A shy but charismatic traditionalist, Alan Jackson became one of the most popular and respected country singers of the modern era. Never seen without his trademark cowboy hat and mustache, he notched an incredible string of hit singles, including "Here in the Real World," "Don't Rock the Jukebox," "Chattahoochee," "Gone Country," "Tall, Tall Trees," "Little Bitty," "Murder on Music Row" and his masterpiece, the heartfelt and definitive 9/11 response song, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)." As the flashy showmanship of pop infiltrated country music, Jackson proved one of the most eloquent and vocal defenders of the undiluted country tradition, as well as one of the industry's most decorated singer-songwriters with Grammys and multiple CMA Entertainer of the Year Awards to prove it. With an amazing streak of No. 1 albums and singles, Jackson's musical legacy was manifold, with his songs appealing to listeners across the musical spectrum. With a low-key likability, devotion to classic country, and a humble eloquence that belied his intelligence and songwriting skills, Alan Jackson gracefully transitioned from championing the all-time greats of country music into becoming one himself.
Born Oct. 17, 1958 in Newnan, GA, Alan Eugene Jackson grew up thoroughly steeped in the gospel and country music popular in his small hometown. He married his high school sweetheart and the two moved to Nashville so Jackson could pursue his dream of becoming a country singer. Paying the bills as a car salesman and mailroom clerk, Jackson eventually landed a job as a songwriter with Glen Campbell's publishing company. A few years later, he made the leap to full-fledged artist as the first country singer signed to Arista/Nashville. His debut album, 1990's Here in the Real World became a success, and launched the singles "Blue Blooded Woman," "Wanted," "Chasin' That Neon Rainbow," the title track, and his first No. 1, "I'd Love You All Over Again." A mustachioed, cowboy-hatted Southern gentleman with honky tonk appeal, Jackson took home the Academy of Country Music's Top New Male Vocalist Award.
Jackson's stardom was cemented with the success of his follow-up, 1991's Don't Rock the Jukebox, which produced four chart-toppers: the award-winning title track, "Love's Got a Hold on You," "Dallas" and "Someday." Projecting an effortless charisma and focusing on the music rather than on his image, Jackson was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry that year by legends Roy Acuff and Randy Travis. In fact, Jackson co-wrote several songs for Travis's 1992 High Lonesome, including the No. 1 "Forever Together." Jukebox also spawned the top three hit "Midnight in Montgomery," a tribute to Hank Williams and a valentine to pure country over the country-pop that clogged radio play. Its music video won the 1992 CMA Video of the Year Award. With the 1992 release of A Lot About Livin' (And a Little 'bout Love), Jackson blasted off into superstardom, hitting No. 1 on the country album charts for the first time; the set would eventually go platinum six times over. He earned two No. 1 singles, the catchy "Chattahoochee" and the Randy Travis co-written "She's Got the Rhythm (And I Got the Blues)," as well as the top five hits "Tonight I Climbed the Wall," "(Who Says) You Can't Have It All" and "Mercury Blues." He earned an even bigger wave of awards, including the ACM Single of the Year and the CMA Single and Video of the Year for "Chattahoochee," as well as was named the ASCAP Country Songwriter of the Year.
Jackson continued to shine as one of the foremost stars in the country music galaxy. In 1994, Who I Am racked up eye-popping sales as well as plaudits from critics and fans alike, and he booked another four No. 1 singles: "Summertime Blues," "Livin' on Love," I Don't Even Know Your Name" and the biting commentary on the state of the industry, "Gone Country." A song Jackson co-wrote, "If I Could Make a Living," took singer Clay Walker to No. 1, and Jackson earned another ACAP Country Songwriter of the Year award. He won the 1994 ACM Male Vocalist of the Year and covered "Tequila Sunrise" for the award-winning tribute album Common Thread: Songs of the Eagles. The singer ended the first amazing chapter of his career with a No. 1, six-time platinum1995 greatest hits set that included two new songs that both went to the top of the charts, "I'll Try" and "Tall, Tall Trees." He was named ACM Male Vocalist of the Year in 1995, and took home perhaps the industry's most prestigious honors when he won the 1995 CMA Entertainer of the Year. At the pinnacle of his power, Jackson's next move was to release 1996's Everything I Love, which went triple platinum and spun off the No. 1 hits "Little Bitty" and "There Goes," as well as "Who's Cheatin' Who," which barely missed reaching the penthouse. He was named the national spokesman for Ford Trucks in 1997, capitalizing on his good-old-boy image, and he changed the lyrics to "Mercury Blues" to reflect his new sponsor.
