Alan Jackson is one of the biggest and best-selling stars in country music. Throughout his lengthy career, the legendary country artist has received numerous awards and accolades and released several songs that have gone on to top the country charts. But, fans may be surprised to know that Jackson was once turned down by just about every label executive in Nashville.
While speaking to fellow artist Kelleigh Bannen on Essentials Radio on Apple Music Country, Jackson discussed some of the early memories of his career, including a no-cover-charge Tim DuBois showcase at a, then-famous Nashville hot-spot called Douglas Corner Café. At the time, Jackson was still trying to find his way. He remembers struggling to not only get discovered but also to find the kind of support he needed.
“I can’t even remember all the showcases that I had done previous to that [show] and had gotten turned down over and over from every label,” Jackson told Bannen of his journey from being an unknown to finding country music success. “One woman at CBS even told me I needed to go back to Georgia, and seriously!”
Although Jackson experienced a few setbacks along the way, he went on to say that he continued to push on until he met the right people, who would take him to the next level.
“I was just hardheaded, I guess. I think I’d been in it and recorded [as] you do, where you’d go and record a few demos to try and get somebody’s attention. And, I’d had a couple of other producers trying to help me. Nobody could let me or get me what I wanted to sound like the type of sound and the music that I wanted. We would cut other people’s songs, mostly,” Jackson recalled. “I had met Keith Stegall through the songwriting thing that I had, and I knew he had just been a part of Randy Travis’ first album that did so well, and I knew Keith just from Louisiana, and his daddy was an old steel player. He was a country guy doing country music. I just had this feeling that Keith was the guy that could help me ,and I kept harassing him.”
Jackson’s instincts to work with Stegall eventually proved to be right with his ‘90s Stegall-produced single, “Here in the Real World,” becoming his first chart-topping country hit. Looking back at those first successful years, which saw him earning five hit songs with his debut album and many more after that, Jackson says things are different for artists now compared to in the prime of his career.
“The nineties were a lot different than now. You could have three number one records in a span of a year, so you’re just constantly rolling, and you’re gone all the time, but it’s fun because it’s all-new. I hadn’t been anywhere in my whole life, and so where I went was exciting [in those] first few years. All of it was exciting – to have those crowds when you never had that,” Jackson said.
“I mean, I’ve played clubs where people wouldn’t even dance. Then when I took my break, they’d turn the jukebox on and dance. They didn’t know you were there,” he added. “It’s totally different, and it’s a lot to swallow too. It’s a big adjustment to get all the attention and all that can be hard on you. Denise [Jackson’s wife] and I just had a baby right when my first one, “[Here in the] Real World,” hit the top of the charts. And so it was hard on her. It’s a whirlwind.”
Indeed, Jackson has had tons of success. But when it comes to churning out the songs, he doesn’t intend on slowing down anytime soon. The country superstar recently released his brand new studio album of six years entitled, Where Have You Gone. The album, which leans heavily into the traditional country sound that Jackson is known for and includes plenty of fiddles and guitar instrumentation, features song titles like “Where The Cottonwood Grows,” “You’ll Always Be My Baby,” and “Back,” inspired by the hook of Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack.”
Of the new project, Jackson says he doesn’t think any of the songs will be heard on the radio. Despite all that, he’s happy with where he stands and says he’s ready to have fun.
“‘Here in the Real World’ was my first so-called number one,” Jackson said. “Back then, we had like three different trade magazines, so you didn’t know which one was… But that’s what always has been considered my first number one, that really started it all. …I have so many songs… Not to sound like I’m bragging, but I have so many singles, and most of them are hits. You can’t do a third of them in a show.”
“You just have fun. I probably won’t be on the radio. My songs won’t probably play on the radio, and I’m not bitter about it at all. It just takes the pressure off of [you]. You don’t have to worry about, ‘Do I need to try to record something for radio? Try to get on radio or singles,'” he added. “I’ve won every award multiple times, most of them. And I’m proud of that, but I don’t care if I get nominated for anything. I don’t care if it’s on the radio. I just wanted to make the kind of music I love, and I know most of my fans love.”