Just a few years ago, one Franklin native could be found playing music in downtown Franklin restaurants in his spare time as he was on track to become an orthopedic surgeon. Now, Robert Counts finds himself on a very different path and already among some big names.
Counts grew up in Franklin, learning musical skills and finding musical passion in church, but, growing up in a working-class home, becoming a musician seemed like an unreasonable pipe dream.
“I grew up with two parents who were kind of working-class people — they both had day jobs — so they weren’t too keen on their son being a musician or being a songwriter or a country music artist as a career because it is very difficult,” Counts said. “I think growing up in Nashville kind of teaches you that too. You see a lot of people that try and fail.”
When it was time to prepare for a career, Counts studied biochemistry at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, and upon moving back to Franklin, he played shows at classic downtown venues, such as Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant and Grays on Main.
As he awaited his next venture into medical school to become a surgeon, one of his performances at Puckett’s got the attention of a music publisher.
Counts decided to put medical school on hold for a year, pick up some night shifts at BrickTop’s in Cool Springs, and write songs during the day, hoping someone big would pick up one of his tunes.
“The purpose of the first publishing deal was just for me to be a songwriter. That’s really all I wanted to do really just because I thought it was super, super difficult — and it is — to become an artist in town and to build a name up for yourself,” he said. “I was kind of more of a behind-the-scenes guy. I just thought I would be better at just crafting songs and seeing if Kenny Chesney would cut them.”
After four or five years, though, a colleague in the music industry encouraged Counts to record his own stuff, and in 2019, he released his self-titled debut EP, which received over 4.6 million streams online. This year, his newest single, “What Do I Know,” became the No. 2 most-added song to country music radio stations in its first week below Taylor Swift’s “betty."
“I took that little air check chart even though it wasn’t anything just because my name was right under Taylor Swift’s name,” he said. “Anytime you can get on a list with her, that’s great no matter what the capacity is.”
With vocals that lean towards rock and roll and lyrics full of what MusicRow describes as “blue-collar wisdom” and “redneck philosophy,” Counts said he draws from musical influences like Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, Alan Jackson and more, showcasing his blend of Americana, rock and country.
Counts said he’s working on new music currently and expects to have another song or two out this year before dropping a new album, likely in 2021.
“With my first EP, it was a little bit lighter and more songwriter focused, and I’ve been re-tooling and just kind of taking a blow torch to everything and trying to see this edgier rock side, trying to explore that a little bit,” he said, adding that people can expect the edgier sound of “What Do I Know” to carry into his next album.
For more information on Counts, visit RobertCountsMusic.com.