The world of country has a habit of firing stars from nowhere, but for meteoric rises you’ll do better to find a better example than Luke Combs. The burly 28-year-old was pretty much unheard of until “Hurricane” became a sing-along anthem in 2016 and went platinum. Even Combs admits, “It happened so fast! We’ve just played so many shows in the last year, it’s hard to pick a favorite... but two sold out shows at the Ryman Auditorium [in February] was pretty special.”

Luke Combes

Combs’ everyman appeal is clear. Although now based in Nashville, his is a grittier country than you’ll often hear from the glass-towers of Music City. Combs is not too bothered about polish – and for a long time he couldn’t afford to be. That breakthrough “Hurricane” single came out of a self-funded $200-a-track EP session, and at the time Combs didn’t even have the cash to get it expensively recorded and mastered. “The one that’s on the radio, that’s the only time I ever sang it,” he explains.

“Hurricane” was a massive hit anyway, and he’s followed it up with the smart “When It Rains It Pours” and the slow-burning “One Number Away.” Combs’ debut album, This One’s For You, has hit #1 on the US Country Chart and #5 the Billboard 200. Midway through his current US headline tour, Combs sat down to chat with

People who play country seem to have it in their blood: is that the case with you?

“My dad wasn’t a big country fan, but my mom was. We would roll around and listen to Brooks & Dunn and Clint Black on cassette tape. My first concert was Vince Gill in 1996, I was six!”

But we’ve heard you turned away from country for a long time, and only got back into it when you went to college?

“That’s right. From the age of 10 to 18, I was listening to anything but country. I was really into Nirvana, really deep punk like the Dead Kennedys, hip-hop… What got me back into country was ‘Carolina’ by Eric Church.”

Was that because Church also went to your college, Appalachian State University?

“No, that was just a coincidence. I’d heard of Eric already. But I always wanted to go to that college—that campus is beautiful, and when I got there people said: ‘oh, Eric Church went to this college. Oh, right! But it was just coincidence really.”

You’re quite unusual though: you only actually picked up a guitar aged 21, and you were playing own shows just months later?

“Yep! I was coming towards the end of my college tenure…when I started, I only had a few weeks left. My parents had bought me a guitar for Christmas when I was in seventh grade, but I never picked it up. But that summer before I was leaving I just decided to pick it up and see if I could play.

“I didn’t get lessons from anyone – I just learned off YouTube! Everyone just goes with the first basic chords, don’t they, at first? And that was all I did, three or four chords. But I guess when I got to play “Wagon Wheel” [the Bob Dylan/Old Crow Medicine Show song later made famous by Darius Rucker] I was like: Damn, I can do this. When I realized I could play and sing at the same time, it was: let’s do this!

“Once I could play those four chords or so I realized I could play a ton of stuff, and my first show was six months after I started playing guitar. But I wasn’t nervous – I’d been singing in choirs since I was a kid so I was used to performing in front of people.”

Your fans seem to cover a wide demographic: college kids, “ordinary guys” who just like a big tune, and older country fans who like the fact that you’re a bit old-school?

“Yeah, the more that we’ve gotten into bigger rooms, the more it’s turned into a real mixed bag of a crowd. Everyday, working-class people is the majority of our crowd, a lot of college students too but there’s people in the front row who are, like, 65… and six or five! And that’s all I want really. Play my songs, have people like ‘em. You can’t ask for more.”

You’ve been stepping out on stage with Gibson acoustics: that’s a classic country choice, right?

“Sure! I’ve got Doves, J-200s, Hummingbirds… I got a bunch of Gibsons now. They just have such a great sound, plugged in or not. We’re playing live so much right now and they travel well too, and the folks at Gibson have been great. I should get an Eric Church Hummingbird Dark? Hey, I already have one. And I have one of his. Eric gave it to me!

“My Gibsons are just great live guitars. I love playing the rock clubs. Right now, we’re playing five or six-thousand seaters and that’s super-fun too, but it is very different. But wherever I am, just being onstage, me and my guitar, my band.... I’m really enjoying our crowd right now, so much. It’s hard to beat that moment.”

More on Gibson Hummingbirds and Gibson Doves and Gibson J-200s. Details of the Gibson Eric Church Hummingbird Dark here.