Drake White has dealt with a long road to recovery following an unexpected health crisis that nearly took his life. Now, he’s back in full force with a tour and a brand new album.
Fans will recall in 2019, the Alabama native collapsed on stage at his show at Elmwood Park’s amphitheater in Roanoke, Virginia. It was later revealed that he suffered a stroke due to arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which Mayo Clinic describes as a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain. At the time, doctors told White that he may never perform again. However, he managed to beat the odds.
White spent over a month in the hospital and underwent multiple surgeries, treatments, and therapies. Although he was thrust into the unknown, and forced to go through what is considered one of the darkest times in his life, White refused to give up and kept pushing forward with the mentality that he would come out stronger on the other side. It’s a positive mindset that he says comes through in his faith and his upbringing.
“I was optimistic before, during, and through this crazy time. I’m not saying that to pat myself on the back because it was not me. It’s not in my hand or any other earthly hand that I can do that. I could’ve never done that, so I’m not taking credit for that. I’m giving all of the credit to him – to God. And that’s where the optimism comes from,” White told Country Now. “Since I was a kid. Every time I baited the hook, I felt like I would catch a fish. Every time I went up to bat, I felt like I would hit a home run. And with music, I thought that I had something. I believed that I would eventually win ACM [awards] and CMA [awards] and be at Madison Square Garden, packing it out. It’s something that I get from my family and my mom. It’s a way of thinking that my faith and my following of Jesus is a big part of, where it’s like I know that it’s all been bought and paid for, and I just have to step into it.”
Forcing himself to stay positive by facing the mysteries of his illness with a head-on approach eventually created a ripple effect of progress for White. Slowly but surely, he began to regain the use of his left side and was able to work his fingers on the guitar, which sparked a motivation in him to write and return to music. But as he began to find his footing, navigating the treacherous waters of his health, people on the outside were in the midst of dealing with a different world health crisis. Artists were being pulled off tours, and businesses were closing.
White had to figure out how to make music work again.
“Once I got off my walker and everything and actually relearned how to walk, all I wanted to do was write. I called my publisher and asked him to set me up with some writings,” White said, recalling a conversation he had in early 2020. “He said, ‘Drake, this pandemic is serious. It has set in, and nobody is meeting at the publishing house or anything. He said, ‘Would you be interested in writing on Zoom? I said, ‘Man. I will write smoke signals or Morse code. I don’t care.”
Not only did White begin taking Zoom writing sessions, but he also started entertaining folks every Wednesday evening through a live series dubbed Wednesday Night Therapy. For White, those live sessions not only allowed him to reconnect with fans after his stroke, but they also began the process for what has become his newest album, fittingly titled The Optimystic.
“We started trying these songs out on the live show from my barn, and we got to see first-hand people responding to the songs and commenting on the songs, and it basically sculpted the record,” White explained, describing the theme of the record as “the art of keeping your glass half full through the mystery of life.”
“During those 80 weeks in that barn, I was pushing through the injury. I was pushing through writing on Zoom and dodging the challenges that the pandemic and the stroke posed. That’s what formed the record,” he added. “The times that we are dealing with as artists, that’s what forms the record and the things that you are hearing. That’s what forms ours. I’m a human being living life, and my art is a mirror of that.”
Co-produced with The Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston, The Optimystic serves as White’s first album of five years. Stacked with 14-tracks, 12 of which he co-penned, listeners will find songs of inspiration, simpler times, romance, life, and the power of resilience.
Tracks like “50 Years Too Late” and “It Takes Time” were written over a decade ago. Then, there’s “Giants,” a fearless ode to those standing tall in the face of adversity. Closing the project is a recording of “Amazing Grace,” performed by White’s grandfather’s parish with his father and grandmother leading the choir.
At the heart of the album, though, is a song called “Hurts the Healing,” which serves as a mirror to what White has been through over the last two years.
“That’s, you know, the most honest that I could be about the process that we went through with the stroke and the pandemic,” White said. “I am proud of that song. It’s simply the heart of it. I can’t tell you how many times people have said, ‘‘Hurts The Healing’ kept me from literally suicide or it kept me from doing something stupid. I heard it and knew I wasn’t alone.’ There’s nothing else than that right there that creates a sense of purpose and belonging. It fulfills me. We’re in a competitive business, but put all of that aside because I just wrote this about my experience and my life. That’s what I do. No matter what, my music is going to sound how my life is going. That’s just a fact. So there were a lot of special stories, but those are a couple of things that I’ll never forget.”
Another track on the record, “Power of a Woman,” celebrates powerful women around the world. And the one who inspired the song is his wife, Alex. The country singer opened up about his wife’s role in his support system and said that the uphill battles of his illness strengthened their bond tremendously.
“When you face something like being paralyzed or a pandemic, and you have all of the fat and insulation stripped, you find out who is standing there with you,” White said. “That was Alex and my family, but it was Alex every day – all the way from helping me use the bathroom and bathe to getting me back on my feet. Because it was bad. There were so many things going through my head. I thought my time was over. My window of opportunity was over. I’ll never do it again, or I’ll never walk again. We’ll never have kids, or I will never be able to have kids or do this. Those things go through your mind. Having a partner to sit there and go, ‘No. You will walk again, and this is why,’ and then quoting scripture or ‘You will do this again, and this is why.’ That is a true partnership. And then when she would be weak and whenever her rope was short. When she slipped and was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore, it’s just too much,’ I would find the strength to be strong. That’s a partnership. It’s like, for us, that bond was strengthened tremendously through the hard times. That’s what the scripture is about. Consider it a great challenge and honor to go through something tumultuous because that’s what makes the songs better, the book better, the marriage better, the kids, and the experience. It makes the good times better and worth it.”
After completing a round of shows as a supporting act on Whiskey Myers’ tour, on April 1, White launched his headlining The Optimystic Tour with special guest Kasey Tyndall. Of the trek, he says he’s finding a deeper connection with the fans.
“The people at the shows are just different. There’s a palpable connection with them. Now we have this story of the bear attack and surviving a very tough time,” he said. “You know, it’s one thing to come to a show and sing back the songs that you know, but every song is being sung, and every person is just – there’s a lot of phones in the air at certain times, but a lot of the time I will look, and there won’t be a phone. People are just in it and realize that the story I am telling from the stage makes them be in the moment. It helps them realize that. Man. This is something I’m going to carry with me. It’s like a revival or church. That’s what it feels like. It feels like a revival, and if you drink through church or whisky, that’s the kind of church that we’ve got.”
Reflecting on his return to the road, White says, “It’s something that we can stick in the ground and say, ‘You know what? We’re still here.’ We’re thankful and have a lot of momentum. It felt like the ship got to smooth water, and we got our sails up, and we’re able to do what we love again.”
As for the album, he says, “It is so apparent to me now after almost dying in a hospital at 36, it’s so apparent to me that this life is great. You can look at the good, or you can look at the bad, but it’s a better life when you can look at the good. I’ve done both. So that’s what I want people to see when they hear the record.”
White’s The Optimystic Tour, which has him making stops in 20 cities, including St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Nashville, wraps on May 21. In August, White will head overseas for a run of shows in the United Kingdowm. Click HERE for a full list of tour dates.