"If you don't believe in yourself, nobody else will"
That's what Coffey Anderson realized the first time he held a guitar in his hands—and it transformed him from a college basketball star to a singer, songwriter and entertainer. As a kid growing up in Bangs, Texas, Coffey was pretty sure he'd be a basketball player. Quick on his feet and 6'5" by age 16, he never felt better than when he was out on the dirt road shooting hoops.
But there was always music in his home, and he'd been singing Gospel tunes for as long as he could remember. His first concert was a spontaneous performance for the neighbors from the back of his dad's pickup. At age 6, he joined the church choir alongside his mother and older sister. "We always had people coming to our house singing and for prayer meetings," Coffey says. "I felt like I went to church every day—or at least every other day—growing up." As musical as he was, basketball still came first. His achievements as an all-star player ultimately landed him a number of college scholarships. Coffey headed for Howard Payne University to play for the Yellow Jackets. But one night in 2002, his life took an unexpected turn.
"You can sing"
That night he was just a nervous guy headed over to his girlfriend's house to meet her father. He walked into a room lined with guitars. The man of the house took one off the wall and began to play—and Coffey started to sing along. "He looked at me and said ‘Boy, you can sing. Take this guitar home with you and learn how to play it" Coffey remembers.
He was surprised by the praise, but took it seriously. Starting to play with a Mel Bay beginner's book and a patient friend, he learned his first three chords: G, C and D. "I was so blown away to find out that you could play just about anything by starting with three chords."
In his own words: Hear where Coffey's been and where he's going
Coffey kept playing and singing in his dorm room, and soon people were lining the hallways to listen. So he moved down to the lobby, and more people came. Within 90 days of having picked up that guitar, a friend hooked him up with a gig to open for a touring band that was stopping by the university. Before the show, he went to meet the headlining act backstage. "Turned out it was Bart Millard of MercyMe—the very first band he opened for," he says. His shock was understandable: MercyMe had just released their debut album Almost There with the hit song "I Can Only Imagine."
Finding his voice
Following his first live show, Coffey didn't quit basketball, but his drive to play music took over his life. After graduating with a degree in Practical Theology and a minor in Spanish, he decided to take a radically different path. He began writing songs and used his bedroom closet as a studio to record an album. When he'd sold 350 copies, he headed for Los Angeles to test his talent.
He even auditioned for Season 2 of American Idol, making it to the Hollywood round as one of 75 finalists. "When you're from a place where everybody knows everybody…picking up and moving to another town on a whim—that's the hardest thing you could do," he says. Once in LA, he began crashing auditions and movie sets and singing on Santa Monica's famed Third Street Promenade. He brought down the house at open mic nights and won himself free studio time—which he used to record an 8-song demo. "It was an experience," he recalls. "You meet lots of people you don't trust, because there's not a lot of trust in this city…but you have to find a way to give yourself a chance." To do that, Coffey lived by one simple rule: "I never told myself ‘no.'" His next move was to embrace the publishing power of the Internet by posting videos on YouTube. In each video, Coffey showed viewers how to play pop songs, praise songs and some of his own tunes. Within 4 days of his first postings, he had 17,000 views. Within 7 days, that number climbed to 63,000.
All of Coffey's hard work paid off. In 2008, he auditioned for Nashville Star and was the first contestant of color to become one of the top 12 finalists. On his way to the top 4, he performed one of his original songs, "Southern Man." Finally, he had the chance to show America who he was while playing on a national stage. "Nashville Star was amazing. But it's an odd feeling to realize you're on TV. And that 12 million people are watching you," Coffey says.
"It's live—extremely live!" "I got to play so many of my favorite songs, from ‘Sweet Home Alabama' to ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads,' to ‘Umbrella' by Rihanna and even some Creedence Clearwater Revival." In the episodes leading up to the show's finale, the judges agreed that Coffey's performance of "Southern Man" showed "incredible charisma," but in the end classified him as "not country enough." Judge Jeffrey Steele told him, "You're a great showman…you're a star—I don't know if you're the next Nashville Star, but you're a star." That sparked Coffey's mission to write and sing music that couldn't be pigeonholed into just one category—whether it be pop, country, Christian or folk. "My music is for anyone who has ears," Coffey says with a grin. "I write songs you can listen to when you're feeling happy or feeling depressed, when you're hanging out with friends or having a night in with your girl…and also songs for worship." In his mind, it doesn't matter what you call it. But if he had to narrow it down, he'd describe his signature style as part of the "lifestyle genre."
Bringing Southern charm to pop music
Of course, taking Coffey out of Texas didn't take Texas out of Coffey. And to this day, he draws a lot of inspiration from his Texas roots and Baptist upbringing. That upbringing was profoundly changed by the loss of his mother, Gloria, just before his 11th birthday. She was a schoolteacher, an author of children's books and an activist for civil rights and women's rights. Her accomplishments inspired him to do what he does best: Inspire others. "I realized that life is short…and that the time to make a difference is now." To date, Coffey has released 4 albums. His first release, Inspiration Volume 1, lives up to its name with upbeat contemporary tracks like "All Ye," "Never Turn Back" and "Glory Glory." Southern Man followed, with other fan favorites like "Rock 'n' Roll Sally" and "Memphis." Soon after came the soulful acoustic release Me and You—where Coffey surprises listeners by blending folksy appeal with his beat-box. Most recently, Coffey released the two-volume set, Worship Unplugged, with a unique remix of Rihanna's "Umbrella" and a reprise of "All Ye." He's played with and opened for a diverse range of artists, including Chris Tomlin, Boyz II Men, John Michael Montgomery, Blake Shelton, Chris Cagle, Trace Adkins and Leeland.
Stepping into the spotlight
On April 30, 2010, Coffey signed his first record deal with Los Angeles label Dream Records. In typical Coffey fashion he shared the good news with his fans via live webcast with partner site Ustream.tv. Now he's in the studio recording his next album, which is scheduled to be released September 28, 2010. Inspiration is something that comes easily for him, and that's why he's built his new album around that theme. It's still driven by his unique acoustic sound, but with a new twist. "My mission is to take inspirational music that you might hear on Sunday and turn it into something you want to listen to all week," he explains. "You want that message to get you through the week—that you are going to carry on and make it through this, whatever you're dealing with."
Until the new release, Coffey has a message for his fans that's a lot like the mantra he lived by as he was just starting out… "You're just one ‘yes' away from something good happening for you. Give yourself a chance, and watch that ‘yes' come."
A wonderful artist| Posted November 09, 2010
You can tell that Coffey loves God and God's people. I first started listening to his music on myspace.com (even though I don't have one :P) a year or so ago. I got hooked on the fact that his worship music is sincere and you can hear the sincerity in his voice and a true love of God shines through in his lyrics.
What Christian Music has been Missing| Posted November 01, 2010
Coffey Anderson is a sound that I have been hoping would infiltrate CCM. We always seem to be one step behind the rest of the world when it comes to music styles. But Coffey Anderson and his acoustic guitar bring us to that late night, coffee drinking, time on the couch in the dorm sound CCM music has needed for a long time.
Wonderful Artist!| Posted October 19, 2010
I love, love, love listening to Coffey Anderson. His worship songs are amazing and I became a fan by listening to his music on youtube and myspace. I recommend his songs to everyone I know. I think his music is tops!