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From Farmer to Chart Topper, Country Music Singer Logan Mize Is Doing It His Way
Logan Mize is running late. Not the “I’m a rock star, the world runs on my clock” kind of late, but rather the “can’t find a taxi in the entire city” kind. It’s a rainy night in early October. He’s fresh off a 6-mile run, 20 minutes late to his “Meat & Greet” event, and decides to resort to an Uber ride that takes him through the heart of Iowa City before dropping him in front of the venue where he performs in an hour and a half.
Up the creaky wooden stairs of the Blue Moose Tap House, standing on a black-and-white checkered floor at the meet and greet, below a leaking ceiling with a missing tile and a red vintage Budweiser chandelier, Logan Mize holds a plate of hot dogs.
“You want ketchup on it?” he asks a man in the corner of a small 10x15-foot room in the back of the venue, disguised as the green room. The man accepts.
“Anyone else?” he asks.
As he serves his fans hot dogs at his own show, he recognizes a few faces in the crowd, including one couple he’s interacted with on Twitter whose young son has undergone multiple surgeries, similar to Mize’s own son.
A lot about this night stands out. The smaller crowd takes his mind back to the beginning, before his six-string obsession could even be considered a career; back to the Friday nights spent playing on picnic tables in the living rooms of college house parties, or as background noise for $6 spaghetti night at the bar.
Mize recognizes another duo, a pair of 20-something friends sitting on the black leather couch. He played a show in their barn a few years ago for a crowd of around 80 people.
That show was one of 42 Mize played in a two-month acoustic tour he booked himself through social media. After two years with Sony Music, Mize found himself without a record deal after Sony’s CEO stepped down in 2015. Sony said the company and Mize “parted ways.” Mize says he got dropped.
“Everyone in Nashville,” Mize says, “they kind of stopped believing in [me] a little bit.”
Nevertheless, the result was that Mize, his tour manager, and his drummer stuffed themselves into a 1989 Chevy Caprice station wagon named Glenn for a 20,000-mile mission, partly to prove some people wrong but mostly for Mize to prove himself right.
They grossed $60,000 driving around in a station wagon playing in bars, clubs, and backyards.
“I turned all those stats in at the end of the tour and said, ‘Look, we actually have a fan base,’” Mize says. “We can do this.”
There’s an hour before the show now. Mize and his fans exchange small talk. Some of them tell him they came to his show in Des Moines earlier in the year, and he names the venue. They’re happy he remembers.
He’s dressed like he’s as likely to be in the crowd as on the stage, in a navy blue short-sleeve shirt with a collar, khaki pants, and work boots. It doesn’t feel like he has 1.6 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Or like his album debuted at No. 2 in the country charts. At times it feels like Mize doesn’t know quite what to say to keep the conversation going, but he tries anyway. He wants his fans to enjoy the $5 upgrade for meet-and-greet tickets on a night that serves as a sign of how far he’s come, and a reminder that he’s not yet where he wants to be.
Country music star by night, farmer by day
In a cornfield, a half hour’s drive from Wichita, tucked away in the town of Andale, Kansas, Mize is driving a tractor. It’s September and harvest is just getting started, so naturally the country singer is where he normally is Monday through Wednesday, helping out on JAM Farms, the large, fourth-generation, family farm owned and operated by Jake and Pete Martin, the cousin and uncle of Mize’s wife.
Mize grew up an hour south in Clearwater, Kansas, a town of roughly 2,500, where his dad was a butcher at the family’s grocery store, and most of his friends grew up on farms.
He’s performed all over the country, belting out carefully crafted lyrics to adoring fans who scream them right back. But here, caged up between walls of John Deere green, is where Mize truly feels comfortable.
“I feel more at ease,” Mize says. “Going out on stage in front of people is challenging for me because it's out of my comfort zone. So to be able to take the aspects of a small town and farming and all that stuff and bring it out on stage like a genuinely pretty simple small town dude, I think at heart, that’s just kind of who I am.”
In the tractor, Mize rolls over fertile black Kansas dirt, the kind that the farm’s corn and soybeans grow best in. If he flips on the radio he’s likely to tune in to some of his favorite artists, those who influenced him like Tom Petty and Elton John, or maybe Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson. But if he turned on a country radio station, he’d probably grin. Not because of who’s on – he’s opened for some of the genre’s biggest stars like Eric Church and Dierks Bentley – but because of the references to rural life that just aren’t quite accurate.
