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Kenny Chesney Reflects on Strait-ening Out His Career

Ethan Miller, Getty Images

A country icon, George Strait has millions of admirers, none bigger than Kenny Chesney. In Nashville for Billboard’s Country Music Summit last week, Kenny expressed his respect for King George. The Tennessee native also explained how he found his own path and unique style in country music.

“Like a lot of people did, and I was guilty of it, George Strait was the guy who was the model that everybody at the time, and still today, wanted to be like. They wanted to emulate him,” Kenny said. “As much as I love him and respect him, the moment that I quit trying to be him was the moment my life changed.”

Kenny explained that soon after he started being himself onstage, he became more honest in his songwriting.

“My career was really odd, because I literally had a greatest hits album out and nobody knew who I was. They knew the songs, but they didn’t know me,” he said. “I realized that I wanted to get better in every way. As a person, as a friend, as a songwriter, as a musician, as an artist, record producer, you name it.

“I remember lying in bed awake in the middle of the night, thinking of things off the top of my head,” Kenny recalled. “I had a notepad and I wrote down 30 things to make myself better just off the top of my head, and the next day I started to do that. No matter what I was doing I would think, ‘There’s somebody somewhere that I’ve never met kicking my butt. I may never meet them, and I’m not going to let that happen.’ So, I want to be the person they’re thinking about instead of me thinking about them.”

Kenny went on to explain that even after the release of his ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation album, he felt disconnected with his audience. Despite tremendous sales, he still didn’t have the “image” he wanted.

“It was just a bunch of songs in a big bowl with everybody else,” he said. “Once I started writing real, honest songs about my life — about things that I love and my life in the islands and my life back in east Tennessee — and really tried to get my live show where I wanted it, that’s when my life changed.”

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