Sunday, 22 July, 2007 2:18 PM
Jason Aldean: A Year To Remember
BY JOHN RUSSELL / CMA
Aldean performs at the Nightly Concert at LP Field on Friday, June
8 in Downtown Nashville during the 2007 CMA Music Festival.
Keith Ryan Cartwright
2007 CMA Close Up News Service
Sitting on his bus parked
outside of the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, Canada, Jason Aldean
paused to gather his thoughts before declaring, "Yeah, it's
been a weird year."
If you consider snow
in Las Vegas weird, yeah, it has been a weird year for Aldean. And
if you consider the fire that ravaged Treasure Isle, the studio
he was using to record the follow-up to his Platinum self-titled
debut, it's been a really weird year for the Georgia native.
"I almost had a
heart attack," Aldean recalled, of the phone call he received
from producer Michael Knox. "He was like, 'Everything's cool,
but the studio caught fire.' I was really nervous. You hit stuff
the first time that's just on instinct. I would have hated to try
and recreate it ... but once he said the masters were fine, I was
"The first single
is 'Johnny Cash,' and we really mixed it in a ring of fire,"
joked Knox, who started mixing the new album two days later amidst
the reconstruction process. "We had to mix in all the ash and
change clothes twice a day. It was awful, but I had no choice."
The fire happened on
a Saturday in mid February, while Aldean was in Vegas filming a
video with director Wes Edwards for "Johnny Cash." During
an otherwise cold month in Music City, the emerging singer/songwriter
thought a trip to the desert would have been a reprieve from the
winter-like weather. Not so, as it snowed the day he filmed the
"I sure hope this
is not a sign of things to come in '07," said Aldean, only
half in jest.
For the past two years,
though, everything has seemed to be working, especially since the
release of his sophomore album Relentless, a groove-laden collection
that borders on a rock 'n' roll sound.
"We're ready for
some new music," he admitted. Two years ago, when Knox and
his touring band cut Aldean's debut, no one knew exactly who would
make up his fan base. This time, however, they have a better idea
of who the fans are and what they want.
"The first record
struck a nerve," Aldean said. "You want songs you like
and songs they can relate to, but it's kind of a balance."
If the early success
of "Johnny Cash" forecasts how fans and radio will react
to the new album, then Aldean is poised for his fourth trip into
the Top 10. Less about Cash as a person and more about the Man in
Black as a symbol of freedom, "Johnny Cash" resonated
immediately with those who have heard the hardhitting tune about
a man willing to abandon his cramped routine for a life with fewer
"It embraces the
attitude of Johnny Cash," Aldean explained. "I was going
to put it on my first record."
Unfortunately, the publishers
of the song wound up holding it for another artist. Though disappointed,
Aldean responded by cutting "Hicktown," which like "Johnny
Cash" included John Rich of Big & Rich and Vicky McGehee
among its writers. (Big Kenny also co-wrote on "Hicktown,"
while Rodney Clauson shares writer credits on "Johnny Cash.")
Amidst the success of
the first album, Aldean and Knox never stopped listening to "Cash,"
and when they started selecting songs last year, fortunately for
them, "Cash" hadn't been recorded. "I still wanted
to cut it," Aldean said. "'Hicktown' was a great song
to introduce us with, and 'Johnny Cash' became a great intro to
the second album."
"The cut you hear
on the radio is the one I cut at Warner Chappell," Knox explained.
"It was the one I cut to get him his record deal and the one
that everyone passed on. We just went in and remastered it."
Aldean's growth as a
singer is evident on Relentless. Be it the vocals of "Grown
Woman," a duet with Miranda Lambert, the swampy "I Break
Everything I Touch," or the hard-driving "Back in This
Cigarette," Aldean solidifies the raucous, goodtime attitude
he established the first time around.
"It's more me personally
finding my niche," Aldean explained, "knowing what I like
to sing, what comes off in the live shows and what works for me.
It has the same vibe as the first album. There are some cool things
on there, and we cut some things that may never be heard on the
radio but they were cool to us." The "we" he refers
to is the band he's toured and recorded with for the past nine years.
They've embraced their success as a group, with Aldean pointing
to one particular show in Portland, Ore., late in 2005, as the moment
they knew their collective efforts were beginning to pay off.
"The crowds were
getting a little bit bigger," Aldean said. "Until then
they were honky tonks and we just happened to be there, but that
night they were coming to see us. We started playing 'Hicktown'
and they started singing back, word for word. That's when I realized
we were making an impact outside of Nashville and Georgia.
"We're still building
a fan base. We had a couple big weeks. But it's been a steady build,
which is great 'cause now we're getting ready to drop the second
album. It's perfect timing."
It hasn't always been
In the summer of 2003,
Aldean was ready to "throw in the towel," as he put it.
His first record deal didn't materialize into anything. His publishing
deal was about to expire and it didn't look as though it would be
renewed. He was married to his high school sweetheart and they were
expecting their first child to go along with a mortgage and two
car payments he could no longer afford.
Just days before moving
back to his hometown of Macon, Ga., and reprioritizing what was
most important to him, he got a call saying that Broken Bow founder
Benny Brown, who resurrected Craig Morgan's career, was interested
in signing him. Aldean stopped applying for new jobs, put off the
move home, and by January 2004, he was signed.
His debut Platinum-selling
album spawned three successive Top 10 hits: "Hicktown"
(No. 9), "Why" (No. 1) and "Amarillo Sky" (No.
4). More than 18 months later it remained the oldest release on
Billboard's Top 20 Country Albums Chart.
The sweetest part of
this picture, Aldean noted, is the creative freedom that transpires
when "not only are you an artist on a label, but you experience
everything together for the first time. It doesn't happen every
week. When a milestone happens, it's a big deal - and it should
The milestones and success
he had at radio have led also to extensive touring, which hasn't
been easy on his family. But, Aldean observed, "you have an
obligation to your career. It's not ideal for all families ... but
it's our lifestyle."
Aldean will perform on
the summer's hottest TV special, "CMA Music Festival: Country's
Night to Rock," which airs Monday, July 23 (9-11 PM/ET) on
the ABC Television Network. The special will feature heart-warming
stories and riveting musical performances. Artists Dierks Bentley,
Big & Rich, Brooks & Dunn, Sara Evans, Martina McBride,
Reba McEntire in a duet with Kelly Clarkson, Brad Paisley, Kellie
Pickler, Rascal Flatts, LeAnn Rimes, Sugarland, Josh Turner, Carrie
Underwood and more will be featured.
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