“I just know all the guys try to sing about red dirt and digging your hands in the red dirt,” Mize says. “I’m like, ‘Man you ain’t grown anything out there.’ I can’t sing a song about growing stuff in the red dirt because [where I’m from] it’s not going to grow. It’s just funny stuff like that.”
Many artists grew up on farms. Luke Bryan grew up on a peanut farm in Georgia, and Carrie Underwood hails from a cattle ranch in Oklahoma. Both have graduated to million-dollar estates. But when tour ends, and Monday morning comes, Mize is the one on the tractor.
“He blends right in with any other farmer at the table,” says his cousin and farm owner, Jake Martin. “Whenever he’s not on the road he’ll pretty much always come up to help, and we really trust the job he does.”
He’s the guy who’s gathered over 35 million streams on Spotify for his song “Ain’t Always Pretty” and also the one who framed houses, worked as a truck driver, and a bouncer to stave off time until his music could support him. His collar is literally blue in the cover art for his 2014 breakout single “Can’t Get Away From A Good Time.” The shirt he wore, with his name tag stitched above the shirt pocket, was the same one he wore during every performance for over a year because he didn’t want to worry about his lackluster fashion sense. From many angles he appears more similar to his audience than the artists he competes against for air time on the radio.
And that’s where he’s different: in the fact that he’s not.
From The Football Field to Music City
Two-and-a-half-years after he started as a student-athlete at Southern Illinois, Mize is sitting in a place he hasn’t spent much time during the semester: his Anthropology 101 classroom. It’s December 2005, the first semester of his junior year and the final exam rests in front of him.
Between classes, playing defensive end on the football team, and his passion for music, school was neglected. His love affair with his acoustic guitar would often last long into the night, coming to an end only to make way for early morning football workouts around 5 a.m. Classes were more of a distraction than an opportunity to learn. As his collegiate career progressed, it was clear which of the three was his priority.
Mondays were filled with six hours of driving to and from Nashville for nights reserved for the city’s Bluebird Cafe, where Mize would perform his music, partly to practice in front of an intimate crowd of roughly 90 people, and partly for the slight chance somebody would notice him.
He dressed in full Western wear, complete with a Stetson cowboy hat, like if “John Rich were on an acid trip,” Mize says.
The other performers dressed in jeans. Mize brought a fiddle player.
“I’d come down and try to play these shows like I was putting on a performance for a full-blown arena,” Mize says. “I probably looked like a complete moron.”
In the classroom, Mize studies the exam and the material seems familiar. He knows he’s probably failing the class, but thinks maybe if he gets a good enough grade on the final he might be able to pull out a passing grade. Then, in the middle of the test, a light bulb goes off in Mize’s head.
He walks straight to his adviser’s office.
Can you check my grade in Anthropology 101? Mize asks.
Why did you sign up for this? His adviser responds. You passed this with flying colors your freshman year. As a junior you’re going to fail this class.
“That was when I knew I needed to not be in college,” Mize says.
He needed to be in Nashville.
The Success of Failure
Eight months have passed since Mize dropped out of school at Southern Illinois to pursue a music career in Nashville. It’s July 2006 and he’s in Kansas. He’s been trying to save money by framing houses back near his hometown, but he hasn’t been successful.
He tried his hand at Wichita State’s school of music, but after realizing the school taught jazz music instead of how to be a country music star, he dropped out after two days, the third college he’s dropped out of in three years, including the community college he went to before landing at Southern Illinois.
He’s planning on moving to Nashville next week, but he’s been muttering that sentence for the last six months. It’s the middle of August, and Mize is fed up with himself. Fed up with a laundry list of failures: college dropout, quit the football team, came home to make $8 an hour. A list of failures that are poorly kept secrets in a small town where your last name is plastered on the town’s grocery store.
So finally, at 3 p.m. after stopping by his father’s butcher shop to tell him what he’s up to, he leaves. He has $60 to his name, almost no plan, and a feeling of freedom propelling him 11 hours east on the highway.
“I had to make something happen quick,” Mize says. “The pressure was on, and maybe that was a subconscious thing I did to force myself to get in gear.”
