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alanjackson

 

ALAN JACKSON

 

It will come as no surprise to music fans that Alan Jackson is, himself, a traditional country music fan with a storehouse of honky-tonk classics in his repertoire. What might open a few eyes is the fact that a man who is so red hot as a songwriter today would pause in his career to tip his hat to the songs of the past.

Under the Influence finds the much-awarded Jackson kicking back to relax with his buddies in the studio. He says he did the album for fun, without heed to commerciality. Somewhat to his surprise, the executives at Arista/Nashville have embraced the project as enthusiastically as they have any of his previous works.

"The new country fans, including many of the people at Arista, weren't born when a lot of these songs were out," Jackson observes. "And even I wasn't very old when a couple of them were released."

"Originally, I just wanted to do this album for me and some of my fans who might be interested in it. I didn't set out for it to be a commercial album. I thought it would just be something interesting for Arista to put in the catalog. Now they're wanting to release singles from it and everything. I said, 'Fine with me.'"

"Pop A Top," Jackson's revival of country star Jim Ed Brown's 1967 classic, is one of the great barroom shuffles. Although Jackson was only nine years old when Brown originally made it a smash, the tune fits his baritone like a glove. George Jones first sang the romping "Revenoor Man" when Jackson was a five-year-old in kindergarten. Jones, who duetted memorably with Jackson on 1994's "A Good Year For The Roses," is also saluted on the new CD via Jackson's reworking of 1973's "Once You've Had The Best." Jones was the first of the legendary artists who heard Under the Influence.

"I ran into him the other day," the proud Jackson reports, "and he was just going on and on about it. That made me feel great, because I wanted to make this album as a kind of tribute to those artists."

"It was intimidating for me, because I was such a fan of all these records and songs and singers. When we first went into the studio, you've got that ego that says, 'Well, we've got to make this our own.' But after we worked on it, I said to [producer] Keith Stegall, 'The reason I wanted to do this was to pay respect to those artists and producers who affected me.' So we decided to play as close to what the original track sounded like as possible. I didn't want to take away from that. As far as my vocals, I didn't try to sing like 'em or not sing like 'em. I just went in there and sang."

Alan Jackson has been performing Gene Watson's "Farewell Party," Mel McDaniel's "Right In The Palm Of Your Hand" and Merle Haggard's "The Way I Am" in his live shows for years. Haggard's 1979 hit "My Own Kind Of Hat" was also dusted off by Jackson for Under the Influence. He feels close to Charley Pride, who recorded his song "Here In The Real World," so Jackson saluted him via "Kiss An Angel Good Mornin'."

When he first began to sing country music in Georgia, Alan Jackson was especially influenced by the songs of Hank Williams Jr. The rowdy superstar was quite moved by Jackson's "Midnight In Montgomery," which paid homage to Hank Williams Sr. in 1992. Now Jackson salutes Hank Jr.'s songwriting prowess in a powerfully emotional reading of "The Blues Man." Jimmy Buffett's songs were a staple of every club entertainer of the 1970s and 1980s. Jackson not only revives "Margaritaville," he harmonizes with the enduringly popular Buffett on the tune.

"I could do two albums of Haggard songs. I always sang Gene Watson stuff in my younger days. I could do a ton of Hank Jr. songs. I sang a lot of George Jones, a lot of John Conlee, George Strait and John Anderson. That's why I picked [Anderson's] 'She Just Started Liking Cheatin' Songs.' 'It Must Be Love' is a song that I used to sing with my first band, because I'm a big fan of Don Williams. I could sing a ton of his songs, too."

Alan Jackson is connected to this classic material on a deeply emotional level. In a Nashville musical climate that has practically obliterated the meaning of "country," Jackson has stood his ground as a beacon of integrity. Whether yearning and thoughtful in 1995's "Song For The Life," honky-tonk majestic in 1997's "Between The Devil And Me," rockabilly happy in 1993's "Chattahoochee" and "Mercury Blues" or swinging lightly in 1998's "Right On The Money," Alan Jackson has been a model of country class and artistic dignity.

But unlike many who carry traditional country's banner, Jackson allows his music to grow and evolve. Indeed, his songwriting seemed to gain depth and insight as each new album was created. As a composer he has been behind such contemporary-country masterpieces as "Wanted" (1990), "Dallas" (1992), "Tonight I Climbed The Wall" (1993), "Livin' On Love" (1994), "A House With No Curtains (1997), "Gone Crazy" (1998) and "Little Man" (1999).

"I just do what I like and what I feel like I do the best," he says humbly. "When 'Hee Haw' came on TV that was probably the earliest I remember being affected by real country music. My daddy watched that show religiously, every week. So I watched it, too. My daddy doesn't say much, but I remember one time when Buck Owens was playing he said, 'You ought to be one of them singers,' or something like that. I don't know why that struck me, but it did."

"When I got to be a teenager I had to survive disco in high school. I started a duo with a girl who played guitar and sang harmony. We did mostly folky-country stuff. When I was 16 or 17 I hung out with a guy who was a little older than me who played guitar. We started our first little band to play on weekends. There were hardly any clubs around the area, so we played private parties, pizza parlors and little beer joints here and there. You'd play the current stuff that was on the radio."

Under the Influence is a recollection of those innocent days in rural Georgia. And Alan Jackson's performances have recaptured all the straight-from-the-heart emotions that made these tunes hits in the first place. He reports that the recording sessions were among the most relaxing and enjoyable of his career.

In years past, fans have enthusiastically embraced Alan Jackson's revivals of oldies such as "Summertime Blues" (1994), "Tall Tall Trees" (1995) and "Who's Cheatin' Who" (1997). Now he is presenting them with a banquet feast of such performances.

"I've been wanting to do this project for years," he says. "I've had most of these in the back of my mind for a long, long time. The musicians just had a ball, so did I. There were some magical moments, where whole songs were recorded live. This album feels refreshing to me."