1998's High Mileage, which boasted a heavier sound than his previous sets, debuted at No. 4 on the charts and went platinum, birthing a lone No. 1 single, "Right on the Money." Jackson earned another ASCAP Country Songwriter of the Year Award, but faced a professional crossroads as the new traditionalist sound he championed struggled to gain radio play and publicity, eclipsed by the pop-flavored country and world-class showmanship that had come to dominate the industry with the rise of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. Resolutely country, he released 1999's album of traditional country covers, Under the Influence, which delighted purists but lacked mainstream commercial power. Still, Jackson took "Pop a Top" to the Top Ten, hit No. 1 with "It Must Be Love" and threw a curveball with the unexpected, charmingly strange inclusion of Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville."
Jackson became one of the most outspoken performers as to the importance of maintaining an undiluted country tradition, and he tweaked some noses when he launched into an impromptu on-air cover of George Jones' "Choices" after the legendary singer had decided to boycott the 1999 CMA Awards. Along the same lines, Jackson teamed with George Strait to cover the minor bluegrass hit "Murder on Music Row," which was a stinging critique of the state of modern country music. Although it was never officially released as a single, "Murder" became a surprisingly high-charting hit, and Jackson and Strait performed it at the 2000 ACM Awards, winning the CMA Vocal Event of the Year for their history-making call to arms. Response to his subsequent album, 2000's When Somebody Loves You was lukewarm, and a string of singles yielded a lone No. 1, "Where I Come From."
The 9/11 attacks marked a turning point in the American experience, and country music, more than any other format, responded directly to the complicated emotions felt by citizens. While other artists wrote bombastic musical responses, the soft-spoken Jackson took his usual evenhanded approach, writing 2001's quietly devastating "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)." Jackson wrote and recorded the song quickly, but hesitated to release it, not wanting to capitalize on the tragedy, but the finished work proved cathartically healing. Serendipitously, Jackson was scheduled to perform at the CMA Awards, and instead of his then-current No. 1, "Where I Come From," he sang the heartfelt "Where Were You." An eloquent exploration of the impact and aftermath of 9/11 rooted in Jackson's own faith, the song became the definitive American artistic response to the tragedy, and critics and listeners alike were dazzled by its quiet power. More than just a single, Jackson's words and deceptively straightforward delivery captured a moment in time.
The song went to No. 1 and was placed on Jackson's next album, 2002's Drive, with executives rushing to get it in stores to meet demand. The album revitalized Jackson's career, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts as well as the country chart, going four-times platinum. The title single from the set, "Drive (For Daddy Gene)" also went to No. 1, and two additional singles, "Work in Progress" and "That'd Be Alright" narrowly missed the pinnacle. The artist enjoyed his biggest awards sweep ever, earning the CMA Entertainer of the Year Award again as well as a slew of honors for his masterpiece, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" including the Grammy and a handful of Songwriter of the Year trophies. His second greatest hits set, in 2003, topped the Billboard 200 and country charts, went six-time platinum and spun off two additional No. 1 singles: "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" and "Remember When."
Jackson's eleventh album, 2004's What I Do was a respectable success, as was his acclaimed gospel collection, 2006's Precious Memories. The 2006 Alison Krauss-produced Like Red on a Rose gave Jackson another minor hit, but he only climbed to No. 5 with the self-penned single, "A Woman's Love." In 2007, Jackson's wife, Denise, published an inspirational memoir, It's All About Him: Finding the Love of My Life in which she detailed the couples' journey from the near-dissolution of their marriage in the late 1990s to their reconciliation and renewed commitment to each other and to their faith. Jackson himself wrote and recorded a tie-in single called "It's All About Him," referring to God. The Southern staple restaurant Cracker Barrel also began carrying the "Alan Jackson Collection," featuring music, clothing, food and goods.
A live concert album featuring Jackson, George Strait and Jimmy Buffett followed, but the singer showed he could still pack a musical punch with 2008's Good Time, which collected three No. 1 singles: "Small Town Southern Man," "Country Boy" and the title track. While Jackson's last album in his Arista/Nashville contract, 2010's Freight Train, underperformed, he earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and posted two Top Twenty singles, "It's Just That Way" and "Hard Hat and a Hammer." Jackson had much to be proud of with 2010's awe-inspiring collection of 34 Number Ones, which also featured his Grammy-winning duet with Zac Brown Band, "As She's Walking Away," and a cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."