In three days, Mize finds himself a job as a truck driver and a place to live. He trades his golf clubs in at a pawn shop in exchange for a guitar, and starts working: heading to writers’ nights, making connections, and throwing different bands together.
One of the first things he notices is the way fellow aspiring musicians act. People are trying to get discovered, obviously, but it’s like they’re waiting in a line to have someone take a chance on them and magically vault to fame and fortune. Mize can’t see the point in that.
“I'll just go out and make something,” Mize thinks. “I'll create something myself and then just see what follows.”
He gets a publishing deal in late 2007 to write music for others, but it doesn’t last, so Mize goes back to hard labor, weed-whacking the ditches in the depths of Music City.
He resorts to living in his Chevrolet Suburban for a brief time, while the search for success continues.
His look isn’t flashy, his sound isn’t traditional, and a Southern twang that dominates country radio doesn’t trickle from his accent. He’s 7 inches taller than Kenny Chesney, and he doesn’t try to mask the rock n’ roll influences that clearly leak from his voice.
“The [record labels] in Nashville just aren’t known to take big risks,” Mize says. “I wasn’t a down-the-middle pitch. I was kind of a curve ball.”
He could change his look, maybe add a cowboy hat and boots. Or try to fit in with the pop-country side of the genre, but that isn’t who he is.
Finally, after multiple attempts to get meetings with a top executive and being turned down, he gets one.
It’s 10 a.m. on April Fool’s Day 2010.The first song on his self-titled debut album, “Ride in the Middle” is playing as he walks into the office of Carla Wallace, the founder of Big Yellow Dog publishing. She sits in a chair with her back turned to him. She stops the track, and before any other words can be spoken, Wallace says, “Tell me how you’re any different than Dierks Bentley.”
Bentley is from Arizona. She only thinks they’re similar because they’re the only ones in country music who aren’t from the South, Mize tells her.
“Play me something else,” Wallace responds.
Mize pulls out his guitar and plays his song “Rock N Roll Band.”
Well I grew up a small-town kid
Would’ve been just fine doing what my daddy did
Til he broke down one day and brought home that guitar
I boarded that rocket ship and headed straight for the stars
At 2 p.m. he walks out with a publishing deal.
“I’d been to every single publishing company on Music Row, multiple times,” Mize says. “They all said no.”
Now, over eight years later, Mize says he’s still waiting to catch his first big break. He released an album in 2012 with Big Yellow Dog and in 2014, off an album that was never released, had the independent single “Can’t Get Away From a Good Time,” gain viral traction, which led to signing the deal with Sony. He wrote two extended play records (or EPs), one that came out in 2015, and one that Sony never released. His 2017 independently released album “Come Back Road” has continued to give the artist a loyal and expanding audience, despite not being consistently played on the radio.
At 33, as a married father of two, he seems finally poised for a breakout year in 2019.
“There’s nobody in Nashville that’s worked longer and harder than he has,” guitarist Joe Giaimo says. “He has the songs. Creatively, he’s there. It’s time. 2019 should be a big year.”
Mize is releasing his song “Better Off Gone” to radio in early February through a collaboration with entertainment powerhouse Atlantic Records. He was recently a feature on a remade version of “Something To Be Proud Of” on Montgomery Gentry’s greatest hits album.
But for now, back underneath the leaking ceiling of a small venue in eastern Iowa, Mize and his team pack up their set. The rowdy crowd of a few hundred has cleared out, and Mize sits between the old wood panel walls of the green room. He’s currently reading two books, 12 Rules For Life by Jordan Peterson, and Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari that he carries around in his backpack.
He’s training for an ultramarathon. “A 50-miler,” he says, and he seems exhausted.
Maybe it’s from the 30 miles he’s run this week, or the fact that sleep is elusive during the middle of a Midwest tour in a van he often drives. But most likely he’s exhausted from the decade of touring the country and creating music the way he wants, creating his own break instead of just waiting in line for it.
“I always wanted to do it the right way so I didn’t wind up on a stage that I didn’t belong,” Mize says. “So maybe I created this struggle part of it. But, I think that way, when we are headlining Wembley Stadium, I’ll go, ‘You know what? We earned this thing.’ ”