June 8, 2009 — Not too many country artists can boast the kind of relationship Alan Jackson's had with Arista Records. He signed his first deal with the company June 26, 1989; 20 years later, he's still with the label, enjoying the 50th Top 10 hit of his career with "Sissy's Song."
"The world's changed a lot in 20 years, but songs are pretty much about love or lost love," he told The Tennessean. "And the rest of the stuff's just about life."
A lot of life's been lived in between then and now. Alan's had three daughters and won a bundle of Entertainer of the Year awards. Country music witnessed the explosions of Garth Brooks, whose first single wasn't yet in the Top 15 at the time Alan signed his deal; genre-busting Shania Twa in; and one Taylor Swift, who wasn't yet born when Alan put his name on the dotted line. And the world at large has gone through a lot, too, including the introduction of the Internet, which spurred Alan to write "www.memory"; the election of an African-American president; and the destruction of the World Trade Center, which inspired "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)."
From his commentary on small-town economics in "Little Man" to his reflection on a parent's influence in "Drive (For Daddy Gene)," Alan's been a conduit for the emotions and viewpoints of America's heartland during his two decades, though he was turned down routinely when he pitched his demo tapes around Nashville in the 1980s. Though he probably felt some desperation, he wasn't exactly elated when Clive Davis — who'd been instrumental in the careers of Sly & The Family Stone, Barry Manilow and Whitney Houston — wanted to make him one of the first acts signed to the Arista branch he was opening at the time in Nashville.
"I was concerned," Alan said. "I'd never heard of Arista, and never heard of Clive Davis. I was bound and determined to do country music and didn't want to end up on some weird label that wouldn't let me do country music. I was even more shy and backwards than I am now, and somebody from New York who ran an R&B and pop label and wanted to sign me didn't seem right. But aft er meeting Clive, he was a smart man and a song man. And he complimented my songwriting. It wound up working out."
Indeed. Alan is using this week's CMA Music Festival as a backdrop to celebrate the anniversary. He's playing a rare club gig at Cadillac Ranch on Nashville's lower Broadway on Wednesday, and he's opening it up to fans for free! Later in the summer, he's still found a new to do something new in his career. He's playing Scandinavia for the first time Aug. 13-15.