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David Nail "Happening Now" Feature - BILLBOARD MAGAZINE
By Ken Tucker
November 7, 2009
David Nail, whose single “Red Light” is No. 15 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart after 35 weeks on the tally, proves that the phrase “overnight sensation” oversimplifies things.
Nail’s first single, “Memphis,” peaked at No. 52 on Hot Country Songs in 2002. But the Mercury debut album he recorded was never released. He had signed with the label eight months after moving to Nashville from his birthplace, Kennett, Mo. The town is also home to Sheryl Crow, whose mother taught Nail piano.
Ginny Rogers, music director at country WKLB Boston, remembers meeting Nail on a Mercury promotional visit. “I liked his songs back then, but thought he was ahead of his time musically,” she says.
When his producer and head of A&R Keith Stegall left Mercury, so did Nail, who moved back to Missouri. The singer/songwriter returned to Music City two years later and eventually signed with MCA Nashville, a Universal Music Group sister to his former label.
Still, success eluded him. Then Nail released a cover of Train’s “I’m About To Come Alive” in 2008, which hit No. 47 on Hot Country Songs. But the release of his MCA debut album of the same name, produced by Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke (Miranda Lambert), was pushed back.
“Red Light,” a song about a breakup in unlikely circumstances, was released in March. Weeks later, Nail finally had a slow-but-sure hit. WKLB is one of the stations having success with the song. “Listeners like story songs and this one is no exception,” Rogers says. “Although I think it took them a little longer to catch on because it’s a new artist. They got it, though, and that’s the sign of a true hit.”
The single has sold 132,000 copies, according to Nielsen Soundscan. For the week ending Oct. 25, it sold 11,000 downloads – its best sales week yet and fifth straight week gain. Meanwhile, the “I’m About To Come Alive” album, released Aug. 18, has sold 22,000 copies.
Nail promoted the single by embarking on a Red Light Road Trip tour across the United States, tied to the Major League Baseball season. While on the road, a camera-toting Nail tried to convince locals he was a major-label artist who wanted to perform for free. The often hilarious webisodes premiered on CMT.com and are also posted on DavidNail.com.
“There’s reality TV and there’s what we’re doing,” Nail says. “There was no editing, no crew. You can’t script some of the stuff we were doing.”
At a recent celebration with friends and fellow artists for his top 15 single, Nail got a little emotional. “There were a couple of moments when I had to take a deep breath and soak it in,” he says. “There’s no greater feeling than acceptance by your peers.”