Jason Aldean hits a high note after early struggles in the country music biz

05/02/2013 3:31 PM

05/02/2013 3:33 PM

Jason Aldean is just about to be inducted into a very special club. He’s one of the few country artists in recent years to graduate to performing in stadiums. Just a few days before Aldean was set to perform his first headlining show in front of 60,000 fans at Stanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., Kenny Chesney gave him some encouragement.

“He actually called me ... to wish me good luck and said, ‘Hey, enjoy it, man,’ ” Aldean said in a call from his Nashville home. “He said, ‘You may never do it again, so enjoy it and have fun with it. It’ll be one of those shows you’ll never forget.’ I thought that was pretty cool.”

Chesney surely must see some similarities between himself and Aldean, who is set to perform Thursday at Wichita’s Intrust Bank Arena. Both fought their ways to the top slowly and had a few serious derailments before catching on big with country fans.

Aldean was born in Macon, Ga., as Jason Williams. He adopted a changed spelling of his middle name, Aldine, as a more distinctive stage name.

He began playing guitar and performing in local clubs when he was in his mid-teens and, despite possible baseball scholarships, he decided to try his luck with music. Michael Knox, an executive with Warner-Chappell Publishing, saw Aldean performing at a club in Atlanta and offered him a deal as a songwriter. After moving to Nashville, Aldean landed a deal with Capitol Records, but he was dropped before his debut album was completed. He also lost his publishing deal.

He was ready to move his family back to Georgia when the small independent label Broken Bow offered him a recording and publishing contract.

While independent labels were having little luck in getting radio to play their music, Aldean took the offer.

Fan enthusiasm pushed “Hicktown,” the first single off Aldean’s self-titled debut, to a Top 10 country hit. The follow-up, “Why,” went to No. 1. Since that time, an Aldean single that hasn’t made the Top 10 has been a rarity, with the majority (including “Dirt Road Anthem,” “Flyover States,” “She’s Country,” “Big Green Tractor” and “Take a Little Ride”) going to No. 1.

“Things that have happened in my career over the last few years have been pretty insane,” said Aldean. “You stay so busy keeping your head down and plugging away doing what you’re doing that you don’t realize what’s going on around you – how big things are or how big they’re getting until it’s full-blown mayhem. That was kind of the case with me. I didn’t really get it at first, and once I did, it was a little overwhelming. Now that I’ve settled into it a little bit more, it’s allowed me to enjoy it rather than be freaked out by it. That’s sort of where I am in my career right now.”

Aldean said the best decision he made was picking certain tours to appear on as an opening act.

“Early in my career, we had the option of going out on several tours, and we got to hand-pick the ones we wanted to do. Going out with Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts and Tim McGraw ... really gave me a launching pad for my career. Playing for their fans every night, that’s what really got my career off to a good start.”

Not only was it an opportunity to be in front of the bigger artists’ fans, but it gave Aldean a chance to study how the bigger acts worked.

“Every night I was on the side stage watching them and getting ideas for myself if I ever got to the point of headlining my own shows. I was taking in ideas of what I would do or wouldn’t want to do. It was like a free education watching some of the best in the business. Just the way they’d set up certain things on stage or a certain look. We’ve incorporated some of that stuff through the years. I still go to see shows and get ideas. I think you constantly have to do that to evolve and keep it new and fresh.”

Aldean’s 2010 album, “My Kinda Party,” truly pushed him into star status, selling nearly 3 million copies. He said he tried to not think about that when he released the follow-up album, “Night Train,” in late 2012.

“You can’t go in every time and just expect to do that. I’ve got two other albums, three other albums that sold over a million copies each, and I never considered them a failure. For me, it was just doing what I’ve always done. Just try and cut a really cool record – things that represented what I do. Once that’s done, you just put it out there and whatever happens is gonna happen. And I thought we put out a great record.”

The disc has already been certified platinum, and the new single, “1994,” is climbing the charts.

Aldean said there’s still a lot left to do before he’ll be satisfied with his career. He recently recorded a song with the band Alabama for an upcoming tribute album to the band. He also recently was named Best Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music.

“I continue to set goals for myself. This stadium thing is sort of the tip of the iceberg. It’s just one of those things where we’ll see what happens. But there’s a lot of things left on my bucket list that I’d like to achieve before it’s all said and done.”

Contributing: Lori O’Toole Buselt of The Eagle

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