On June 26, 1989, Alan Jackson became the first artist to sign with the Arista Nashville record label. The singer, who had toiled in the mailroom at TNN (The Nashville Network) after moving to Music City with his wife, Denise, would eventually score 26 Number One singles, but the lanky Georgia native didn’t exactly come roaring out of the chute. His very first single, “Blue Blooded Woman,” sputtered along to a peak position of 45 on the country chart.
But as one of the distinguished alums of the “Class of ’89,” country’s crop of new traditionalists which included other future superstars such as Garth Brooks and Clint Black, Jackson would go on to write and perform songs that encapsulated the ethos of country fans, generally in four minutes or less. His second single, “Here in the Real World,” punctuated by its “cowboys don’t cry and heroes don’t die” opening line, began a hitting streak that saw most of his songs at or near the chart summit for the next two decades. For good measure, the “Here in the Real World” video included footage from vintage Westerns, intercut with Jackson’s simple performance, becoming the first of his attention-grabbing clips that have ranged in tone from heart-tugging (“Remember When”) to gut-busting (“I Don’t Even Know Your Name”).
Apart from chart success however, there are moments throughout the country superstar’s career that have left an indelible mark. In November 2001, just weeks after the September 11th terrorist attacks, Jackson performed “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” on the CMA Awards, putting into words the raw, unsorted feelings of so many at the time. Two years earlier, he used that same platform for a much different cause, to pay tribute to the legendary George Jones, a CMA award nominee in 1999 for the song “Choices.” Jones was invited to perform only an abridged version of the tune, so in protest, he stayed home. Jackson, after performing most of his then-single, “Pop a Top,” abruptly ended that song and began singing the Jones cut, to rousing applause and a standing ovation.
Time will tell if it will someday be considered a career highlight, but earlier this year the generally reserved Jackson showed his ability to not take himself too seriously by recording “A Million Ways to Die” for the Seth MacFarlane Western-themed comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West.
Now in the midst of celebrating his 25th year in country music, Alan Jackson will release new music soon and is planning a 25-city 25th anniversary tour for 2015. He will also be spotlighted with a special exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum beginning August 29th.