05/07/2015

10 reasons to love Alan Jackson

 

Kendra Meinert, Green Bay Press-Gazette Media 7:43 p.m. CDT May 6, 2015

Not much for interviews, lengthy acceptance speeches or self-promotion, Alan Jackson has always been an artist who lets his songwriting do the talking.

It's an approach that has served the 56-year-old from Newnan, Ga., well since he made the leap from working in the the Nashville mailroom at TNN to launching a career that started with 1989's "Here in the Real World" to his current status as one of country music's living legends. He has scored 35 No. 1 hits, racked up album sales of nearly 60 million and won 17 Country Music Association Awards, 16 Academy of Country Music Awards and a pair of Grammys — and still managed to keep his aw-shucks humility and grin.

He's celebrating 25 years with his Keepin' It Country Tour, which stops Friday at the Resch Center. It will be his first performance ever at the arena and his first in Green Bay in 15 years.

Jackson wasn't available for interviews, but we we're happy to boast on his behalf, offering 10 reasons to love him.

1. He's nothing if not a staunch traditionalist. He told The Baltimore Sun in 2013 about "real" country: "Right now, it seems like it's gone. It's not that I'm against all that's out there. There's some good music, good songwriting and good artists out there, but there's really no country stuff left. It's always been that constant pop-country battle. I don't think it's ever going to change. What makes me sad today is that I think the real country, real rootsy traditional stuff, may be gone. I don't know if it'll ever be back on mainstream radio. You can't get it played anymore."

2. The "Chattahoochee" video is a classic. As if a song with the lyrics "it gets hotter than a hoochie coochie" wasn't summer blast enough, Jackson strapped on a life vest and water skis for his 1993 hit about growing up along the Chattahoochee River in Georgia. Anybody who came of age in a small town "talkin' about cars and dreamin' about women" can relate to the song, but it's the video with free-wheeling Jackson, then in his 30s, skiing, tubing and yay hee-ing on the water that makes it instantly feel like a slice of summer nostalgia. (Such a good time, we're even willing to forgive him for wearing that Dallas Cowboys T-shirt.)
Alan Jackson received the CMT Impact Award last year.

Alan Jackson received the CMT Impact Award last year. (Photo: Getty Images)

3. That time at the 1999 CMA Awards. For such a soft-spoken guy, he made an unforgettable statement at the Country Music Association Awards on behalf of George Jones, who had been asked to sing an abbreviated version of his nominated song "Choices" at the ceremony. Jones protested by declining the invite and not attending. In the middle of his performance of "Pop a Top," Jackson and his band segued to "Choices" as a show of support. Jackson walked off stage — to a standing ovation — immediately after finishing and didn't return for the rest of the awards. Jones said he was moved to tears by the gesture. "Choices" went on to win a Grammy.

4. You can count on his consistency. The more country music changes (bro country, anyone?), the more Jackson stays the same. Not only has his approach to country stayed the course but so have many of the musicians in his band The Strayhorns —Bruce Rutherford, Roger Wills, Robbie Flint, Danny Groah, Monty Allen, Joey Schmidt, Scott Coney and Ryan Joseph — who have been with him for the majority of his career. Keith Stegall has produced every one of Jackson's 23 albums from the first to his forthcoming "Angels and Alcohol," with the exception of 2006's "Like Red on a Rose," which was produced by Alison Krauss.

5. That time at the 2001 CMA Awards: Just eight weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Jackson, "just a singer of simple songs," was able to do what had seemed so impossible: give words words to what a nation was feeling in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy. He debuted a poignant "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" at the awards, bringing the audience to its feet and viewers at home to tears. It became a No. 1 hit in just six weeks, winning a Grammy and both CMA and ACM Song of the Year honors. He has said of the song: "I think it was Hank Williams who said, 'God writes the songs, I just hold the pen.' That's the way I felt with this song."

6. He knows how to pick his collaborators. You get the feeling Jackson is no pushover when it comes to lending his voice to projects just for the sake of keeping his name out there, so when he joins voices with someone it means something — even if it's just time for a cocktail and it's only half-past 12. His unlikely collaboration with Jimmy Buffett on "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" in 2003 became one of the biggest songs and earned Buffett his first-ever No. 1 song. When fellow Georgia native Zac Brown invited Jackson to sing on "As She's Walking Away," Jackson walked away with the second Grammy of his career for Country Collaboration with Vocals in 2011.
Alan Jackson performs at the 2012 BamaJam Music and

Alan Jackson performs at the 2012 BamaJam Music and Arts Festival. (Photo: Getty Images)

7. He keeps family forefront in his music. Because Jackson's songs lean autobiographical, they give fans a window into the life of a private artist. He wrote "Drive (For Daddy Gene)" for his father, who worked at the Ford factory in Atlanta and as car mechanic in his own garage. The last verse of that song talks about him letting his own three daughters learn to drive in an old Jeep out in a pasture at their home. "Remember When" was inspired by his marriage to wife Denise, his high school sweetheart. He also wrote "When I Saw You Leaving (for Nisey)" after her battle with cancer.

8. He took on "Murder on Music Row" with George Strait. The two living legends joined forces in 1999 to sing "Murder on Music Row," a song that pulls no punches in calling out the pop and rock crossover country that was beginning to dominate Nashville at the time. Among the lyrics: "Someone killed country music. Cut out its heart and soul. They got away with murder down on Music Row." Their duet won CMA Awards for Vocal Event of the Year and Song of the Year. Jackson joined Strait at his final The Cowboy Rides Away concert last summer at AT&T Stadium in Texas to sing it for a crowd of more than 104,000 — the largest crowd ever for an indoor concert in North America.

9. His performance at George Jones' funeral. Jackson's admiration for the legendary Jones dates back to early in his career, including his 1991 album "Don't Rock the Jukebox," in which Jackson sings on the title track: "Don't rock the jukebox, I wanna hear some Jones." That album also includes the song "Just Playin' Possum," a nod to Jones' nickname as The Possum. The two, who shared a mutual respect for one another, went on to become good friends. It seemed only fitting that when Jones died in 2013, it was Jackson who did the honors of singing Jones' classic country weeper, "He Stopped Loving Her Today," to close his funeral at the Grand Ole Opry.
Alan Jackson’s next album, his 15th studio release,

Alan Jackson’s next album, his 15th studio release, comes out on July 17. (Photo: Submitted)

10. Let's face it, the man can wear a hat. At 6 feet 4 inches, Jackson has the stature for pulling off his signature — and sizable — cowboy hat. It's a nod to the idols who he grew up with, including Hank Williams Sr., Hank Williams Jr., Merle Haggard, John Anderson and Strait. But he told Parade in 2013 that he also originally wore it to cover up a "big old scar on my forehead." The hat is always white, just like the western wear shirts are always untucked, because his wife once told him a black one didn't look good with his fair skin and blond hair.

— kmeinert@pressgazettemedia.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @KendraMeinert

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