Alan Jackson burst on the country charts almost fully-formed in 1989, then proceeded to get measurably better as a writer, singer and recording artist with each album. Still, after five rapid-selling albums and a slew of hits, the distinct impression is made that he hasn’t peaked yet. Jackson, one of a few artists who doggedly kept the twang in country music during the early ‘90s just seems to get better with age and constantly expands his range. Jackson’s impact on country music is getting larger by the day.
Jackson was born in the small town of Newnan, George, on October 17, 1958. He grew up singing gospel music, both in church and at home with his family, and as a teenager performed locally as part of a country duo. He left school to work and married his high-school sweetheart, Denise, who worked as an airline stewardess. During the early ‘80s, Jackson held down a series of odd jobs - car salesman, construction worker, forklift operator at K-Mart - while playing the local club circuit with his band, Dixie Steel, and working on his songwriting. He caught his big break when Denise found country-pop star Glen Campbell waiting for a flight and gave him a copy of her husband’s demo tape; Campbell in turn gave her contact information for his music publishing company, and the Jacksons picked up and moved to Nashville shortly thereafter. Campbell’s company suggested that Alan take a year and hone his songwriting even further, and so he worked more odd jobs, including the mail room at The Nashville Network, plus some session singing before finally signing on as a staff writer. By night, he performed in Nashville clubs and recorded an updated demo with songwriter/producer Keith Stegall. In 1989, Jackson became the first artist signed to Arista’s new country division.
Jackson’s debut album, Here in the Real World, was issued in 1990 and became a platinum-selling hit on the strength of four Top Five hits: the title cut, “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow”, “Wanted”, and the first of many chart-toppers, “I’d Love You All Over Again”. He shot to full-fledged superstardom with the follow-up, 1991’s “Don’t Rock the Jukebox”, whose title track was an inescapable number one smash that year. The record produced three more number ones (“Someday”, “Dallas”, “Love’s Got a Hold on You”) and also contained one of Jackson’s signature songs, the Top Five “Midnight in Montgomery”, which told the story of a visit to Hank Williams’ grave. Also in 1991, Jackson co-wrote several songs with Randy Travis for Travis’ High Lonesome album. With 1992’s A Lot About Livin’ (And a Little ‘Bout Love), Jackson took his place as not only one of the most popular stars of his time, but also one of the best. The number one smash “Chattahoochee” became another signature tune, and Jackson also topped the charts with “She’s Got the Rhythm (And I Got the Blues)”, while scoring three more Top Five hits from the album, which became his first to top the country LP charts.
In late 1993, Jackson released the stopgap holiday album Honky Tonk Christmas, which actually avoided standards in favor of lesser-known material. He returned in 1994 with Who I Am, his second straight number one country album, which gave him a staggering four number one singles: a cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”, the music-biz satire “Gone Country” (a dig at executives hopping on the commercial country bandwagon), “Livin’ on Love”, and “I Don’t Even Know Your Name”. In only his fifth year on the scene, Jackson was able to issue The Greatest Hits Collection in 1995 and scored hits with three newly minted songs: a cover of George Jones’ “Tall Tall Trees”, “I’ll Try” (both number one), and “Home”. It took The Greatest Hits Collection only a year to sell over three million copies. And, of course, Jackson was far from done. Everything I Love (1996) became his fourth straight release to top the country album charts, and it gave him five Top Ten hits, including the number ones “Little Bitty” (a Tom T. Hall cover) and “There Goes”. The 1998 follow-up, High Mileage, also hit number one and became Jackson’s highest-charting album on the pop side, reaching number four; it contained four more Top Tens, including the chart-topping “Right on the Money”.
Jackson paid tribute to his favorite country singers of the past on the easygoing 1999 covers album Under the Influence, which featured material by Jones, Merle Haggard, Charley Pride, Jimmy Buffett, Hank Williams Jr., Don Williams (the chart-topping “It Must Be Love”), and Jim Ed Brown (the Top Ten “Pop a Top”), among others. Although Under the Influence just missed hitting number one, 2000’s When Somebody Loves You returned Jackson to the top of the album charts and gave him another number one in “Where I Come From”. That year, he also teamed up with George Strait for the duet “Murder on Music Row”, a strident defense of traditional country in the face of a new wave of crossover stars. In 2001 Jackson wrote and recorded the enormous hit “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”, a poignant attempt to make sense of the aftermath of September 11; rush-released after an awards-show premiere, the song rocketed to the top of the country charts and also became his first single to crack the pop Top 30. It was followed by the full-length Drive in 2002, which spawned another number one in “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, a tribute to Jackson’s late father. The album was Jackson’s seventh to top the country charts, and it also became his first to top the pop charts. His second greatest-hits collection appeared in 2003 and featured the crossover hit “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”, a duet with Jimmy Buffett. A year later the well-received What I Do became the purest country album from Jackson in years. Precious Memories, released in 2006, was a collection of fifteen hymns originally recorded as a Christmas gift for his mother. Later that same year, Jackson released Like Red on a Rose, a mellow Alison Krauss production. Live at Texas Stadium, a concert set with George Strait and Jimmy Buffett, followed in 2007.
Within his 2008 release, Good Time, a generous selection of 17 tracks, Alan Jackson sings of all sorts of times. Not only the “Good Time” of the title track - a dance floor, barroom anthem with a hint of Chuck Berry - but tender times (“Right Where I Want You”), mournful times (“Sissy’s Son”), lovelorn times (“Listen to Your Senses”), kick-back times (“Laid Back ‘n Low Key”), even times of marital monotony (“Nothing Left To Do”). With his return to more traditional country, he channels his inner George Jones on “When the Love Factor’s High” and “If You Want to Make Me Happy,” takes a bluegrass turn on the uptempo, downbeat “Long Long Way”,” teams with Martina McBride on “Never Loved Before”, eulogizes his father on “Small Town Southern Man” and closes with the honky-tonk gospel of “If Jesus Walked the World Today”. Since Jackson is the sole songwriter here, the listener gets a sense of every side of his multifaceted musical personality.
Jackson has written or co-written 24 of his 35 number-one hit singles, placing him in the elite company of Paul McCartney and John Lennon among songwriters who have written more than 20 songs that they have recorded and taken to the top of the charts. Jackson continues his streak of hit-making music with his brand new single on EMI Records Nashville/ACR (Alan s Country Records), “So You Don t Have to Love Me Anymore,” the lead single from Thirty Miles West (2012), featuring thirteen brand new songs.