You’ve probably never met William McBryde, a 70-something former physician from Arkansas.
Yet it’s easy to feel like you know him.
It only takes three minutes, fifty-five seconds.
Thank his daughter, Ashley.
This is what she does: bring things to life in song.
It could be an intangible: the feeling of chasing one’s dreams until you’re damn near out of breath.
Or it could be something more concrete: a little dive bar in rural Georgia where “the worker bee that ain’t gettin’ no honey” goes to forget her problems for a night.
Or it could be the man who helped bring McBryde into this world.
About Ashley McBryde’s father: “He had a Southern drawl like a redbone hound,” she begins on “Bible and a .44” from her first album, 2016 indie release “Jalopies & Expensive Guitars.”
“He’d see through a lie like an old screen door,” she elaborates, her words rich in detail and tenderness alike.
“Had hair as white as a cotton field / And he could spin you a story like a wagon wheel.”
So can his daughter, clearly.
That talent helped her earn a Grammy nod for best country album with her acclaimed major label debut, “Girl Going Nowhere.” McBryde also landed the new female vocalist of the year honor at April’s Academy of Country Music Awards as well as gigs opening for George Strait at T-Mobile Arena, which she’ll do again this weekend.
Of course, country music has long been predicated on storytelling, but McBryde is a storyteller’s storyteller — she’s also a dynamite singer, her voice smoldering like the cigarette in her ashtray one minute before soaring as if catapulted straight from the gut the next.
House call from Dr. Seuss
Much of McBryde’s catalog has such a writerly bent, it feels like the stuff of a natural-born bookworm. So it’s natural to wonder if she had much of a literary background as a kid.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question before, but yeah,” McBryde says. “You couldn’t stop me from writing poetry and writing stories and writing songs when I was little. I was lucky enough that before I could even really read well myself, my mother would sit in my bed with me every night and read to me from Laura Ingalls Wilder books.”
“I loved Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein,” she continues. “If there wasn’t a word that rhymed with whatever Seuss or Silverstein was going to rhyme with, they just made it up. And then I found that in country music, with Roger Miller with songs like ‘Dang Me,’ where he’d just go (scats animatedly).’ ”
Country music and books: McBryde’s twin passions would set her on a very specific career course before kindergarten, even.
“I told my mom when I was like 5 years old that I was going to move to Nashville and write songs,” the 36-year-old McBryde says. “Her response was always, ‘OK, honey’ — and not in a bad way, but like, ‘Absolutely, knock it out of the park kid.’ Every aspect of writing and being creative has always been very important to me.”
Nashville via Memphis
Though McBryde would live up to her vow, she first moved to Memphis, Tennessee, not the Music City, to pursue her musical ambitions.
McBryde is a country singer to be sure, but she also grew up listening to an oldies rock station in her native Arkansas — it was the only rock station around — and all these years later, there’s more than a little Janis Joplin detectable in her raucous moments on the mic.
Memphis brought it out of her.
“It was the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll and the home of the blues, and all that really sank into me,” she says. “I really recognized so many things about myself in that city, and I didn’t resist any of it. I was trying to sing, like, Pam Tillis and Barbara Mandrell songs in biker bars and blues bars in Memphis, and it just wasn’t going to fly all the way.
“So I started doing a little bit of Motown and blues and rock and it really worked,” she continues, “but when I started covering those songs, when I’m doing ‘I Want You Back’ by the Jackson 5, what I heard was that it sounded a little bit like a country song when I sang it. I would do Lady Gaga’s ‘Without You,’ and that sounded a little bit like a country song, too. So I just thought, ‘OK, I know where my roots are, and that’s where we’re going to be even if we sound a little bit like a rock band or a blues band. It’s still going to come off country.”
But convincing the country music powers that be of that was a different task entirely.
With her tattoos, love of the loud, and my-way-or-the-highway creative outlook, McBryde doesn’t neatly fit into the traditional, albeit ever-evolving, female country singer paradigm.
She tried to once, though.
For a minute.
‘Not like the other ones’
“The first time I really took a shot at trying to get a label deal, they were like, ‘OK, very nice,’ and then listed the laundry list of things we had to change for this to work,” McBryde recalls. “And I said, ‘I’ll try anything.’ And so it was ‘her curls are too curly,’ all of those that you think we’re making up when we say, ‘This is what they want you to change.’ I tried it, we did a photo shoot that way, and I looked at it and I was like, ‘What a bunch of (expletive)’ There’s no way I would be able to keep that momentum up, because it’s a ruse, and ruses don’t last that long.”
“At first, I was willing to say, ‘I’ll try anything,’ ” she adds, “and then the second time around, I said, ‘No, this is how we sound, this is how we look, and if you don’t like it, then I don’t need you to.’ That’s when they went, ‘We get it. This is just kind of how this chick is. She’s not like the other ones. And that’s what’s going to make it work for her.’ ”
Has it ever.
After paying her dues for a decade, those dues are paying dividends, as McBryde has become one of country’s hottest rising acts.
“It’s been really crazy,” she acknowledges. “Like, I had some friends text me this morning saying, ‘I can’t believe I had to find out from Facebook that you had this and this going on,’ and I’m like, ‘There’s just too many things to keep up with.’ ”
On the day in question, McBryde is in Chicago. Her workday, which includes a gig for Apple, started at 11 a.m. and won’t end till 10 p.m.
“I’m finding out that you have to plan times to eat,” she says. “It has to be in the schedule that day, ‘We have 20 minutes to eat right here,’ or you won’t get to, which sometimes can be frustrating. But also, if you start to get frustrated with it, you kind of look at that and go, ‘Yeah, but you worked your whole life for things to be this way.’ ”
Besides, no one’s talking about the curls in her hair anymore, are they?
Who: Ashley McBryde
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: T-Mobile Arena, 3780 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Tickets: $50-$550 (888-929-7849)