Canadian chart-topper hitting CN Centre stage

The man at the top of the nation's country chart is also at the top of the Prince George events calendar this week.

If you check the Billboard list for this week, the No. 1 song in Canadian country right this second is Who's Gonna Love You by Tebey, and Tebey (pronounced Tay-Bay) is at CN Centre tonight. He's opening for Tim Hicks on the Get Loud Tour, and the audience is once again turning up the volume for this unique artist in the national music family.

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What makes him unique is just how many times and ways he's been high on the charts, both here in Canada and across the line in the U.S. You know that recent Gord Bamford hit Dive Bar? That song was written by Tebey.

You know that smash single Somebody Else Will by Justin Moore? Yup. That also had Tebey's pen involved.

All on his own, Tebey has been pumping out his own hits since 2003. For a guy who's only 35, you do the math. Back then, he was playing hockey in his two hometowns of Peterborough and Burlington, and was an all-Canadian wide receiver who gave his verbal "yes" to play Big 10 college football at Northwestern University just before BNA Records called on him to be a recording artist in Nashville (he'd been on a development record deal since he was 15) and legendary music industry figure Bruce Allen offered to be his manager.

Nashville, it was.

With all that Music City momentum also came a writing contract with Warner Chappel Music. When his solo record We Shook Hands (Man To Man) was a U.S. hit, it looked like he was on his way, but future recordings stalled. But his compositions didn't. He was the scribe for a who's who of other artists, and that profession soon took over for him.

He wrote a duet for Teairra Mari and Flo Rida, he struck deep in the U.K. for Pixie Lott, got a No. 1 co-write hit with Rex Goudie, Big & Rich used one of his songs, he got a co-write No. 1 hit with Shawn Desman, American girl group Fifth Harmony took on one of his tracks, The Veronicas down in Australia picked one of his songs as their own, and it got even bigger when Cher tapped his skills, and One Direction flew him to London to work with them directly in the studio using a pair of Tebey's songs.

He was going deep as a songwriter, and as the list of credits indicates it was not just for country artists. But country is where his heart was and the stage kept pulling at him.

"The need to perform, the urge, the drive, to get up on stage every night and sing your own songs never really goes away, you just kind of suppress it," Tebey told The Citizen. "I was having success writing songs for other people but there was a band called Emerson Drive that took me out on the road with them, they became really good friends of mine early on, and I'd stand side-stage and watch these guys get up and play the songs I had written to thousands of people and I just said to myself 'I can do that, too, that is where I started.' And here we are."

He and Emerson Drive went to the top of the charts together when Tebey really focused on coming back as a performer. Tebey loved the dance track Wake Me Up (When It's All Over), and he asked Emerson Drive to join him on a country cover version. It made the Top 100 on the Canadian pop charts, it was so well received, and hit No. 5 on the Canadian country charts. He had a handful of singles already under his belt, at that point, that made him an irrefutable star.

Now it seems like he can't miss. All that hit-writing he did for other people is now working on his own behalf. Earlier this year he released the tune Denim On Denim and it plowed into the Top 5 and is already certified gold, then his current single Who's Gonna Love You went all the way to No. 1, that's where it is today, and it's not even close to finished its trajectory.

"Having songs on the radio is one thing, but when a song truly connects with the listener, you can see it. It really does grow your brand and grow your fan base, and we saw it with Denim On Denim," he said about his sing-along song that feels like one of those destined to be more than a one-time hit. It has that memorable quality that keeps a song alive long after the charts let it go.

"It's crazy to me, because I've been writing songs for a long time, I've had some success, but that one surprised me, it really, really did," he said. "I loved it but I thought the chorus was too simple, and I think as a singer it is too easy to complicate things, and I always felt that it needed more, for some reason. But I was obviously wrong, and I'm glad I was. I'll admit that I didn't even want to write that title. It was my co-writer Kelly Archer who is from B.C., actually, and she's a huge songwriter in Nashville, she had two No. 1s last year; she wrote Sleep Without You for Brett Young which was a massive song, and she and I wrote (Somebody Else Will) that went No. 1 last year as well."

Tebey could honestly put out an album of all the quality songs he's written for other people but never recorded himself. He said he hadn't thought of reclaiming them in that way, but he had toyed with the idea of putting the original demo tracks out into the public. His voice on songs that are only known under other voices would be potentially fascinating for the public, now that they know Tebey for his own stage presence and singing voice - a voice he's figuratively maintained throughout his writing process.

"I learned a long time ago that I don't want to tailor songs for certain people because I find, if you do that, you're behind the curve," he said. "For instance Carrie Underwood doesn't want to sing again what she just did on the last record, she wants to turn a corner, she wants to try something different, so if you try to write something for what an artist has already done, I find that that doesn't work. But I will admit, and Gord Bamford knows this, that I wrote Dive Bar with Blake Shelton in mind, just because I thought lyrically it was bang on for him, but they passed on it, that's totally fine, and I'm good enough friends with Gord that I could be this forward with him and said 'hey man, if Blake Shelton doesn't cut it, you can have it. Full stop.' It's a little forward, but in the end I was right, I got lucky. I really don't send out a lot of songs, actually. I like to have higher quality than higher quantity."

He'll have his best in full view tonight as he, Andrew Hyatt and headliner Tim Hicks get loud at CN Centre.

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