Sam Riggs was flying a single-engine plane from Austin, Texas, to San Angelo in the spring of 2017 when he heard the oddest sound: Nothing. Catastrophic engine failure. He'd lost all power, and had about 6,500 feet to figure out how to escape a potentially fatal problem.
"There was," he admits, "a moment of panic, a moment that felt very surreal."
But Riggs pulled it together. With the help of air traffic control, he found an abandoned airstrip on a Lone Star cattle ranch and touched down without a scratch. One of his most perilous moments ended up becoming one of his smoothest landings as a pilot.
It's something of a metaphor for Riggs' life. He's a wild live performer, an inveterate risk-taker and an enthusiastic adventurer. As a self-sustaining, independent singer/songwriter, he's taken a leap of faith on more than one occasion, always willing to back up his plunges with a voracious amount of work. So he shrugs it off a bit when he thinks about how close he came to the edge in his aviation exercise.
"That's just how my life has always gone," Riggs says with a laugh. "I've sort of become used to it."
The sense of daring is a key element in Riggs' brand of country, a rock-infused sound with a chip on its sonic shoulder from a guy who counts Garth Brooks, Foo Fighters, George Jones and Blink-182 among his influences. Between the swampy, thumping hard-rock crunch of "Angola's Lament," the mysterious darkness of "Long Shot" and the feverish snarl of "High On A Country Song," all of those raucous, rebellious elements find their place inside the boundary-pushing attitude on the two albums and two EPs Riggs has created on his own dime since 2010.
The music has become an essential piece of the red-dirt scene in Texas, though it's earning a distinct spot in the national consciousness as well. Riggs' last album - the 2016 release Breathless, distributed by indie Thirty Tigers - debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard Country Albums chart.
Others would view it as a major accomplishment to land in the same turf occupied by established acts backed by classically-branded companies, such as RCA Records, MCA, Warner Bros. or Columbia. But for Riggs, it's just another plateau on the way to something bigger, even if he's not sure what that something is.
"Life is full of mountains," Riggs maintains, embracing the challenge. "I have to have something to climb. As soon as I climb one mountain peak, I'm looking for the next one, and that's sort of what music has been for me all along."