David Nail’s rural upbringing leads to love of country music

Singer-songwriter to play Varsity

David Nail mixes sincerity, pop savvy and a rocky edge into his country songs. He recently got a million-selling, No. 1 hit with “Whatever She’s Got.”

Nail’s hometown, Kennett, Mo., is the same small city that produced Sheryl Crow and Trent Tomlinson. The city of 11,000 proudly names its homegrown stars on its website, as well as Kennett’s proximity to the “musically infused” Memphis and St. Louis.

Nail’s father directed the Kennett High School band for more than 30 years.

“I grew up with music around the house at all times,” he said. “My father laid the foundation of listening to great artists. He was a big fan of the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits. When we’d go on family trips, we didn’t listen to current radio. We listened to the Commodores, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson.”

Despite the classic pop, rock, soul and rhythm-and-blues music Nail heard, he gravitated to country music.

“I grew up in rural southeast Missouri, about five miles from Arkansas, 15 miles from Tennessee,” he said. “People hear ‘Missouri’ and think I’m from the Midwest. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m more Southern than Midwestern.

“So country was the music I was singing the most. And when I started writing songs, they were country songs. It was just a natural progression.”

Fan of 1990s era country though Nail was, he investigated the music of the ’80s and ’70s. His new album includes a duet with Lee Ann Womack of the Jimmy Webb-penned, Glen Campbell classic from 1969, “Galveston.”

“I wasn’t satisfied with the ’90s,” Nail said. “That was the difference between me and a lot of my friends.”

The exploration of pop and country from past decades yielded a powerful influence.

“I found Glen Campbell,” Nail said. “I emulate him to this day.”

After completing most of the recording for his “I Am Fire” album, Nail felt confident enough to try something new and special.

“We talked about a few different Glen Campbell songs,” he said. “We settled on ‘Galveston’ because that’s the song we felt would sound the best on the album.”

Singer-pianists Elton John and Billy Joel, two non-country artists who emerged some years after Campbell became a star, are among Nail’s other pre-’90s favorites. The piano-based title for his 2011 album, “The Sound of a Million Dreams,” suggests the influence of John and Jackson Browne. Nail’s father, in fact, used to accompany him at the piano.

“Elton John is a phenomenal piano player,” he said. “Same with Billy Joel. But I grew up with all sorts of music. So I like to think I’m a hybrid of all of those artists who I listened to when I was a kid.”