Country newcomer Heath Sanders will thank God for calloused hands. Had he spent a decade wearing the treads off his fingertips playing guitar instead of in an oil field swinging the tools of the trade, he'd have probably wasted his talents. The "Old School's In" singer is proof that one need not rush to chase a dream.

In fact, the Arkansas native needed a push from Mama to get him to Nashville. That's how it is in small town America when there's no one to show you the way.

“I think it’s all about survival out there," Sanders tells Taste of Country with nothing but fondness for his hometown and the thousands like it across America. "If you got dreams of something, you kind of put it on the backburner just to make a living. That’s kind of what I always told Mom.”

"Old School's In" is Sanders' debut single on the Valory Music Co. and one of four songs released on his Common Ground EP in January. Enjoy this acoustic performance of the song — made exclusive to our readers — as you learn more about his story.

A good paycheck like the one Sanders took home back then is usually enough to seal the coffin on a dream, but a letter from his mother changed his perspective. He didn't tell Taste of Country about its contents during a Zoom conversation, but he did stress that it came at the exact right time. He'd spent the last four or five years working by himself in those oil fields, taking time to come to conclusions about who he is as a person and what this world is made of.

"I don’t think I’d be here if it weren’t for the oil field and that opportunity to just get out there and swing a hammer," the straight-to-the-point 30-something says.

Sanders helped write all four songs on Common Ground. Each draws upon one of those conclusions about life, love, commitment and hard work. He'd write eight days a week if it were possible, but admits he didn't really get serious about song craft until three years ago. Early sit-downs with writers like Jeremy Bussey ("Common Ground") shifted his position on the Nashville music community.

“Even though there's a lot of glitter on top," he says, "it's really just good ol' country boys and girls keeping this thing rolling."

Great ideas come to him at home, on the road, onstage, in the car — heck, he even wakes up at night with a melody he'll need to record in some way. Sanders' work ethic and no-frills approach have lined up well with a certain group of Music Row songwriters, which is something he'd never have imagined.

"I've never had a big circle of friends and I've never been much of a small talker," he admits, sharing his anxiety about commercial songwriting. "It just don't sit well with me. Typically if I sit down with somebody, we're diving off into religion or politics or science or something pretty quick, which is kind of off-putting to some people."

"Old School's In" leans into all of it. "They say the bell rang / Class let out a long time ago / And the world ain’t ever goin’ back to the way we know it / Well call me crazy / But I wouldn’t buy that lie even if they paid me / I think we got a pretty damn good thing goin," he sings to begin.

Marshall, Ark., is a town where nothing changes and the people are proud of it.

"Where time still crawls, the flag still flies / Mama still cooks and God won’t die / Dogs still hunt, men man up / A little bit of red just runs in your blood / Yes sir,yes ma’am, handshake deals / Right still rules, keepin’ it real / Three chords and the truth ain’t goin’ nowhere / Yeah old school’s still in out here."

"Since I was born, I think we got a new gas station and a new bank," he says with pride and a thick drawl. "Nothing changes out there, and they enjoy that."

"There's nothing wrong with progress — but there's nothing wrong with staying right where you are and just admiring what built the foundations of your culture and who you are."

Casey Beathard and Houston Phillips helped Sanders write "Old School's In." Kyle Jacobs and Ben Hayslip also have songwriting credits on the Common Ground EP.

Valory Music Co.

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