NASHVILLE -- By the time Jason Aldean wraps his My Kinda Party tour
next week in Dallas, he'll have played in front of 2 million ticket
buyers. That tour, which began in January 2011, saw Aldean climb from
the status of consistent hitmaker to one of country music's biggest
From the 35-year-old Georgia native's perspective, the
change happened while he was on vacation. "I was at the beach for a
month and a half" with his wife and two daughters when his country-rap Dirt Road Anthem
single went to radio, he says. "I kept hearing the song when I was down
there, and it was like, 'Cool, the song's doing well.' When I came back
off vacation and started playing my shows, everything had changed. It
went from a career rolling along to ridiculous."
As Night Train, the singer's fifth album, pulls into the station Tuesday, driven by chart-topping lead single Take a Little Ride,
Aldean certainly has his career on track. He's the second-most-played
artist at country radio this year, according to Mediabase; only Kenny
Chesney has more spins. Previous album My Kinda Party was last year's top-selling country album and has sold 2.8 million copies since its November 2010 release.
also at the forefront of an influx of Georgia-bred acts that includes
Luke Bryan, Eric Church and Lady Antebellum, all of whom have opened for
him. He has championed up-and-coming acts like Brantley Gilbert and new
duo Florida Georgia Line by covering their songs on his albums.
he's not the No. 1 artist in country music right now, I don't know
who's bigger," says Gregg Swedberg, program director for KEEY-FM in
Though Aldean openly embraces hip-hop elements and
rock guitar riffs, he also possesses a throwback-country quality, and
not just because the maroon-and-gold jersey he's wearing today in his
manager's Music Row office has a faded Dukes of Hazzard iron-on
transfer on the front. Aldean's voice resembles that of '90s star Tracy
Lawrence ("I used to do a part of my show where I would do an
impersonation of him," he says), and one of Night Train's most memorable songs, 1994,
name-checks another favorite from that era, Joe Diffie. "I still think
he's one of the best singers we've ever had in country music," Aldean
Aldean's preference for the workhorse singers of his youth
over the superstars dovetails with the blue-collar approach he takes in
many of his songs. But Aldean distinguishes himself from the current
glut of let-me-sing-about-my-truck-and-tell-you-how-country-I-am hits by
not only taking pride in his cultural background, but by being keenly
aware that many people don't hold the same things in similar esteem.
no secret that people, a lot of times, look down on the South and think
that we're all hillbillies and still make moonshine in the woods," he
says. "Does that go on? Yeah. But we don't sit around on hay bales and
all play banjos. It's so ridiculous what some people's mind-set of
people in the South is like.
"I'm proud that I'm from Georgia and
where I came from and the lifestyle that I grew up living. People like
to talk. In actuality, they don't know what they're talking about."
brings that same underdog mentality to his career. He began recording
for the independent Broken Bow Records label in 2005 after a couple of
deals with bigger labels fell through. Seven years and more than 6
million album sales later, he continues with Broken Bow, which, because
of him, now has a much bigger presence in Nashville. Still, he admits to
carrying a chip on his shoulder when it comes to the music industry.
"Not a huge chip," he says. "Just a little one."
That industry is
finally starting to give him some recognition. He got three nominations
for February's Grammy Awards and three more this year from the Country
Music Association. That includes an entertainer of the year nod that
pits him against last year's winner, Taylor Swift, as well as Chesney,
Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton.
"I'd be lying to you if I didn't
go into those things hoping that we would walk out of there with
something - that's just human nature," says Aldean, who won CMAs last
year for his My Kinda Party album and Don't You Wanna Stay,
his smash crossover duet with Kelly Clarkson. "At the same time, I've
learned over the years not to get my hopes up too much for that stuff."
this year's CMA nominations are any indication, Aldean may stand a good
chance of taking that top award. The weirdest batch of CMA nominations
in recent memory - with nominees including Clarkson, rapper Snoop Dogg,
R&B singer Lionel Richie and folk duo the Civil Wars - suggests that
voters are in the mood for new blood.
