Monday, June 15, 2009

Class of 89 - Alan Jackson

In honor of the 20th anniversary of debut of Country Music Class of 89, I am writing a series of posts on each of the artists. I am including those artists who debuted in 1989 – Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. I am also including artists – Vince Gill and Lorrie Morgan – who had their first true commercial impact in 1989.

Here is my final write up on the members of the Class of 89. It will be on Alan Jackson.

Alan Jackson is my favorite music artist. I consider him the greatest country music singer – songwriter of all-time. I have seen Alan Jackson in concert 7 times. I have written to Alan twice. I bought an autographed Alan Jackson 8x10 from his fan club. I created a baseball card of Alan Jackson and sent it to him asking him to sign it. He did so, even personalizing it to me. I display that signed card at the center of my baseball card display case surrounding it with signed baseball cards from baseball Hall of Famers. Needless to say I own all of Alan’s albums.

What is amazing is that I was not an immediate convert to Alan Jackson’s music. My parents always listened to country music. I tried to escape country by listening to pop and rock in the 80’s, but the folks kept me tune into country part-time. The Judds, Dwight Yoakam, Hank Williams Jr. brought me back full-time to country music in late 80’s.

Garth Brooks and Mary Chapin Carpenter were the first Class of 89ers I was into. Then suddenly I became an Alan Jackson fan. In a way that seemed to be how Alan Jackson emerged in the country music world. He did not get off to a fast start, but once he got going he enveloped the whole country music world.

Alan Jackson’s first single “Blue Blooded Woman” stiffed on the charts in 1989. His second single “Here in the Real World” went to # 3 and started string of top 10 and #1 hits. Still between 1990-1992 it always seemed like some other artists like Clint Black, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Billy Ray Cyrus, Vince Gill, or Brooks & Dunn were the “it” artist. The media and country music industry always seemed to want someone else to be the superstar. Alan Jackson was a star, but not a superstar.

That changed in the summer of 1993 as Alan massive career hit “Chattahoochee” dominated the airwaves and its then cutting edge music video (Alan water skis in the video) was all over the television. Chattahoochee made Alan Jackson a super-star, won him awards, increased his profile on the radio, and spurred on his album and concert ticket sales.

“A lot About Livin’ (And a Little ‘Bout Love” the album from which “Chattahoochee” was from would end up selling 6 million copies. Alan would only the fourth artist in country music history to have an album sell six million copies (Garth, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Pasty Cline were the first three). By 1994 only Garth Brooks was bigger than Alan in the world of country music.

I first saw Alan Jackson in concert in 1994 at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand in the midst of this Alan mania. I took my parents. We had never attended an outdoor country music concert. Our seats were off to the side, but along with 20,000 plus new found friends we had a great time. When Alan closed with “Chattahoochee” the place rocked. Young, old, male, female, Alan’s audience
spanned generational and gender boundaries.

The next year (1995) Alan returned to same venue and an even bigger crowd was even more ruckus. A newer artist named Faith Hill opened for Alan. Alan Jackson was on top of the world and later that year he would win CMA Entertainer of the Year, and his “The Greatest Hits Collection” would be released and sell over 6 million copies.

I saw him again in 1996. Alan was just off headlining the most attended one day concert in country music history. Alan along with Alabama, Hank Williams Jr, Charlie Daniels, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, Tracy Bryd, LeRoy Parnell, and some relative unknown named Kenny Cheseny had jammed at the Fruit of the Loom All-Star Country Fest concert in Atlanta, GA along 250,000 fans. The event was taped and later televised.

By 1998 when Alan Jackson showed up at the Target Center in Minneapolis with hot newcomer Deana Carter I noticed a problem. His crowds were getting smaller. I saw him again in 1999 and 2000. The later concert with newcomer Brad Paisley opening drew only 4,000 people. My seat was just scant yards from the stage. While it was great to be so close, I was getting the feeling I would not be seeing
Alan in such a larger venue again.

Alan’s album sales had gone from 6 million to just over 1 million. He was still getting good play on radio, but his concert attendance across the country was dropping. He was not getting nominated for as many awards as he had in the past.

Alan was still making history like at 1999 CMA Awards where he interrupted his own performance to perform George Jones “Choices” as protest to an insult Jones suffered at the CMA’s hands. In 2000 Alan and George Strait recorded “Murder on Music Row” a song that decried the current state of country music. The song caused controversy, but won CMA Song and Vocal Event of the Year Awards. History making though was only slowing the inevitable decline every country artist not named George Strait seems to go through.

Then at the 2001 CMA Awards where Alan performed for the first time a song he had just written called “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning”. The song about the 9/11 terrorist attacks sparked an immediate and emotional reaction. The song quickly went #1. “Drive” the album “Where Were You…” was on went on to sell 4 million copies and would win CMA and ACM Album of the Year. Alan even became the first country artist to grace the cover of the popular magazine Entertainment Weekly.

Alan would earn a record setting 10 nominations for the 2002 CMA awards. That night Alan would win a record tying 5 CMA Awards. Alan would be the only person to win Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Album, Single, and Song of the Year on the same night. “Where Were You…” would become CMA and ACM Single and Song of the Year.

Alan Jackson had returned to superstardom. More major hits like “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and “Remember When” would follow. Alan would also raised his artistic creed by making cutting edge album like his “Precious Memories” and “Like Red On a Rose” albums.

The last time I saw Alan Jackson in concert was 2004 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. 15,000 plus joined Alan and enjoyed a great night of country music. Alan Jackson has sold over 42 million albums, scored 25 #1 and 48 top 10 singles. He has won 16 CMA and 14 ACM awards. Yet what struck me that night in 2004 was the crowd. Like the 1994 crowd there were young people, old people, men and women. Alan Jackson was no longer young and hip, his hair was shorter, he had put on a few pounds, and yet his was able to still span generational and gender boundaries. Alan Jackson had gone beyond superstardom. He was now a superstar who had become an iconic legend.

Picking one video of Alan Jackson was almost impossible. YouTube has a lot of his videos. Alan even has his own video channel, but like all major artists on YouTube those videos have the embedding option turned off, so I cannot embed them here.

In an earlier post on this blog, I posted a video of Alan performing live my favorite Alan song “Chasin That Neon Rainbow”. You can check it out, by clicking the name Alan Jackson over on the right.

Here is the video for “Chattahoochee” provided by CMT. Yes, that is really Alan Jackson watering skiing while wearing a cowboy hat. This video is considered one of the most popular country music videos of all-time.