Chad Bushnell's Nashville Journey
By Melissa Mendonca
Photo: Studio 530 Photography
Nineteen years ago, Wade and Donna Bushnell packed up their young family on a Sunday morning and headed off to the Cowboy Church service at Cottonwood’s Auction Yard. Their young 4-year-old, Chad, came away with not only a lesson in the Gospel, but his first guitar instruction.
His dad, a musician in the Iron Canyon Band, took note of his son’s interest and began teaching him the guitar himself. Before long, young Chad was playing “Folsom Prison Blues.”
“It always interested me more than anything else,” Chad says about music. “I wrote my first real song when I was 15 or 16. It’s called ‘Broken Hearted Man.’”
Now 23, Chad released his first full length CD in April, and in August he landed an alternate spot on American Country Star, a nationwide country music contest based in Nashville.
Chosen as one of the top 15 contestants, he grew leaps closer to his country music superstar dreams when he traveled to the country music capital in October for the final rounds of the competition.
“It was cool to be in front of the record labels. The Curb Record guys were there and I got to perform in front of them,” he says with the enthusiasm of someone who’s been waiting his whole life for such an opportunity.
While Chad enjoys performing the works of great songwriters, he also plans to join their ranks. He wrote eight of the 10 songs on his album and continues to hone his skills. “Some of them are about rodeo, some of them are love songs—anything between those two,” he says with a smile. “‘Texas Sized Heart Attack’ is what got me through the contest. It’s my newest and best song.”
He was able to perform that song on Renegade Radio in Nashville, a perk of his standing in the American Country Star competition. Other highlights were performing at the Silver Dollar Saloon and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, where George Jones was discovered.
Chad grew up in rodeo and now makes a living as a horseshoer, a skill he learned from his dad. “I started working with my dad during summers in high school,” he says. “I’ve been on my own for 4 or 5 years now. That’s what I did throughout college.”
He graduated in May with a business administration degree from Chico State University. After graduating Red Bluff High School, where he says he learned a lot about his voice as a choir member, he enrolled at Shasta College, where he continued to learn from Dr. Elizabeth Waterbury.
Chad loves the country music of the 1980s and
1990s because “it’s more real” and includes more steel guitar and fiddle. As he writes his own songs, he looks to the singers and songwritersof these eras for inspiration.
He’s thrilled to have had the opportunity to play with the sons and grandsons of some of his favorites while in Nashville, including the progeny of Red Sovine and Merle Haggard.
While Chad has big dreams of Nashville success, he stays busy in his hometown of Red Bluff and throughout the North State. “I like the community,” he says of Red Bluff. “I’ve always been involved.”His first gig was at the Little Miss Tehama County contest, and he went on to sing the National Anthem at junior rodeos and high school football games.
“My first big show was the State Convention for Future Farmers of America. I was a sophomore in high school and it was just me and my guitar.” He’s since been an opening act for North State concerts by James Otto, Billy Currington, Scotty McCreery, Tracy Lawrence, Mark Wills and Neal McCoy.
Though Chad looks to days gone by for his artistic inspiration, he’s gone a completely modern route in putting together his band. “I have a group of guys right now that are pretty consistent. They’re full time and they’re all my age,” he says of the musicians he found on Craigslist. “They’re not really country guys, but they’re really good.”
Also on his team is his mom, Donna, who serves as his manager. “There can be all these important people in a room and my mom can just go up and talk to them,” he says. “I don’t know how she does it.”
Chad has just released two songs on iTunes and hopes to develop a tour on the fair circuit or to become an opening act on an extended tour of a more recognized musician.
“I’m sure I’m going to be shoeing horses for awhile,” he says. “But I sure hope this music thing works out. My goal now is to get that right song.” •