Jon Pardi’s musical journey started humbly in the watering holes around Solano County and the greater Sacramento area, where three-hour gigs of cover tunes were the norm. But now, the Dixon native has the top country record in the nation.
Pardi’s “California Sunrise” debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s country album charts following its June 17 release. The lead single, “Head Over Boots,” also landed the 31-year-old singer-songwriter a Top 10 country hit and more than 60 million streams online. His summer is packed with shows, including a July 7 appearance on the “Today” show.
Pardi lives Nashville but his heart remains firmly in Dixon, he said, and “California Sunrise” pays homage to his Golden State roots.
In the cutthroat world of contemporary country music, Pardi has differentiated himself from glossier acts with more of a traditionalist sound in the vein of Buck Owens and George Strait.
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“California Sunrise” doesn’t attempt to be a pop album with extra twang. The album shuffles along with plenty of slide guitar and fiddle, all recorded live in the studio, and it doesn’t shy away from the “western” side of country music.
A few hours before catching a flight to Los Angeles, where his latest tour would kick off at the Troubador in Hollywood, Pardi chatted with The Bee about his musical influences, his time at Butte College and his love of Cattlemens steakhouse in Dixon.
Q: Congratulations on landing a No. 1 country album. So how is it all going right now?
A: Oh, it’s fun. You know, it’s an amazing moment and we tried to soak it all in last night with my bandmates, the label. It’s been a lot of work for everybody, trying to make the best music we can. When you get a No. 1 album, for me as an artist, that’s what you work for. It ain’t always easy. Sometimes you feel like you’re on the sidelines, and sometimes you get a touchdown.
Q: Let’s take it back to your days in Dixon and around Northern California. How was it for you as an up-and-coming musician?
A: I’ve been singing in bands since I was 14 and writing (songs) since I was 12. I used to play the Dixon May Fair a lot, and that was a fun time. When you’re 18 you can start playing bars, so I’d play covers at the Buckhorn (in Winters) for three hours. I give a lot of credit to those covers by George Strait and Alan Jackson. You may not know it, but you’re learning what a great song is when you’re covering it – the lyrics, the chord progressions, the melodies.
I cruised up to Chico and played in a band called Northern Comfort. I was going to Butte College and played all over Chico for many (cheap) beer nights. Then, we’d cruise to the Wrangler past Elk Grove.
Q: Your album starts with “Out of Style,” which is a song about staying focused in the highly competitive Nashville music scene. What was it like when you first moved there?
A: I’m not trying to date myself but I moved to Nashville when MySpace was still cool. I had an atlas to get there, not a GPS. It was like I got that last American dream, to just pack up and grab the atlas. I had a good time. I got a little acoustic gig at a bar called Losers. It’s a total dive bar but one of the best in Nashville. I was also a lifeguard in town at a private school.
I never really wanted to perform in downtown (Nashville). I’d played for hours in bars in Sacramento and Chico, so I went in with a songwriter’s mentality that I needed to work on these songs. Two years went by and I landed a publishing deal. After about two-and-a-half years, I got signed by Capitol Records.
Q: What does the title “California Sunrise” mean to you?
A: I didn’t move to Nashville to be a pop singer and dance in Nike high tops. It’s who I am. It’s Dixon. It’s the farmland. It’s Northern California. California has a bad reputation sometimes, but it’s the biggest farming state in the country and (people) don’t always know that. We go to New York City and the Midwest, and then we say, “When are we going to the West Coast again?” We need to recharge and see our people. That’s something I wanted to capture in “California Sunrise.”
Dixon is where my friends and family are. It’s country. I never had sushi until I moved to Nashville. I like Cattlemens. I’m from Dixon.