One of my favorite groups to interview are the finalists from the music competition shows. To make it to the finales of any of the shows, artists normally have talent in spades. The actual winners are often untouchable, but those who rank in the top 10 are usually fabulous performers.
Pryor Baird is no exception. From Season 14 of NBC’s The Voice in 2018, Baird had all four judges vying for him to be their team. While he would ultimately go with Blake, it didn’t really matter because not only could he sing with a bluesy Muddy Waters grit, he was different. And more importantly, he was memorable.
When I heard him sing, I didn’t care if he was on a show or not, I wanted to feature the soul singer. I wanted to know how he got started in blues.
Pryor Baird is from Old Orcutt, California. He told me, “There’s a saying: ‘You don’t pick the blues. The blues picks you.”
His first memory as a child was listening to a Jimmy Reed Live at Carnegie Hall record. He wasn’t quite three years old but stated it “was the most magnificent sound I’d ever heard.”
He relayed, “I remember listening to Muddy Waters. Freddy King is probably my favorite, and I remember listening to Freddy King’s voice and saying to myself, ‘When I get older, that’s exactly what I want to sound like.’”
Right then, he knew that that was exactly what he wanted his voice to sound like. He loved the sound of the Mississippi Delta Blues and the Chicago Blues. That incident as a child still informs the kind of music he sings and plays today.
He knew his path would be music and took guitar lessons for many years. Baird tended bar and had a blues band that played locally and throughout the country. Still, I wanted to know how the California native got to Nashville.
He explained, “There were a lot of people in my hometown who were musicians that never left. They were big fish in a little pond. I did not want that for myself.”
In 2011, Baird left and moved to Nashville with ten guitars, a suitcase, and a bed. He took his mattress and covered everything in the back of his Ford F150 truck with a tarp. His dad went with him. When he got to town, he had never been before, and he didn’t know anyone. He rented a house with a few others and got a job at the Union Stockyard waiting tables.
Baird never took the lower Broadway/honky tonk path that many young artists pursue but instead started playing with the previously popular Soulshine Family Band that leans way more into blues than country. He did everything he could to get on stage whenever it was possible.
He eventually got a more stable job doing construction and he had a friend who had been NBC’s The Voice. That friend recommended Baird to The Voice, and he got a call from them. He drove to Atlanta where he performed three songs for them and then was invited to be a part of season 18 in California.
Baird got a four-chair turnaround covering Humble Pie’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor” where he blew the judges and America away with his gritty blues anthem.
His performance of “I Was Wrong” for the Live Playoffs was spot on as was his cover of “Night Moves.” But what totally got my attention was his cover of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” I just couldn’t imagine someone besides Dolly, pulling it off, especially a guy. But Baird did it. And it was so good. I understood exactly why he was so popular that season.
Shortly after completing his stint on The Voice, Baird independently put out “The Kind You Write Songs About” which leans a bit more country.
He told me, “The blues weren’t accepted much in country music then. There was Travis Tritt. But Chris Stapleton was just getting started.”
He continued, “Everyone has those songs where they are making records and they really aren’t sure what they are doing. The songs are amazing. But they weren’t for me. I was so green, and I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Now Baird has signed with Black River Entertainment and has been writing hundreds of songs. His debut single with his new label, “You Are To Me” is the perfect song to showcase the heartfelt gravely blues timbre that fans came to love on The Voice.
“You Are To Me” is in the sweet spot of his vocal abilities and he knows he has found his lane.
He confirmed, “This song has been so much fun to work with and record. It’s perfectly written, it’s simple, and has a lot of air. It is exactly what I have been working toward for my entire life. I have a brand-new record coming out (soon), an amazing team, an amazing life, and I am very thankful for that.”
Even though Baird has a whole catalog of songs he has written to choose from, he did not write “You Are To Me.” But as soon as he heard it, he knew he wanted to cut the song.
Baird reminded me that country music was birthed from the blues and now people like himself and Stapleton are bringing it back to where it started.
“I love the soul of it. I love country music. I love the stories and the chords and the sounds all the feels that country music and blues give us. If you don’t like it, then turn it off,” he emphasized.
The soul singer’s personal philosophy is that if you "Work Hard, Dream Big, and Be a Good Human," anything is possible if you go for it.
Y’all hold onto your hats because Pryor Baird will be taking us on a ride. I can’t wait to see what he has coming next.
If you are in Nashville for CMA Fest, you can catch Pryor Baird and all Black River Entertainment artists at Barlines in the Omni Hotel on June 8-12.
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