Abe Stoklasa, Nashville Musician and Songwriter, Dies at 38

Nashville songwriter and musician Abe Stoklasa, known for writing songs for Tim McGraw, Charlie Worsham, Chris Lane and trio Lady A, has died at age 38, Billboard has confirmed. He passed away on Nov. 17 of undisclosed causes.

The Princeton, Missouri, native found his passion for music early, playing in his father’s band by the age of six.

“I have always been a musician,” Stoklasa previously told The Shotgun Seat of his musically formative years. “My dad had a little ransom style show in the midwest — we did like 70 shows a year — so from two years old I was singing on the stage. At like six years old my dad threw me in the band as the keyboard player, sink or swim. So that’s how I learned to play music.” 

He grew up immersed in the music his father loved — music from 1950s through 1970s — soaking in the influence of Elvis, Merle Haggard, The Beatles and James Taylor.

Stoklasa’s family moved to Tennessee when he was a teen, and he soon enrolled at Nashville’s Belmont University. After graduation, he joined David Nail’s road band as a steel guitar player. He briefly spent time pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music in Coral Gables, Florida — though soon, his passion for doing music, not just studying it, drew him back on the road. He joined Billy Currington’s band for three years, including a stint opening for Kenny Chesney’s 2011 Goin’ Coastal stadium tour.

In 2013, Stoklasa decided to leave the road to focus on songwriting. His writing talents would catch the ears of Nashville mainstays such as Mike Reid (a writer on Ronnie Milsap’s “Stranger in My House”) and Mark D. Sanders (Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance,” Reba McEntire’s “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”).

Stoklasa was a writer on Chris Lane’s 2016 No. 1 Country Airplay hit “Fix” and crafted songs recorded by Tim McGraw (“Portland, Maine”), David Nail (“Lie With Me”), Billy Currington (“Give It To Me Straight”), Charlie Worsham (“Call You Up,” “The Beginning of Things”), Scotty McCreery (“Here and Ready”), Blake Shelton (“A Girl”) and Lady A (“Ocean”).

Stoklasa told Music Row in 2016, “For a long time, ‘Beginning of Things’ was my favorite song that I was very proud of. I wrote it with Donovan Woods and Charlie Worsham just cut it. It’s so songwriter-y, in that there are two or three levels and meanings to the lyrics that you will not get on one or two listens, which is a fun puzzle to put together. The whole story is made up with some influences in real life, but it was just an exercise in a certain way to be Shakespearean in a way. But I would feel confident handing that to Paul Simon, and I wouldn’t do that with any of my other songs.”

At the time, Stoklasa also expressed his gratitude for artists including Currington, Nail and Kelley working with him, saying, “Billy Currington, he was the first person to care about my songwriting. David Nail is a good friend, we don’t even have to talk about music. We both experienced a lot of firsts together on a tour bus. Charles Kelley has always been like a brother to me. He’s an amazing writer. We’ve written songs other people have cut… and he likes to cut my songs!”

Stoklasa contributed heavily to Lady A member Charles Kelley’s 2016 solo album, The Driver, including “Leaving Nashville,” “Your Love,” “Dancing Around It” and the Grammy-nominated title track, which also featured vocals from Dierks Bentley and Eric Paslay.

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“Abe was otherworldly,” Kelley said in a tribute posted on his Instagram page. “I always knew his mind moved at a pace I could never comprehend. He was confidence and self doubt all wrapped in one. He frustrated me and inspired me all at the same time. He was a true enigma in every sense of the word, but aren’t the most talented musicians and artists that way? He was a musician’s musician and carried one of the most authentic voices in this town. I’ll never listen to the songs we shared together the same or forget the moments we had onstage and on the late night bus rides. Nashville will never see another Abe Stoklasa. I’ll miss you my soft spoken friend.”

Nail said of Stoklasa in an Instagram post, “He was beyond unique, and beyond talented. He was a true genius. That word gets tossed around a lot these days, but he was the definition! In the early years of me touring, many of you will remember we had a steel guitar player. That was Abe. He could make it sound like anything you needed. He was brilliant. We weren’t meant to be on the road together, and once he left The Well Ravens, we got closer than ever before. I was so proud when he got off the road for good, to focus on songwriting, something that he was a natural at. He immediately became a hit in the songwriting community. His voice? Oh, he sang like a 50 year old. Soulful, and weathered beyond anything I’d ever heard from a 25 year old young man.”

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Worsham also offered up heartfelt memories of his friendship with Stoklasa, saying in a social media video, “I first met Abe Stoklasa through Derek Wells, when I was putting a band together to play the Ernest Tubb Record Shop Midnight Jamboree. He was wickedly hilarious and wickedly talented. I’d never met anyone who could play steel guitar and saxohone really well, and who loved Vince Gill and Aretha Franklin with equal depth … he was so principled and so kind and caring.” Worsham recalled that the last time they wrote together, they penned a song inspired by the television series The Golden Girls, called “Dorothy and Rose.” “It was probably the best song I wrote in six months,” Worsham said, “’cause that’s just how good Abe was … I loved him dearly, as we all did, who knew him.”

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