Aldean's Peach State pack
is reaping the benefits from that mood shift: Church, who opened for
Aldean on his last tour, leads all CMA nominees with five; Bryan, who's
supporting Aldean on the current tour, has two. Gilbert, who wrote Dirt Road Anthem and My Kinda Partybefore topping the country charts with a couple of his own recordings, is contending for top new artist.
can see the changing of the guard that our format's going through,
which is healthy for it," says Aldean's manager, Chris Parr. "If it's
not this year, I think it will come for Jason, I really do."
One track from Night Train has an almost-guaranteed lock on a spot in next year's nominations: Both Bryan and Church join him on The Only Way I Know.
a song about that relentless spirit, of doing everything to the
fullest, going at everything full steam ahead," says Aldean, who's
slated to perform on this year's CMA Awards show Nov. 1. "Luke and I
have been friends for a long time and have talked about working together
for a long time. This song made sense for that. The more I listened to
it, the more I thought we could bring somebody else in, too.
"Eric had been on tour with me last year. I'm a huge fan of what he does. His Springsteen song
was one of the best songs out there this year. So to bring him in kind
of made sense. To get all three of us on one record was something that
doesn't happen every day in the music business. I thought it'd be a cool
event for the record and a song that fans will get into, as well."
rise to prominence has also brought him unwanted attention. Last month,
TMZ posted photos of the married singer nuzzling former American Idol contestant and Charlotte Bobcats dancer Brittany Kerr at a Los Angeles bar.
the story broke, Aldean quickly manned up and addressed the incident on
his Facebook page, posting, "The truth is that I screwed up. I had too
much to drink, let the party get out of hand and acted inappropriately
at a bar. I left alone, caught the bus to our next show and that's the
end of the story. I ultimately ended up embarrassing my family and
KEEY's Swedberg says Aldean took exactly the right
approach in responding to the photos. "If it had been handled any
differently, it might have hurt him."
Aldean says he said what he
wanted to say about that night in his Facebook post. "My main focus
right now is piecing my family back together and doing that as privately
as possible," he says. "It's been a really embarrassing situation, not
only for me but for everybody I care about. It's something that has
opened my eyes to some things. I don't need to be in that situation. You
definitely want to surround yourself with people who are going to help
keep you from getting in that situation.
"I'm not counting on everybody else to do that. It's ultimately my responsibility to keep myself out of those positions."
Ironically, the TMZ story may have vaulted Aldean into another level of celebrity.
definitely a celebrity status that I could have done without, for
sure," he says. "Sometimes you don't realize how big you are until
something like this happens. I didn't think I was that big of a story. I
was obviously proven wrong on that."
As he looks toward 2013,
Aldean hopes the big story for him won't be his personal life but his
continued success on tour. Life on the road is a recurring theme
throughout the new album, in the title track and also in Wheels Rollin', which has the feel of Bob Seger's Turn the Page and Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive, both of which Aldean has performed in concert.
"It's more of a journeyman record," he says of Night Train.
"That's what my life has been like for the last eight years, nine
years. Ultimately, your lifestyle is going to affect the kind of songs
When Aldean announces his 2013 touring schedule, it
likely will include some stadium dates. He tested those waters this
summer, playing for more than 27,000 people at a sold-out show at
Columbus Crew Stadium to close the Ohio State Fair.
that's what everybody would love to do, a stadium tour," he says. "There
aren't a whole lot of people who can do that on a consistent basis."
says Aldean definitely has stadiums in his immediate future. "We're not
going to get way ahead of ourselves; it's not going to be Cirque du
Soleil," he says. "We're certainly looking at bigger venues in
particular markets, where the population centers are."
Braun, music director at Chicago country station WUSN-FM, doesn't
believe filling stadiums would be much of a stretch for the singer,
noting that he sold out the 28,000-capacity First Midwest Bank
Amphitheatre near Chicago in August. "I've watched him and his show grow
exponentially," Braun says. "Making that leap up (to stadiums) is
completely within his reach. With the right support, it would be a
massive home run."
Aldean doesn't want to take that kind of career
growth for granted, though. "I'm scared to let up at all," he says. "I
don't want it to go back to the way it was. ... I want it to last as
long as it can."