Alan Jackson Tears Up the Tracks With ‘Freight Train’
Alan Jackson is rolling down the tracks with his new album ‘Freight Train’ this week. It’s the superstar’s 18th release in his 20-plus-year career, and it features 12 songs, eight of which the superstar wrote or co-wrote. It’s Alan’s first since 2008’s platinum-certified ‘Good Time,’ which yielded three No. 1 hits.
The Georgia native is currently barreling up the country charts with his single, ‘It’s Just That Way,’ one of the few the 51-year-old did not write for the new project but which he recorded it reminds him of how his relationship with wife Denise started and has lasted for more than 30 years.
Other highlights include ‘Hard Hat and a Hammer,’ a tribute to the working man … and woman, as well as his duet with Lee Ann Womack, ‘Till the End,’ a cover of the 1977 Vern Gosdin classic. ‘After 17′ was written after Alan’s oldest daughter, Mattie, left for college; while songs such as ‘I Could Get Used to This Lovin’ Thing,’ ‘True Love is a Golden Ring’ and ‘The Best Keeps Getting Better’ give us a glimpse into the singer’s married life.
Alan Jackson released his debut album, ‘Here in the Real World,’ on Feb. 27, 1990, and has since become one of country music’s biggest stars, selling more than 50 million albums and topping the charts 34 times. Alan revealed recently that ‘Freight Train’ is his last album for Arista, but he’s still unsure of what direction he’s headed after this album runs its course. If his current label makes him an offer he can’t refuse, he could end up staying, or as he recently told Billboard, “My contract is up after this, so I guess I’ll be doing something for somebody or on my own.”
The Boot sat down with Alan at a Nashville studio to find out more about the new album (in stores today, March 30). He also talks about his level of happiness, describes how he taught Denise a lesson she’ll never forget, and reveals that his oldest daughter will soon be a published writer.
You kick off with some amazing fiddles on ‘Hard Hat and a Hammer.’ What kind of statement does that make for the rest of the album?
I love that fiddle kick-off. I just knew when he first played that when we were recording, I said, ‘That’s gonna start the album.’ Not that I’m trying to shove it in somebody’s face, but I just liked that that it was so simple, just the fiddle by itself. I get a credit on this album [as a musician]. I play the anvil. ‘Hard Hat and a Hammer’ has an anvil in there. I said, ‘Man, this thing needs somebody hitting an anvil with a hammer. [Producer Keith Stegall] came out to the house one day with his engineer because I’ve got an anvil that was my daddy’s. It’s mounted on a telephone pole … and the back of it’s broken off. He got it when he worked for the county farm. They gave it to him because it was broken, I guess. It stayed in our garage my whole life, daddy’s shop garage. Man, I beat on a lot of parts and steel on that thing, and he did too. When he died, I got a lot of his stuff. And that anvil’s in my car museum garage there. Keith came out and we took a hammer and it didn’t sound right. Finally, we had to get two or three hammers and found one that sounded right. That’s what’s on the record. I sat there and beat on that anvil, so I get that credit … the hammer that worked was a hammer that had a steel handle instead of the wood. That’s the one that sounded best. I think you hear the hammer more than you hear the anvil!
‘Hard Hat and a Hammer’ is another of your many “working man” songs. Do you still carry a lunch pail with you?
If I still went to work, I would. I still write a lot about that stuff. I’m lazy and don’t do anything now. There was a time — Denise and I laugh about it every now and then — not long after we were married, I worked at the K-Mart warehouse in Newnan, Ga., for a couple of years. I drove a forklift, and I worked second shift. She’d make my lunch and drive out there and bring it to me. It was actually supper. It was like 6 in the evening, so she’d get off her job and bring me dinner. Back then, microwaves really weren’t that popular, so you’d have to wrap up your hot dog up in, we call it tin foil in Georgia, but it’s aluminum foil and try to keep your hot dog warm. One time she brought my lunch out there and she said the [car’s] oil light kept coming on. I said, ‘Did it go off?’ And she said, ‘No, and it smells funny now.’ And I said, ‘So you just drove it out here with the oil light staying on?’ She said, ‘Well, I was about halfway, and it was still several miles.’ And sure enough, she burned the engine slap up in it. I had to rebuild the engine in the car over at daddy’s garage. But she learned a good lesson: if the light comes on, stop … and don’t bring me dinner. I can get something out of the vending machine!
With songs such as the first single, ‘It’s Just That Way,’ it sounds like you’re a happy man. Did that come about while writing these songs or did you realize it after the fact?
