Eric Church’s Nickname ‘Chief’ Is Actually A Hand-Me-Down From His Grandfather Rusty

A man wearing a hat and sunglasses with a microphone in front of him

Chief is probably the most iconic album cover in Eric Church’s catalog.

Recently, we celebrated 10 whole years since his monumental third studio-album was released.

It made Eric a household name in country music and became a fan-favorite to this day with the breakout #1 hits “Springsteen” and “Drink in My Hand”, among other great tracks.

Almost as recognizable as the music from the record was the album cover and title itself. It featured Eric in his now-legendary baseball cap and aviator sunglasses, and it became the branding and look that all of his fans know and love to this day.

When you think of Eric, and his nickname “The Chief”, you think of this photo. They’re synonymous with each other, and there’s actually a cool story behind both the cover and the nickname itself.

The cover photo was supposed to be part of a photoshoot with Busch Light.

As far as the nickname goes, it’s actually a sort of borrowed family hand-me-down from Eric’s maternal grandfather, Rusty. Rusty was the chief of police in the small town of Granite Falls in western North Carolina where Eric grew up.

When Eric first started playing in little bars and clubs, the lighting was so strong that his eyes would get really dry and his contacts would fall out on stage.

He’d be up there playing blind, essentially, which eventually prompted him to keep sunglasses on and wear the hat to keep the sweat off his face. If nothing else, it made him look like a police chief himself.

When he started playing bigger crowds, he tried to get away from wearing the hat and glasses on stage. But fans kept showing up to shows wearing the same exact thing, and he felt it had naturally just become a part of his brand, or really, his “show time uniform”, as he put it.

His band got a kick out of it, and they’d always call him “Chief” as a joke about his look before he went on stage:

“The band starting joking with me, when I put the hat and sunglasses on, they go ‘Alright, its Chief time, Chief’s here.’

Well, Chief became my nickname on the road, really as a joke…I laughed about it…but what they didn’t know, the really cool part of the story, my grandpa was the chief of police in Granite Falls, North Carolina.

Everybody called him ‘Chief’. Everybody.

My dad called him chief as his son-in-law, so it was just very neat to me, that across generations, it became my nickname naturally and nobody knew about it being my grandpa’s nickname, nobody.”

How cool is that?

With such an awesome, serendipitous story behind his affectionate nickname, there was no other option when it came to the perfect title for this particular record:

“When it came time to title the record, because it felt live, and because it was something I wanted to show — a part of the live show, Chief was the right title from my point of view, but also because of my grandfather and what he meant to me.

And I just thought it was the right title, and you know it happened so naturally, it happened so not thought out, you know. When I said the title of the record, I had to explain to everyone why, you know.

They were going, ‘What’s chief?’ ‘Well, Chief’s a nickname.’ Then it became a cool thing when they heard about it being my grandfather’s nickname, too.

It just felt like the perfect title to me.”

I think he was right…

Cheers to the Chief and the weekend coming soon:

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