represent, that’s who I try to be and never forget that that's who I am, and that’s where I came from.
I love your EP Common Ground. Why these four songs for your EP and how do they represent you in your journey?
Hindsight's 2020, but I feel like there's a couple that a couple of songs on the EP that I really truly love. I like the other two. I truly love “Old Schools In.” It was the song that hit home with me from the first time I've ever heard that phrase. I love that song to death. Then “Common Ground” is the other one I love. It is also the title track of the EP. It is so funny, as soon as we come up with the title in the room, I told the guys that'll be the name of my first album.
With “Common Ground,” I’ve realized the world is bigger than my own, you know, it is bigger than I thought it was.There's plenty of room for everybody in it, we need to be able and willing to make room for each other. Then “Undo I Do” it was just a jam from the get go. Of course I'm not married or anything. But there's a few gals I'll let go that I probably shouldn't have. I know what it's like to be the guy, that gets in his truck and drives away from something he probably shouldn't drive away from. When I sat down to write it I knew it was a testing time for relationships across the globe. And then “Love Needs Makings” just hell, that's self explanatory. *Laughs*
How do you define country music?
That is a hefty question there. How do I define country music? I define country music as the melodical representation of the lives of the men and women. Who've built this country. That's what I think it is. You know country music is the only genre or left there that addresses matters of the heart and tradition in the past. What a cool thing to be a part of.
What is next for you in 2022?
To to be fully transparent, I’ve got guys out here coaching me through this TikTok thing. Golly, that's a whole other, world. We ain't Facebook land no more! That’s a fact. But I think I'm at Liberty to say, we got a song called “Raised On Red,” coming out! Justin Moore asked to be on the track. April 8th, the release date. It's pretty awesome to go from never even writing a song four years ago to now cutting a song with Justin Moore. So pretty excited about that.
We got some dates coming up with him, also a lot of dates in Arkansas. A lot of cool stuff coming up in 2022, even though the last two years have been rough. I think we're gonna come outta this thing even better than we come in.