Sometimes it seems like country has forgotten its wild roots – or least outgrown them, changing as it has to reflect an ever-evolving world. Then there’s a guy like Colby Acuff.
A fourth generation Idaho native with a rugged spirit true to his mountain home, honest-to-a-fault lyrics and a sound as raw as the remote wilderness, Acuff’s untamed brand of country stands proudly apart in today’s format, pure and untouched by modern gimmicks.
Self-taught and largely self-contained, he’s already used it to find success on his own terms – and with new major-label backing from Sony Music Nashville, plans to do the same nationwide. ... Just don’t expect him to follow the pack.
“If you wanna do something right, you’ve gotta do it yourself,” Acuff says, speaking with the hardscrabble charm of an old-soul troubadour.
Hailing from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, a Rocky Mountain oasis near the very top of the continental U.S., that proudly-independent attitude forms the heart of Acuff’s outgoing personality – and a creative drive stretching all the way back.
Growing up, Acuff was always busy with three things – fishing, duck hunting and making music – and it was music that captured his imagination. He learned piano at 5, drums at 9 and guitar at 11, took the stage for the first time at 12 and was even writing songs by 15 – and even those early efforts were unique, inspired by bold artistic outliers.
Favorites included bluegrass trailblazers like Flatt & Scruggs, who broke away from the great Bill Monroe to go their own way, plus country “outlaws” like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson – some of the first to successfully buck the Nashville system. Even modern-day mavericks like Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers have his admiration, although Acuff has always followed his own winding path. So winding, in fact, he eventually wondered what else he could do ... and with typical go-your-own-way flair, went and found out.
Studying economics in college, Acuff excelled in finance, sold real estate for rent money and was even offered a job as a junior stockbroker – a cushy opportunity for any recent graduate. But he turned it down cold. He could have worked 15 years and been handed a successful business, Acuff explains. But that wasn’t him. As much as he bristled at the thought of office life, even worse would be following a course he didn’t chart himself.
Instead, Acuff became a fly-fishing guide, spending days on the river and selling out bars each night. The hometown hero traveled the Northwest releasing three independent albums from 2020 through 2022, including the “life changing” If I Were the Devil. A mix of plainspoken vocals, piercing lyrics and country heart as sturdy as Rocky Mountain granite, he dug deep into his soul and the wild country around him, with themes so vivid and distinct they were somehow universal.
From two-stepping honky tonk anthems with a frontier philosopher's eye, to serene campfire confessions, full of spiritual scar tissue and road-weary wisdom, each one was written solo and pulled straight from the life he actually lived – and because of that, none were your “typical” country song.
“I’ve never written for radio, I’ve never written for anything other than me and my fans – and I don’t write love songs,” Acuff says with a laugh. “My girlfriend hates that about me.”
Dark, stormy and desolate, “If I Were the Devil” was a fitting example and has now been streamed more than 27 million times. Meanwhile, Acuff’s career total has surpassed 42 million, and a new frontier lays ahead.
Working with acclaimed producer/engineer Eddie Spear (Zach Bryan, Brandi Carlile, Cody Jinks), Acuff’s first major label project is in motion, recorded with a new team of top-flight talent at Nashville’s Sound Emporium. Another batch of gritty, solo-written songs – plus the first ever co- writes of a promising career – it will help introduce a country talent as wild and free as the Idaho mountains themselves. But despite his new chapter, he’s got no plans of taming down.
“You’ve got two options: you can make music for you and the people who are gonna hear it, or you can make music for the people who are gonna pay for it,” Acuff says. “And I always lean toward making music for you and your fans.”