Editor’s Note: Reporter Barbara Layton was invited by United Parcel Service to ride-along with delivery driver Johnny Staats, who is a 30-year veteran employee with the company and a renowned bluegrass musician. To get the full experience, Layton had to wear an official UPS uniform and accompany Staats on his deliveries.
Johnny Staats is more than a delivery boy. He is a musician who could have fame and fortune but decided to keep his day job.
And it’s a decision he doesn’t regret.
A 1987 graduate of Ripley High School, Staats began working for United Parcel Service not long after his high school years ended. In June of 1988, his career in the big brown truck began. His love of people and driving the countryside has only grown over the years.
As a driver for UPS, Staats has been down every backroad in almost every county in West Virginia. He’s spent most of his time in Calhoun and Jackson counties.
His company issued “handy little location device” at his side, Staats finds himself on backcountry roads unfit for most vehicles, let alone a 2-wheel-drive huge brown box truck. Without skipping a beat, he delivers for his customers day-in and day-out – whether it’s clothes, toys, groceries or whatever.
But Staats is more than a UPS driver; he is a driver with a passion for music.
“Melodies pop in my head as I drive,” he said.
He comes from a family of musicians. His father played guitar, his sister played banjo, his mother played piano, and his uncle Glen played the fiddle. At age 8, his father gave him his first instrument, a mandolin. From that point on, Staats was always picking.
Every Sunday afternoon growing up, Staats and his family would head over to his “grandma’s” house for some homemade beans and “taters.” Once supper was done, they would gather on the front porch for a bluegrass jam session.
“Those were simpler times back then,” he recalls. “People just don’t do things like that anymore.”
His love for music of all genres kept growing as the years went by, from country to rock, gospel, and – more than anything – bluegrass. With the support of his wife, Lori, he entered every competition he could find and played whenever he could. He was able to record a series of demos with Nashville bluegrass stars.
In 2000, Staats was offered the chance of a lifetime. His God-given talent earned him a record label deal with Giant Records, and he released his first album, “Wires and Wood.”
Overnight, it seemed as if he had become a star. Soon, calls were coming into the UPS office from people looking for Johnny Staats. He was being offered spots on TV and radio shows, as well as big-time gigs with famous artists.
Staats recalled being on a delivery and getting a message from his wife saying someone in California had placed a large order of his “Wires and Wood” album. He was curious as to who in California would know about him, a little old country boy from West Virginia.
His wife said the name on the order was John Fogerty.
“I was in shock. The only John Fogerty I knew was the man from CCR,” he said.
Sure enough, a few days later he received a personal e-mail from Fogerty himself confirming his identity. He wanted to let Staats know he was a big fan and the Wires and Wood album was his favorite bluegrass album of all time. “I couldn’t believe it,” Staats said in awe.
Staats went on to play with artists such as Brad Paisley, Ricky Skaggs, and Kathy Mattea, to name a few. He did tours in the US and overseas. He appeared in People magazine, on CNN and Good Morning America, and was interviewed for an article in The New York Times.
But throughout all this, Staats just didn’t know if being famous was for him.
UPS was great in working with his newfound stardom. He was able to take off for shows and events.
“They were always good to me,” he said.
Staats loved his day job with UPS. They provided him with a great career, allowing him to work Monday through Friday with weekends off, not to mention a great benefits package and freedom to do what he needed to do.
What he enjoyed most was the security UPS gave him and his family. He knew with UPS, they would always have what they needed.
“The music industry is crazy; one day, you’re eating steak, and the next day, it’s beans,” he said.
Staats knew he had a huge decision to make – fame and fortune, or family and security. One thing he knew was that he was addicted to music. Not knowing which way to go, he turned to his father. His father told him it was his decision to make, but to remember to keep music fun.
After much thought, Staats decided to keep his day job and continue his music locally.
“I took dad’s advice and I have no regrets. Money isn’t everything,” he said.
Staats has seen the music industry and what it can do to families.
“I didn’t want to watch my girls grow up in pictures,” Staats admitted.
Staats still plays in four bands: Johnny Staats and the Delivery Boys, The Johnny Staats Project, Soul’d Out, and Staats and Shaffer. He makes appearances all over West Virginia. This year alone he has 80 shows to perform.
In June 2018, he celebrated 30 years at UPS and was presented with a plaque for this great achievement. When asked how much longer he would deliver packages, he said, “I’m 49, so maybe three to five more years.”
For now, working at UPS and making music is just fine for Staats.
Pretty much every day during his lunch break, Staats climbs into the back of the big brown truck, pulls out his mandolin and does a little picking.