Blake Shelton might be one of the hardest-working artists in country music, but he is quick to acknowledge that he received plenty of help along the way, especially from fellow Oklahoma resident and "Heartbreak Hotel" songwriter Mae Axton.

"If you were coming up and wanting to do anything with music, you knew who Mae Axton was, and then obviously you knew who Hoyt Axton, her son, was," Shelton recently told The Boot and other reporters. "I was singing at that little local Opry show there in Ada, [Okla.], and one year, they brought her back to give her the Mae Boren Axton Award. Hoyt came to perform for her. That’s how we local artists got to meet them.

"I had already made up my mind that I was going to move to Nashville anyway. I think I was 16 or 17 when she came; I told her, ‘I’m moving to Nashville.’ She said, ‘Well, call when you get there. I’ve got some things you can probably do for me, for money or whatever, and I’ll introduce you to some people,’" Shelton recalls, "and man, she did. She did everything she said she would do."

In fact, Shelton doubts that he would have gotten his record deal if not for Axton's influence.

"I don’t even think I would have known where Music Row was if it wasn’t for Mae; it was that pivotal," Shelton acknowledges. "It was like, ‘You need to go visit this guy. He’s a publisher, or this guy, who’s a manager. I’m going to call him for you,’ and she would do that type of stuff for me. I would drive until I made enough contacts that those contacts became the people that would then send me to somebody else. That’s just how any community works, I guess, but especially in Nashville, because people know what you’re up to. You’re trying to work into the web, and that’s how I did it, but without Mae, I don’t know ..."

Another influence during Shelton's early days in Music City was songwriter and producer Bobby Braddock, whose lengthy list of credits included work with Tammy Wynette, Tanya Tucker, George Jones and Bill Anderson, among others. When Shelton was introduced to Braddock, the veteran tunesmith became an advocate for the rising star.

"[Braddock] ended up wanting to work with me, and produced a few sides on me, got me a production deal at the time with Sony," Shelton shares. "They decided they wanted to do a production company ... They basically would sign an artist, they would pay for the production, and if that artist got a record deal, they got points on the album, and that’s how I got my first record deal. Bobby got me signed to Sony that way, and then we cut the things, and he ended up getting me signed. I think everybody in town had a chance to hear my stuff."

Shelton's exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Blake Shelton: Based on a True Story, will be open until November. His latest album, If I'm Honest, which was released in May, is available for purchase at Amazon and iTunes.

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