Jason Aldean is an ideal example of an overnight success nearly 15 years in the making. When the singer/songwriter/guitarist won the Academy of Country Music's top new male vocalist award in 2005, he had been working in Nashville, Tenn., for about seven years and playing in bars and clubs since he was a teenager. "Once ‘Hicktown' came out, it seemed like I kind of came out of nowhere and all the sudden had a hit,” Aldean said in a phone interview from Indianapolis, where he was preparing for a show. "For me, it didn't feel like an overnight thing; I was just glad it finally happened.” Now, Aldean, 31, and the duo Halfway to Hazard are guests on superstar Tim McGraw's "2008 Live Your Voice Tour.” The tour stops at the Ford Center at 8 tonight. "I watch what he (McGraw) does on stage and how he interacts with fans and things like that, but also how he takes care of all his people who work for him. Little things like that just make a big difference,” Aldean said. "Being out there, it's almost like having a free education.”
Starting young"Hicktown,” the first single off Aldean's 2005 self-titled debut album, was the first of five straight top 10 singles for him. His sophomore album, "Relentless,” entered the country charts at No. 1 a year ago. It has spawned hits with "Johnny Cash” and "Laugh Until We Cried.” The recently released title track is in the Top 40. Aldean started performing in little clubs around his native Georgia when he was 14 and had a house gig at the Macon nightspot Nashville South within about a year. By the time he graduated high school, he was playing music five nights a week. He decided to forgo college and the chance to play baseball to tour with a band around the South. In 1998, his producer, Michael Knox, then-vice president of Warner-Chapell Publishing, spotted him playing in an Atlanta club and signed him to a songwriting contract. It took the next six years for Aldean to land a secure record deal. A native Georgian, Aldean plays country with a solid shot of Southern rock. His biggest musical influences are Alabama, Tracy Lawrence and John Anderson. While he scored a hit with the song "Johnny Cash,” about hitting the road with a Cash classic blaring, he doesn't list the Man in Black among his main influences. "I kind of took some heat over saying this when that song was out, but you know, Johnny Cash, I can't honestly say he was a big influence for me. The reason being is the time I really started listening to music on the radio was in the '80s, which Johnny wasn't really getting played a lot on the radio in the '80s,” he said. "It's just one of those things where I didn't really grow up hearing a lot of his music so ... I didn't have an appreciation for his music until I was older.”
Sounding like himselfAldean is part of an influx of young talent finding success in Nashville. He said he isn't making a calculated effort to stand out from the crowd; he just plays the music he loves. "It's really weird to me to see sometimes a lot of new artists come out and then try to be like another artist, and that to me doesn't make a lot of sense. There's already a Tim McGraw, there's already a George Strait, like there's not going to be another one. So you might as well come out and do what it is that you do and not try to do things like these guys do,” he said. "I never really tried to pay much attention to that, I just kind of came out and did what it is that I do, which I didn't know if people were going to like it or not. But ultimately, I gotta go out and sing the songs every night, so I want all that stuff to be things that I like.” Aldean has plenty of experience as a songwriter but doesn't insist on recording his own work. His first album included three tracks he wrote; "Relentless” doesn't feature any. "I'm one of those people that I like to write a song if I have something to say. I don't necessarily really like sitting in a room for four or five hours a day just writing just for the sake of writing. I guess, because I did that for a while, it's just not my thing,” he said. "I'm one of those people that when we're recording an album, I want to find the best songs I can find. If I happen to write those, then that's great; if not, that's fine, too.” Aldean is working on his third album, which he expects to release next year. For now, he is focused on his job on the tour: Getting the crowd warmed up for McGraw. "Our whole day revolves around that hour that we get to play on stage, and so when we finally get the chance to go out there ... we just try to have a good time and kind of cut loose,” he said.
Tim McGraw with Jason Aldean and Halfway to Hazard•When: 8 tonight. •Where: Ford Center, 100 W Reno. •Tickets and information: 235-8288 or www.okfordcenter.com.