With his 2007 debut, "Ill Stay Me," Luke Bryan unapologetically shared his own brand of traditional country music with an ever-growing legion of fans. On his sophomore release, "Doin My Thing," Luke is destined to find an even broader audience.
Its been a heady couple of years since Luke released his critically acclaimed first album. Not only has he scored top ten hits with "All My Friends Say" and "Country Man," but the singer-songwriter also won Music Rows Breakthrough Songwriter Award.
Luke was also among the finalists for the Academy of Country Musics Top New Male Vocalist Award and was tapped an artist to watch by both Billboard and Country Weekly.
His second album finds Luke returning to the studio with co-writer and producer Jeff Stevens. Faced with the success of his debut, the two men challenged themselves to top it. "My first album had great hits and it sold well, but everything about that album is beatable," Luke says. "We wanted to make a bigger sounding record, something that moved a little down the road from the first record. We wanted to show my growth vocally and lyrically."
A solid touring schedule helped Luke strengthen his already powerful vocals. "My voice is so much stronger than it was on the first album," he says. "Some of these vocals I did in 10-15 minutes."
In addition to headlining his own shows, Luke toured with the likes of Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley and Trace Adkins. "Touring with those guys was fun," Luke says. "It was a chance to watch what theyre doing and plug it into what I hope to do one day."
An accomplished performer who honed his skills on the college circuit, Luke knows how to keep them coming back. "When the crowd sees you having fun and youre giving them great music, its a deadly combination," Luke says, "Look at Willie Nelson. To this day he just goes up there and plays em a show. Thats what you gotta do. Any other way than just enjoying it and having a good time is the wrong way to go about it in my opinion.
"Im a different performer than I used to be," Luke says. "I used to run around and dance and do back flips. The music wasnt necessarily there so I had to do crazy antics. Now I tend to let the music do the talking."
A Wichita, Kansas, fan appreciation show was a precursor of things to come for Luke. "I was the headliner and I had the time of my life," he says. "It was a glimpse of the future for me. The next night I was at the Dusty Armadillo in Ohio. Both shows were equally fun."
A Spring Break concert at Daytona Beach helped Luke realize his music was connecting with fans. "There were three or four thousand people there," he says. "That lets you know that youve made a difference. I was standing on stage thinking, Wow, this is really worth it. Youve got to enjoy the positives and make sure you dont let them go by without acknowledging them."
In addition to professional success, Luke and wife Caroline welcomed son Bo into the world in 2008. "You have to focus and work harder because you have a family to take care of," Luke says. "It adds another dimension to life."
"My time with my family is important," Luke says thoughtfully. "Family and friends, thats the most important thing to hold on to."
Unfortunately for Luke and his family, his older sister, Kelly, died in 2007 at the age of 39. Eleven years earlier, Luke's older brother Chris died in a tragic car accident, an event that influenced Luke to postpone his musical aspirations.
"The last show she saw me perform was my Grand Ole Opry debut," Luke says of his sister. "The Opry will always be a special place for me because of that."
The son of a peanut farmer, Luke believes in giving back to the community. He has aligned himself with St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, among other causes. "Anytime I get the chance to call a station and help a cause like St. Jude or Make-A-Wish, I do it," Luke says.
In honor of his sister and brother he also used his newfound celebrity to raise money for a local YMCA by performing in his hometown of Leesburg, Ga., with some Nashville songwriting pals.
A certified country boy, Luke hopes to one day own a place near his hometown. "Floatin down the Flint River and doing some fishing that makes me feel like me," he says.
But the river will have to wait - he doesnt plan on slowing down anytime soon. "It puts me on a new playing field," Luke says of his highly anticipated second album. "Ive got a clear vision of my music and the fans that I want to reach. Ive got a lot left I want to prove."