Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses….and Alan Jackson will heal them.
The exhausted, hungover, bleary-eyed attendees of Country Radio Seminar walked in zombie file into the Capitol Records luncheon on Thursday (2/23). When they left two hours later, they’d been bathed in the warmth, humor and emotions of a bona fide superstar.
Alan kidded them about being hungover, suggesting and singing snippets of tunes that could be CRS theme songs – “Pop a Top,” “Designated Drinker” and “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.” “It’s a pretty good town, isn’t it?” he said. “It’s a good place to raise hell and a good place to raise children. And I’ve done both.”
Relaxed and charming, he told them the story of his life in music, illustrating it with some of his finest songs. He was accompanied by four members of his Strayhorns band.
“We moved up here on Labor Day Weekend [in 1985]. I’d rented an apartment over the phone. Within two months, there were two fires and one shooting.” Alan sang 1996’s “Home,” which he wrote out of homesickness during his first days in Music City.
He had an early offer to record one song for Mercury Records, but was talked out of that deal. Four long years of singing demos and performing in clubs followed. One of those demos was “Country Club,” which became a hit for Travis Tritt. One of the clubs was a Ramada Inn, where he sang for Sunday brunch audiences, $25 for four hours.
One night, he dropped by the Hall of Fame Motor Inn near Music Row. An all-girl band called Miss-Behavin’ sang Rodney Crowell’s “Song for the Life,” and Alan was thunderstruck. The band later became Wild Rose, and in 1995 Alan fulfilled the vow he’d made to himself to record “Song for the Life.” His performance of it on Thursday was a highlight of the day.
Following his discovery by producer Keith Stegall, Alan’s debut single became 1989’s “Blue Blooded Woman.” It died at No. 45. “My wife was pregnant, and I was worried,” he recalled. “But those were good days, all that strugglin’ stuff.
He went on the road visiting radio programmers, and “I realized that they’re just regular people….You all have been so good to me, and I appreciate it.” He sang his breakthrough hit, 1990’s “Here in the Real World” to thank them.
“The label didn’t think ‘Chattahoochie’ should be a single. I didn’t either, but after it was No. 1 for six or seven weeks, I changed my mind.” He sang that one, too.
“My Daddy died in 2000 and after he did, I wanted to write something for him. But I didn’t want it to be sad.” The result was his 2002 smash “Drive (For Daddy Gene),” which he also sang.
His performance of “Remember When” was achingly lovely. He counterbalanced the ballad with the upbeat “Good Time.”
Alan confessed that he passed on Zac Brown’s breakthrough hit “Chicken Fried,” when it was offered to him. But he happily agreed to the duet “As She’s Walking Away,” which he sang, sans Zac.
Moderator Lon Helton pointed out that only Merle Haggard has written more of his own No. 1 songs than Alan Jackson has. Merle, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Alan are the only artists who have written more than 20 No. 1 singles.
“There’s not a lot of acts who have been around as long as me who are still on the radio,” said Alan humbly. “I appreciate y’all listening so nicely.” He did an eloquent, touching version of his new hit “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore,” then concluded with a snippet of The Kendalls’ “Thank God for the Radio.” A sustained standing ovation ensued.
“This man is a country-music original and an American treasure,” said Capitol boss Mike Dungan. Mike was in radio promotion at Arista Records when Alan began his career there.
At the start of the luncheon, the label head indulged himself with a little bragging. “We have the No. 1 album and four out of the top-10 albums. We have the No. 1 single this week and the most added single of the week.”
A promo video featured Keith Urban’s “You Gonna Fly,” Dierks Bentley’s “Home,” Lady Antebellum’s “Dancing Away with My Heart,” Luke Bryan’s “Drunk on You,” Eric Church’s “Springsteen” and Eric Paslay’s forthcoming “If the Fish Don’t Bite.” Coming up on the label are new sounds by Little Big Town, Darius Rucker, Jon Pardi and Kelleigh Bannen.
“We’re very proud of our roster,” said Dungan. We’re weren’t proud of the menu, which featured the driest fried chicken in history. Many gave up trying to saw through it with plastic utensils.
Bathing in the therapeutic power of the superstar or just milling and mingling in the vicinity were JT Hodges, Amber Hayes and Shooter Jennings, plus Bob Moody, Bob Doerschuk, Bob Paxman, John Dorris, Josh Brandon, Jerry Holthouse, the ubiquitous Charlie Monk, Daniel Paul, Beth Gwinn, Susan Collier, Wendy Pearl, Rich Miller, Ryan Moore, Scott Stem and the beaming Capitol/EMI staffers.
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