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February 19, 2014IM -
Although Jackson doesn’t want to get “too preachy” he still isn’t afraid to mix things up a little by writing “heavy” songs about love and relationships. Straying from the more serious and soulful songs on his previous album, Like Red on a Rose, Jackson brings a more light-hearted honky-tonk style to his latest, Good Time. “You know,” Jackson says, “I felt like I wanted something that had some fun on it because, when I play in concert, people still want to hear songs like ‘Chattahoochee’ and ‘Don’t Rock the Jukebox’—all those are a big part of our success too, as well as the big ballads.”
Light and simple country music makes sense to Jackson, who always considers his fans the audience he must please first and foremost. He enjoys the lighter fare of country and so do the people who buy his albums and attend his concerts. “I came along singing in little bars, singing everybody else’s stuff,” says Jackson of his pre-platinum years. “This is pretty much the kind of music I’ve made my whole career, from light, up-tempo things to serious, lost-love things.”
Jackson wrote all 17 songs for his latest album and admits there is no magical formula when it comes to crafting a song. “Sometimes when I pick up the guitar I already have some hooks jotted down and a lot of times I’ll have a melody come to me out of nowhere,” says Jackson. Casual settings also provide material for song ideas and titles. Something as simple as talking with friends and hearing someone phrase something differently will make a song title appear for Jackson.
The inspiration for his work also comes from his personal life experiences.
“Good and bad stuff—it always affects you,” he says. “Honest lyrics and songs are better if it’s about something you’ve lived or gotten close to.”
Although Jackson enjoys writing his own songs, he never insists on only singing the ones he wrote. When making his latest album, it was chance combined with guidance from his producer that encouraged him to record all of his original work. “I don’t push my own songs,” says Jackson. “We just want to make a good record.”
With more than 15 years in the business, 17 albums, 32 number one hits, the most-nominated artist in CMA Awards history has made a successful career in country music, while maintaining a family and staying true to his humble roots. He grew up in rural Georgia, in a house built around his grandfather’s old toolshed, and met his future wife at the local Dairy Queen. His only exposure to music in the early years were the hymns he heard in church and a gospel show his dad watched on television. “There wasn’t a lot of live music in that little town,” says Jackson. “You had to go to Atlanta for that.”
Besides lip-synching “Little Red Riding Hood” in an elementary school play, Jackson never thought about performing as a singer. Jackson’s interest in singing and performing was first piqued when his older sister began playing the guitar. He sang in church and around town with his sister, and at age 16, Jackson’s parents bought him his first instrument—a $50 guitar, which he still owns today. Jackson slowly built his confidence by playing in local bars and other spots around town and discovered his passion—country music. Inspired by country singers like Gene Watson of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX) and Hank Williams, he took the plunge, married his high school sweetheart, and moved to the capitol of country music—Nashville, Tennessee. “I was too ignorant to know then,” says Jackson of his naivety concerning music business.
Coming to Nashville was like moving to a foreign country, says Jackson.
“I had never been anywhere.” Jackson was clueless when it came to producers, publishers, songwriting, and the branches of the music industry. Initially, he faced a lot of opposition. Record labels passed on him, sometimes twice, and one person even told him to go back to Georgia. “That made me more determined to prove him wrong,” says Jackson. “The negative things gave me time to grow and figure things out—it worked out for the better.”
Eventually, Jackson found success in Nashville and figured out how to navigate the music industry. He joined the AFM as soon as he moved to Nashville in 1985. Jackson says the union has been a source of assistance in his career, helping him get jobs and connect with other musicians. “They’ve always been supportive of me,” says Jackson. “I remember going over to their offices in the early years when I first moved.”
His 1990 debut album, Here in the Real World, went double platinum and grouped him with other country artists like Randy Travis of Local 257, Clint Black of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX), and Vince Gill of Local 257 who represented the return of traditional country, as opposed to the synthesized pop version that dominated the 1980s.
Jackson’s following albums were all commercial successes, giving him a status that many compare to that of Garth Brooks. His popularity and appeal have earned him more than 95 awards, including ones from ASCAP, ACM, CMA, TNN/CMT/ Country Weekly, as well as one Grammy.
Because of his numerous distinctions and popularity, Jackson sells out large arenas and concert venues, though he misses the atmosphere of the smaller venues where he began his career as a musician. “There’s something to be said about the small places,” says Jackson. “I’d like to go back and play a small club—there’s that intimate feeling of people going out to enjoy music and dance, that’s where music started with me.”
As far as what the future holds for Jackson, he remains optimistic. “If it all ended today I’d be sad, but it would be alright because I have accomplished so much more than I ever dreamed,” he says. “As long as I can still sell tickets, albums, and get my stuff played on the radio, I’ll keep doing it.”
Being first and foremost a family man, Jackson manages to come home constantly, playing concerts for only two or three days at a time. “I don’t try and stay out on the road as much as I used to,” says Jackson. “If you’re happy at home, you try and stay home.”