NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - If Luke Bryan had a different birthday, he might have been a star athlete instead of a music star.
He was born on July 17th. That meant he made the Georgia age cut-off to start kindergarten barely a month after his fifth birthday and was grouped in with other kids who were sometimes a year ahead of him developmentally.
"I was the youngest kid in my grade," said Bryan. "If I would've been held back a year, I don't even know if I would even be doing what I'm doing, because I think I would've been further down the road athletically," Bryan said in a recent interview. "I think because I wasn't the best baseball player at the time or whatever, I kind of focused more on music and it took me down a whole "nother path."
Bryan, 35, is thankful for how things turned out. Last month, he released his third studio album, "Tailgates and Tanlines" and it debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's country albums chart with more than 145,000 copies sold in its first week. He is also launching his first major headlining tour this week, and last week, he garnered a CMA nomination in the new artist category.
"I think he is one of the most on-fire artists right now," said Lady Antebellum's Dave Haywood, who co-wrote Bryan's first No. 1 hit, "Do I," with Bryan and Lady A's Charles Kelley. "I think he's our next big superstar. He's such an entertainer."
Bryan has built on the success of his sophomore album, "Doin' My Thing," which produced three back-to-back No. 1 singles. He co-wrote eight of the 13 songs on the new album, including the lead-off single, "Country Girl (Shake It For Me)." The song was a top five hit and has registered over 1 million downloads.
"I think with this one, I've just been able to put together a more well-rounded album than I guess than the previous two," said Bryan. "This one, I just felt like it's got a little bit of everything that people may want on there. I've got a couple songs on there that are a lot more serious than I've ever done, and then I've got some fun and light stuff. Case in point, "Country Girl (Shake It For Me)' being about as fun and as light as you can get."
Bryan penned the tune with Dallas Davidson, his long-time friend and one of Nashville's most sought-after songwriters, thanks to hits written for acts like Blake Shelton and Keith Urban. Davidson and Bryan grew up in the same area of Georgia and went to college together.
"Luke is at the top of his game right now," said Davidson. "I've always told my publisher, "Luke Bryan gets first shot at any of my songs.' That's the law."
Bryan's music has always attracted a young crowd. He puts out a "Spring Break" EP each year filled with uptempo, party songs and performs at spring break destinations. He wanted "Tailgates and Tanlines" to reflect that spirit but also reveal a new depth.
"I always want my music to be fun and young first of all, but then when you hear a great song like "I Knew You That Way," and you know that people are going to hear that and really apply it in their lives, I don't think you can let that song slip away," Bryan said. "A song like "You Don't Know Jack' is kind of the same deal, a real song that gets you thinking about life."
After a summer opening for Tim McGraw, the married father of two is ready to headline his own shows. Bryan kicks off CMT on Tour Thursday in Huntington, W. Va., with special guests Lee Brice and Josh Thompson.
"I'm kind of out here trying to put the songs out there that make me a bigger artist, an artist that can hopefully headline big arenas one day and provide for a better life for my immediate family, and all this extended family I'm kind of coming to learn (about)," he said with a laugh.