Born Alan Eugene Jackson, October 17, 1958, in Newnan, GA; son of Eugene (a mechanic) and Mattie (a homemaker) Jackson; married; wife's name, Denise; children: Mattie Denise. Education: Attended South Georgia College. Addresses: Record company-- Arista Records, 6 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
Billed in 1990 as "country music's new heartthrob"--a title that aptly describes the tall, blonde Georgian--Alan Jackson burst on the Nashville scene with his first album, Here in the Real World. The former construction worker and mail room clerk quickly found himself playing before crowds of 40,000 adoring fans. As Laurie Werner observed in a 1990 USA Weekend article, Jackson's overnight success "is due partly to Jackson himself, partly to his throwback musical style, partly to the accelerated new pop-style dynamics of country music.... Jackson's a guy you could swoon over and bring home to Mom.... In this tele-prompted age, a look like that in a music video or on an album cover can really move the merchandise."
Werner, however, may be stretching the point a bit; many up-and-coming Nashville stars are handsome, but it is unlikely that good looks alone would prompt the sale of almost a million copies of an album. Jackson's work, in fact, has been hailed as a refreshing dose of pure country, more traditional in theme and melody than many of the honky-tonkers of his time. His sinewy baritone voice masks little of his Georgia accent, and his favorite lyrics--extolling home, family, and marriage--are the very staples of country fare. Even with the spotlight on him, Jackson remains true to his small-town roots, and the result is a genuine, sincere country sound.
Alan Eugene Jackson was born in 1958 and raised in Newnan, Georgia, a town south of Atlanta. The youngest child and only boy in his family, Jackson had a very happy childhood even though money was scarce. From his mother he inherited a love of country and gospel music, while his father taught him how to repair and refurbish cars, a hobby he still enjoys. Growing up in Newnan, Jackson gave little thought to a career in music. He knew no one who had ever considered becoming a singer, and none of his family members were particularly musical. He seemed destined to settle in Newnan for life, especially after he married his high school sweetheart when he was 20 years old.
From the age of 12 Jackson held odd jobs, using his earnings to buy and restore old cars. While in his twenties he worked as a mechanic and a builder, but he gradually became bored by such jobs. He was inspired to try his luck in music by a friend who became an airline pilot, which "was a pretty big job to hope for in our little ol' town," Jackson mused in Country Music. "But four or five years later, [my friend] ended up as a pilot for a major carrier, making big money. That really made me look at my own life and decide that I needed to get on up to Nashville and try and do what I really wanted to do. But it was still a big jump for me, because I'd lived in that little town all my life and had never really traveled much. Just moving away from family was a big step." Despite such reservations, Jackson, who had performed with a band locally for years, moved with his wife to Nashville in 1985.
By that time Jackson had written a number of songs, most of them composed during a summer when his wife was away, working in North Carolina. Upon arriving in Nashville, he took a job in the mail room of The Nashville Network (TNN) and spent all of his spare time singing and trying to sell his songs. One day his wife, who was working as a flight attendant, ran into singer Glen Campbell in the airport at Atlanta. She asked Campbell for some musical advice on Jackson's behalf, and Campbell gave her his business card. Jackson subsequently took his songs to Glen Campbell Music and was given a publishing contract. That contract led to better bookings as well as a manager for the would-be star.
Jackson was one of the first artists signed at the Nashville office of Arista Records, which opened in the late 1980s. Known in the pop music business for recruiting young, attractive artists, Arista brought the same philosophy to its country division. Jackson fit the bill perfectly, and the fact that he wrote many of his own lyrics was an additional point in his favor. With Arista, he released his first album, Here in the Real World, early in 1990. The album's debut single was "Blue-Blooded Woman" and it went to Number One on the country charts in the summer of 1990. Subsequent Number One hits from Here in the Real World include "Wanted (One Good-Hearted Woman)," a spoken-sung love ballad, the up-tempo "Chasin' That Neon Rainbow," and the album's title cut.
