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The Meaning of Tyler Childers’ “Nose On The Grindstone”

Photo by David McClister.

Tyler Childers’ “Nose On The Grindstone” is another fan-favorite that has never appeared on a studio album, though it was given official release via the 2017 OurVinyl Sessions album. The song is based around growing up in a tough, blue collar home in Appalachia, with a son receiving advice from his hard-working father that he later struggles to follow.

Since Childers himself is from Appalachia, Eastern Kentucky to be exact, this song has an autobiographical lean to it that lends itself to an authenticity. Tyler’s raspy country voice adds yet another layer of authenticity, as he truly sounds like he’s been working up in the hills.

Tyler Childers – “Nose On The Grindstone” (OurVinyl Sessions)

“Nose On The Grindstone” Lyrics Meaning

Rather than rave about Tyler’s singing voice, which I could spend quite some time doing as this recording features some of the best of the best, I’m going to dive into a lyrical analysis of “Nose On The Grindstone” and highlight the themes and story being told.

Verse One

“Daddy worked like a mule minin’ Pike County coal”

His father was a hard-working coal miner in Pike County, Kentucky. This is true of Tyler Childers himself, who was born and raised in Lawrence County, KY, and his father, Cody Childers, worked in the coal industry (his mother’s a nurse).

“Til he fucked up his back and couldn’t work anymore”

An all-too-common fate of the blue collar man, especially in tough industries — a career-ending injury.

“He said one of these days, you’ll get out of these hills”

His father believed in him from the start, and told him that he won’t have to live the same hard life that he lived.

“Keep your nose on the grindstone and out of the pills”

Tyler should keep working hard and remain focused on his music, and stay away from drugs. Specifically, stay away from snorting crushed pills. This line is universal, though, and can be seen as sound advice for any young person entering adulthood.

This line is repeated at the end of each verse and chorus for the remainder of the song, adding emphasis to each layer of Tyler’s story.

Verse Two

“See, the ways of this world will just bring you to tears”

Tyler’s father warned him about the horrors of the world at large. Anybody living in the modern era doesn’t need this explained to them. It’s a tough place to be these days, for all of us.

“Keep the Lord in your heart, and you’ll have nothin’ to fear”

His father advises him to keep his faith in God, and that will give him the strength he needs.

“Live the best that you can and don’t lie and don’t steal”

Every day, we should try our best to be good to ourselves and the people around us.


“Well Daddy, I’ve been tryin’, I just can’t catch a break”

He’s doing his best, but things aren’t working out for him.

“There’s too much in this world that I can’t seem to shake”

It’s not just trying to stay on the straight and narrow, but also about digesting the horrors that show up in the news. He’s looking for something to help him numb that out.

“But I remember your words, Lord, they bring me the chills”

Still, his father’s advice echoes inside of him, and shakes him to his core.

Verse Three

“Keep in mind that a man’s just as good as his word”

Tyler’s father tells him that sticking to your word is the most important thing you can to as a man. This underlines the importance of integrity and accountability.

“It takes twice as long to build bridges you’ve burnt”

When a bridge is burned between two people, shattering their connection, it takes much longer to regain the trust that has been lost. This again emphasizes the importance of integrity and treating others with respect.

“And there’s hurt you can cause time alone cannot heal”

While some connections can be rebuilt, and foul actions forgiven, a man can also do unforgivable things that cannot be reconciled with the passing of time.

“Nose On The Grindstone” is a prime example of why Tyler Childers has become one of the most revered American songwriters. His songs are not only autobiographical, but universal, and resonate with people at the core of their connection to themselves and their families.

Enjoy another version of “Nose On The Grindstone,” this one from Red Barn Radio, below.

Tyler Childers – “Nose On The Grindstone” (Live on Red Barn Radio)