Luke Combs definitely had an unforgettable year. The singer-songwriter won his first CMA Award for New Artist of the Year, and had a series of No. 1 hits, including his recent "She Got the Best of Me." Combs also headlined his own shows, as well as opened for Jason Aldean on his High Noon Neon Tour.
It's a lot of success for a young man who, only a few years ago, drove into Nashville in an old car, with manual windows and doors, and without air-conditioning.
"The first eight months [in Nashville], nobody would touch me with a ten-foot pole," Combs recalled to CMT. "I had meetings with publishers and labels, and people would say, 'Man, the songs just aren’t that great.' But it was my songs, it was 'Hurricane,' it was 'When It Rains.'"
The North Carolina native could have been discouraged and moved back home, but instead, the rejection only made him work harder than ever.
"It was fuel for me," Combs conceded. "That motivated me so much. I don’t ever want to get to the pinnacle of my success and gloat to anybody. That’s not the right thing to do. I’m proud of what we have, and I’m proud of how it all happened. Those things that didn’t work out for me probably mean that at the time, I wasn’t ready yet."
When Combs released his debut "Hurricane" single, which soared to the top of the charts, he had no idea that he was on the verge of one what seems poised to be one of the biggest careers in country music – a fact he is still coming to terms with.
"You can never prepare yourself for it," said Combs. "Never. You can have 100 people tell you about it, but you never truly understand. What it’s allowed me to do, though, is buy a house, and help my parents out."
Combs might have a lot more money than he did a few years ago, but he is still as frugal as ever, while helping those closest to him.
"About a year after I’d moved to Nashville, I’d saved up money in a coffee can and bought a new Ford Fusion," Combs recounted. "I literally had all the cash in this coffee can. I hadn’t made any money off my music yet, but when we’d play live shows, whatever money I had left over after I paid everyone else went into this coffee can. Every month, I’d count it. At the time, I was driving a 2000 Dodge Neon with manual windows and manual locks. So any car with air conditioning was real nice for me.
"Then a year later I bought a truck, so I gave that Fusion to my parents," he continued. "I even paid cash for my new truck. I hate being in debt, and I don’t like owing people stuff. I just paid my student loans off this year. I’d been paying it down very month, and when you’re trying to be a singer-songwriters, that’s really rough."
2019 already seems like it will be as big, or bigger, than this year for Combs. In addition to almost entirely selling out his upcoming Beer Never Broke My Heart Tour, and potentially winning his first Grammy, the 28-year-old is also engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Nicole Hocking, who is the inspiration for his current single, "Beautiful Crazy."
"We weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend, but we’d hung out," Combs said of the inspiration for the song. "We were in no way dating. But I was falling for her so hard. I wrote 'Beautiful Crazy' and played it for her. To me, that was the moment when it changed. It wasn’t going to just be hanging out after that. I’d never written a song that personal. But I don’t think it will change things in the grand scheme of things."
"You’re never gonna listen to one of my albums and think, 'This guy is such a total love nerd,'" he added. "That’ll never happen. I’ll always love a good honky-tonk drinking song as much as the next guy."
Photo Credit: Getty images/Tim Mosenfelder