The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (CMHoF) gave a behind-the-scenes look at Alan Jackson from some of his closest industry pals this past weekend (April 11).
Label executives Tim DuBois and Mike Dungan joined songwriter Jim McBride (“Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” “Chattahoochee”) for a panel discussion alongside Jackson’s Strayhorns band members Roger Wills (bass) and Danny Groah (guitar). Led by CMHoF’s Michael McCall, the hour-long talk ran in conjunction with the hall’s recently extended Alan Jackson: 25 Years of Keepin’ It Country, exhibit.
Three dimensions of the star were noticed through the candid discussion: His quiet nature does not keep him from standing up for his beliefs; He is a man of generosity; The stars aligned in his favor.
His quiet nature doesn’t keep him from standing up for his beliefs
Dungan: I was first struck by how hard Alan was to talk to. He was so shy. Where I come from artists have massive egos. This was the most aw-shucks, quiet guy I had met. Turns out that was probably his biggest calling card. The fans responded to this quiet unassuming nature. We used to get frustrated with him because he didn’t like to do a lot of press or do talk shows or interviews, it was very uncomfortable for him. George Strait was also the same way and anytime we tried to coerce Alan into doing something he’d say, ‘George Strait don’t do that.’ Now you look back and see these two massive careers of Alan and George. I’m grateful that we’re looking back at 25 years. I think part of it was they didn’t burn themselves out by talking about every detail of their lives every time a camera came on. But there’s a thing about him that as Clive Davis would say the indefinable it thing–the star factor despite the quietness. The minute Alan walks in the room you wanted to know about him. It’s that elusive star thing that few people have. It more than compensated for the shyness.
Wills: I was worried about his shyness, too. I thought the only thing that’s gonna keep him from a record deal is that he just wouldn’t talk. I’d get him off to the side and say, ‘Go and talk to these people.’
Groah: Before the [CMAs] he said, ‘I don’t know if I’m gonna do it or not, [referring to cutting short his performance of “Pop A Top,” in protest of the CMA overlooking George Jones’ “Choices”]. If I look over at you and nod, then go into it. Sure enough, he gave the nod and there we went.
Dungan: He got an immediate standing ovation.
McBride: He put the band on the spot.
Groah: [Previously], at the 1994 ACM Awards, Alan wanted to play live. In those days they wanted the music to be tracked. So the band is really just playing air guitar…
Dungan: …They told Bruce (drummer) whatever you do don’t hit the cymbals. He said, “How can I even act like I’m playing the drums with no cymbals?” So he elected to go in with no sticks.
McCall: Does that ever come back to the label?
DuBois: It was over and done, everyone in the audience loved it.
Groah: Bruce didn’t get paid from the TV show but Alan paid him.
Groah: [And after 9/11], we were supposed to do “Where I Come From,” I think. We got a call a couple days from Alan to start working on “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning).”
He is a man of generosity
Groah: I had a lawnmower accident I thought would end my playing guitar. I hadn’t been home from the hospital 15 minutes when Alan and Denise showed up. He said, “Don’t worry about your job. I’m gonna pay you just like you were working. It doesn’t matter how long it takes.” That’s the kind of guy he is. Not just for me, but he’s been there for all the band when things happen.
Dungan: A guy who worked for us at Arista had a [medical condition] Alan went to see him in the hospital and Alan said, “Your TV is pretty small.” The next day these guys wheeled in a big television, compliments of Alan Jackson.
The stars aligned in his favor
DuBois: His long legs and blond hair just worked. He had the whole package. And it happened at a time in Nashville that I call the Great Flush at the end of ’89. For the only time I can remember, radio opened its arms to a whole crop of new artists. The system was primed and Alan just rushed through. You just couldn’t do that today. The climate is so different. That was before the Telecommunications Act when you had small family stations. Also, videos were relatively new and they gave Alan a personality. I give Alan and Barry Coburn (Alan’s then manager) the credit for those.
Dungan: Alan would have a hard time [breaking out] now. I’m a believer that this thing we call country music should be wide—as pop, or as country as you want. If the next Alan Jackson came into my office, I would sign them in a heartbeat. It would be tough, but I’d go for it because music is the backbone of everything.
DuBois: I thank my lucky stars he came along in my life. Luck can play such a part because there are other people who will go unnamed today that I believed in as much as Alan. But for some reason it didn’t happen for them. He is an exceptional talent and we were extremely lucky to intercept his orbit.
- SiriusXM Adds New Channels, Personalization, Expanded Video, Mobile App Upgrades - July 10, 2019
- Spotify To Close Beta Program That Let Indie Artists Upload Music Directly - July 3, 2019
- Mark Your Calendar—July 2019 - July 1, 2019