It wasn't long before Jackson and his band had left behind their beat-up van and were touring in a plush bus, with technicians and security guards. The latter became necessary when an exuberant female fan literally tackled Jackson, knocking him off his feet. The singer spent much of the summer of 1990 opening for other country acts, but as he gained popularity he became a headliner in his own right, drawing impressive crowds in the southern and western United States. He was nominated for four Country Music Association awards late in 1990, including the coveted Horizon Award and Best Male Vocalist of the Year Award, and received the Top New Male Artist of the Year Award from the Academy of Country Music.
"I really didn't expect things to take off as fast as they did," Jackson reflected in Country Music. "Sometimes the whole thing just doesn't quite grab me. But then all of a sudden, I'll just be sittin' somewhere and it'll kinda sneak up on me, and I'll realize just how lucky I am."
With the 1991 Arista release of Jackson's second album, Don't Rock the Jukebox, the singer earned further praise. The LP displays the influence of George Jones, Jackson's protege who also lends vocals to the single "Just Playin' Possum." Reviewer Rich Kienzle declared in Country Music that "with Don't Rock the Jukebox Jackson has matured, setting a standard many of his contemporaries could emulate and a few of the old hands who've been off their game recently ought to remember." In addition, Lisa Shea writing in People found that the singer "has a knack for making middle-of-the-country-road music that never sounds self-satisfied or slick."
Jackson has also made music videos along with his albums, and the winsome performer has become one of the most requested acts on TNN. Opinions vary widely on Jackson's ability to maintain his popularity in the competitive Nashville music industry. If he does succeed in establishing himself as a major star, it will certainly be on the strength of his songwriting and vocal delivery, not on his handsome appearance. Jackson's traditional songs, with their simple melodies and heartfelt lyrics, have been judged engaging enough in their own right to assure him an audience among those who love "real" country.
The successful singer, who has not forgotten his blue-collar past, "is at his best when singing about his own down-home roots," Cynthia Sanz noted in People. Describing himself to Sanz as "just a simple guy," Jackson told Werner in USA Weekend that he has enjoyed every minute of his success: "I caught up to all my goals so fast that I haven't had a chance to make new ones. I even got on the [television programs] Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw .... When I was growing up, I thought that if you could be on Hee Haw, you'd made it. So I thought, 'Boy, here I am on Hee Haw, in the cornfield. I guess I really have made it.'"
by Anne Janette Johnson
Alan Jackson's Career
Country singer and songwriter, 1985--. Worked variously as a car salesman, shoe salesman, construction worker, forklift operator, and as a mail room clerk at The Nashville Network (TNN), Nashville, TN. Signed with Arista Records, 1989, released first album, Here in the Real World, 1990. Has appeared on television programs, including Grand Ole Opry, Hee Haw, and New West.
Alan Jackson's Awards
Top New Male Artist of the Year award, Academy of Country Music, Horizon Award and Best Male Vocalist of the Year award, Country Music Association, Star of Tomorrow award, TNN/ Music City News, Best New Artist of 1990, R&R magazine, and American Music Award nomination, all 1990.
- Selective Works
- Here in the Real World (includes "Here in the Real World," "Blue-Blooded Woman," "Wanted (One Good-Hearted Woman)," and "Chasin' That Neon Rainbow,"), Arista, 1990.
- Don't Rock the Jukebox Arista, 1991.
May 26, 2004: Jackson shared two Academy of Country Music Awards, including Single of the Year and Vocal Event of the Year, for "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" with Jimmy Buffett. Source: Academy of Country Music, www.acmcountry.com/2004_acm_nominees.htm, May 27, 2004.
- Country Music, July/August 1990; September/October 1990; July/August 1991; September/October 1991.
- People, May 21, 1990; August 5, 1991; September 2, 1991.
- USA Weekend, October 5-7, 1990.