Everything is wonderful. A lot of my songs, like ‘The Best Keeps Getting Better’ is one of those positive songs about being in a relationship a long time. I write what I know about, I guess, and that’s where I’m at. But, man, I love sad songs. I like to write sad songs. They’re much easier to write and you get a lot more emotion into them. But people don’t want to hear them as much. And radio definitely doesn’t; they want that positive, uptempo thing.
When your oldest daughter heard ‘After 17′ for the first time, she got pretty emotional. Being in a houseful of women, was it hard to relate to what she was going through when she left home for the first time?
I’ve had to live with women all my life. I grew up with four older sisters, and I was the baby and the only boy. Now I’m in a house with four, plus a couple working around there, so I guess I grew up not thinking any different about being around women. Maybe it gave me a little more understanding and perspective. I can’t say it did, but I wrote that after she went to college. It’s kind of a tough time, not just for the parents, but I could see it in her eyes. She was a very confident child and teenager, and I wasn’t worried about her going off. I knew she’d be fine, but you could still see … like it said [in the song] “you’re grown, but you’re not.” I could see in her eyes that she was anxious to go and looking forward to it, but a little bit scared and tentative. I guess all those images came out of watching that.
Speaking of your daughter, Mattie wrote the treatment for your current video. How did that came about and is she thinking about a music business career?
I don’t think she really is that interested in being in the music business necessarily. She’s really smart and I don’t know where she got all this, but she can do pretty much [anything]. She’s great in math. And everybody says she’s a good writer, and whatever she writes for school … I don’t even understand half of it. She writes stuff that I can’t figure out! I think that’s what she’s more interested in is writing. I think she could probably write songs if she wanted to, but I think she’s more interested in some type of writing in another direction. We’re always looking at ideas for videos. and I’ve shot about 50 of them, literally 50-something, and you kind of run out of ideas. We had some ideas thrown from directors but nothing knocked me down. And I told all my girls one day — they were all sitting there — I said, “Why don’t y’all come up with an idea for this thing? You’re all pretty musical and creative.” She called me one day from college and said, “I’ve got this idea,” and was telling me about it. And I said, “Put it down on something.” She printed it out … and I showed it to my manager and the record label liked it and everybody wanted to do it, so I got the director to do it. And bam! There it was.
Now Paula Deen‘s got her writing some article for her magazine because of it. She heard about it and wanted Mattie to be at the shoot and make sure she was involved in seeing it as we shot it. She wrote this article for Paula Deen’s magazine … it’s some kind of Father’s Day thing. It’s pretty cool. That’s good for her little resume and everything.
“That’s Where I Belong” talks about your love of fishing. What’s your favorite place to fish and do you have any tips?
I almost like being on the water and the boats, more than I do the fishing. But the fishing gives me a good excuse to be out on the ocean. I don’t freshwater fish as much as I used to. Years ago, I did bass fish a lot. I got into offshore fishing 15 years ago, and I’ve fished everywhere most people do that, in the Bahamas and off of Florida in the Keys and Mexico and the Virgin Islands. But I’ve had some of my best luck in the Bahamas at different times. When I first started offshore fishing, I didn’t know that much about it. I had a boat and hired this fishing captain. It was my first trip to the Bahamas, and this was about ’95, I think. We rode over there on my boat to this little island called Chub Cay over there, and it’s just a tiny little thing and a lot of people fish around there. We went out to fish that day. We caught a sailfish and we caught a blue marlin, and I was just ecstatic to catch those two big bill fish. Then we caught a white marlin, which looks like a blue. You wouldn’t even know the difference. My captain said, “Oh, man, you just caught a grand slam in the Bahamas.” I said, “Whoa, that’s cool. What do you mean?” He said, “You caught the three species of bill fish in the same day, and that’s very rare, especially in the Bahamas.” So, I said, “Well, that’s great.” We got back to the dock, and you put these flags up showing off what you caught. We got back to the dock and these other sport fishing guys with their boats, they’re walking around looking at us, saying, “You got a grand slam?” I said, “Yeah.” They were [looking] at me like I was some sort of god or something, and I didn’t even know what I caught. That was the freakiest thing, to be your first trip to the Bahamas and catch a grand slam!
We try to look at everybody that’s available and who would work well with the show. Josh has done some dates with me a time or two over the years, and I’ve been a fan of his. He and Chris both have a more real country sound, so that’s what I like. Typically, I try to take a girl act out or a band or something so it’s not the same thing. This might be interesting to see how three guys of all three different ages [work together]. I know my girls, college age to high school, they both liked Josh. When he first came out, I remember them oooh-ing about him and then Chris Young, they’re already talking about him being on the show. So, it’ll be a good mixture.