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From Ruebush to Vegas, Dublin native continues making music history

by Brooke J. Wood

Special to the SWT

It may seem like a long journey from a pastoral cattle farm beside Ruebush Road in Dublin to the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Las Vegas Boulevard, but that’s the very path Brian Bunn took during the past 22 years to arrive at the American Country Music Awards tonight.

Tonight, he’ll continue his pattern of performing critically acclaimed and popular songs, this time with country music’s Thomas Rhett, who’ll be singing his chart-topping single, “Die a Happy Man,” nominated for Single Record of the Year. Before joining Rhett’s team as backup vocalist and lead guitarist in January, Bunn was in two award-winning Christian rock bands, one of which he co-founded in nearby Montgomery County.

But it all started on the family farm in Pulaski County. “I always loved the family farm, and had incredible experiences there – and showing livestock with 4-H. The only thing I didn’t care for was waking up early, “ Bunn says.

Bunn, 33, moved at the age of 11 with his family from Riner to the Dublin cattle farm started by his grandfather, Clayton Bunn. There, with his parents, Doug and Kathy, and twin brother Brandon, he cut his teeth on farm life along with music-making and songwriting.

His mother says Brandon was the one who took up guitar lessons, but soon lost interest. Brian, on the other hand, was just playing around with his brother’s guitar and was instantly smitten. He later took lessons from Greg Albert in Christiansburg.

“It was nothing for him to practice four, five or more hours more a day,” his mother recalls.

Brian remembers driving his 4-wheeler out in the pasture to play his guitar and write songs, typically about his family members and girlfriend.

“I’ve always drawn inspiration from my family, girlfriends and life experiences. I still write love songs for my wife,” Brian says in reference to Emily, with whom he has two daughters, Autumn, 2, and Lyla, 5.

A genuinely humble man, Brian gives God credit for his great success in the music industry.

He was a co-founder of the Christian rock band DecembeRadio, which was nominated for eight GMA Dove Awards, winning rock album of the year in 2007 and 2009. In 2012, he joined Third Day, which was nominated for 12 Grammys, four of which it won.

Third Day was recently featured in the movie “Miracles from Heaven,” released by Columbia Pictures in March. Brian admits he hasn’t had a chance to see the movie yet, but hears good things about it. During pre-production, he sat right beside the film’s lead actress, Jennifer Garner, for make-up.

“A shoot lasted for 12 hours a day, doing the same two songs over and over, 25 to 30 times at different angles, with different cameras. It’s hard work,” Brian explains.

His real interest in performing started when he saw friend Josh Reedy on stage at Auburn Middle School where they both attended. Since his mother taught in Riner, she kept him in Auburn schools even after they moved to Dublin. Like many young men who are first motivated to go into the business, Brian was struck by the realization that girls go crazy over rock stars. He soon started jamming with Reedy. “‘Johnny B. Goode’ was the first song we played together,” Brian says.

Eventually, the two of them, along with Eric Miker, formed DecembeRadio. They started as a Top 40 band. However, as Brian puts it, “at about 16 or 17, we realized God has given us a gift and we wanted to use that for His glory. Through music, we could show what God was doing in our lives.”

When they started, Brian was the lead singer. But he eventually contracted a virus that paralyzed three-quarters of his vocal chords, which resulted in him moving to background vocals and a greater focus on instrumentals. Included in his instrumental repertoire are mandolin, lap steel guitar, banjo, hammer dulcimer and keyboard.

“It was tough. Even now, sometimes my voice cracks. There are certain notes I can’t sing. The palsy affected my middle range. So, I learned to sing in the lower register and falsetto,” Brian explains.

DecembeRadio broke up after it didn’t seem financially feasible to keep the band going any longer. The breakup was heartbreaking for Brian, who couldn’t understand why God would allow this to happen to a band dedicated to His service. However, very soon, new doors would open. “God always has a plan,” Brian says.

Possibly one of the happiest days of his life was when Third Day asked him to come aboard. Playing guitar and harmonica and singing backup vocals, he was once again in a band acclaimed for its Christian rock albums and singles. Their single, “Soul on Fire,” spent 19 weeks on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs list.

He reunited with good friend Reedy when he joined Thomas Rhett’s band earlier this year. Just last month, they performed on NBC shows “Today” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

When not on the road, he’s in his studio just outside Nashville. The studio is appropriately named “The Bakery.” Brian’s last name has sometimes been a subject of humor for friends, but the studio is no laughing matter. In this space, he helps new songwriters and singers cut demos to present to music stars around Nashville and beyond. He plays all of the instruments in the demos, and works with other established artists, like songwriter Brian White, who has worked with such country music greats as Rodney Atkins, Jason Aldean and Rascal Flatts.

Brian tries to write weekly, and his cell phone currently contains almost 150 new song ideas compiled through daily experiences and exchanges.

When all is said and done, along with God, he gives credit to “great parents” who “always let us practice in the house, sometimes until 3 in the morning.”

Of course, he still visits them – and the farm where he cut his musical teeth more than two decades ago.



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