10 Badass Alan Jackson Moments

August 13, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Outlaw History  //  46 Comments


As one of the primary members of country music’s “Class of ’89” that’s regularly given credit for veering country music into a too commercial direction, Alan Jackson seems to never be given enough credit for being one of the genre’s staunch traditionalists that has stood up for the roots and the legends of country music arguably more than any other mainstream star, and just as much (if not more) than The Outlaws of the 70’s did. When you sit back and reflect on his now legendary career that has seen the sale of over 80 million records and seen Alan amass dozens of industry awards, there is no question Alan Jackson deserves the distinction of being an ultimate country music badass.

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1. Starting His Career in the TNN Mailroom

young-alan-jacksonWillie Nelson and Waylon Jennings got their start in music as DJ’s. Kris Kristofferson started out as a janitor in the Columbia studios. For those with music in their blood, they will do whatever it takes to get their foot in the door of the music business. For Alan Jackson, it was getting a job in the mailroom of The Nashville Network’s offices.

Jackson was born in Newnan, Georgia, and grew up in a house built out of his grandfather’s old tool shed. Jackson’s mom still lives in the house to this day. Jackson had been married to his high school sweetheart Denise for 6 years before deciding to move to Nashville to pursue music full time. Once they hit Music City, Jackson needed to do something to support the household, and TNN was hiring. He later met Glen Campbell and the rest is history.

2. Wearing a Hank Williams T-shirt on the 1994 ACM Awards

Today this would be no big deal. In fact it would probably be considered an upgrade from some of the ridiculous regalia many modern-day country stars get duded up in on award shows. But in 1994, country music’s prime time presentations were still very much black tie affairs. And here comes Alan Jackson walking out for his performance wearing a Hank Williams T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. It would pale in comparison to what would happen next on the show (see below), but Alan bucking the black tie dress code was scandalous on its own, and was probably meant as its own protest against the ACM’s stuffy atmosphere and a presentation that showed little reverence to the roots of the music.

Executive producer Dick Clark in a backstage interview during the show asked Alan, “Here you are on television in front of millions of people. Why do you have a Hank Williams T-shirt on?”

Jackson’s response was, “Well, I love Hank, and a fan…I get a lot of gifts on the road playing, and a fan gave me this shirt, and I just saw it in the closet before I came out here this weekend and I grabbed it and said, ‘I’m gonna wear it for my song,’ you know, ‘Gone Country.’ Hank’s country.”

3. Protesting The Backing Track on the 1994 ACM Awards

The 1994 ACM Awards were in many ways Alan Jackson’s oyster. Held at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles on May 3rd, Alan walked away that night with the Top Male Vocalist award, and co-hosted the event with Reba McEntire. But when it came to performing what would be his upcoming #1 single and one of the signature songs of the era “Gone Country”, Alan Jackson couldn’t sit right with the charade most country award shows pull on their audience.

Before the show, producers told Alan that he had to play to a pre-recorded rhythm section track, which Jackson clearly felt was tantamount to lying to both his fans and the audience. So instead of playing along with the charade, Jackson tipped off the audience to the subterfuge by telling his drummer Bruce Rutherford to play without sticks. So as the performance transpires and everything sounds perfect, there is Alan Jackson’s drummer, swinging his arms like he’s playing the drums, but with no sticks in his hand.

Trust the ACM’s never asked Alan Jackson to play to a backing track again. And this wouldn’t be the last time Alan Jackson would pull a fast one on award show producers….

4. The “Pop A Top / Choices” George Jones CMA Awards Protest

Just before the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was asked to perform an abbreviated version of his song “Choices”. George, feeling that he wasn’t a “baby act” as he put it, refused, and boycotted the show. And in a super act of class, Alan Jackson, while preforming his song “Pop A Top”, cut his own song short, and launched into George’s “Choices”.

‘We were all so nervous,” Alan Jackson later recalled. “The guitarist had this solo in the middle of ”Pop a Top’, and the song sort of modulates up at the end of the solo. I signaled to him that we were going to do it, and he just stopped. I looked over at him and he was sweating. The boy looked like he was going to bite his lip off. Then I hit that C chord to start ‘Choices’. ”

As you can see in the video, the crowd began to roar and rise to their feet when Jackson launched into the George Jones’ comeback hit.

Read More About Alan Jackson’s CMA Protest

5. Releasing Under The Influences Tribute Album

alan-jackson-under-the-influencesDuring the height of Alan Jackson’s commercial success, he decided to do something rarely seen in modern day country from a superstar: he released an album made entirely of classic country covers. Including two songs from Johnny Paycheck, a cover of Merle Haggard’s “My Own Kind Of Hat”, and Hank Williams Jr.’s “The Blues Man”, Jackson’s label heads must have thought he was crazy. The album was Jackson’s way of pushing back against the pop-ification of country that was becoming a hot topic in the genre at the time.

What was the result?

It was a big success. Though it can be argued that an album of more original music might have done better, Under The Influences went Platinum, and included two hit singles. Nat Stuckey’s “Pop A Top” ended up at #6 on Billboards Country Songs chart, and Bob McDill’s “It Must Be Love” first made famous by Don Williams went all the way to #1. Alan Jackson proved that the classic country sound was still relevant, and commercially viable if given a chance.

6. Recording and Writing “3 Minute Positive Not Too Country Up Tempo Love Song”

Not since Willie Nelson’s “Sad Songs & Waltzes”, and arguably no other song since has protested pop country’s propensity for commercialization and shallowness as well as this loquaciously-titled song written by Alan Jackson himself for his 2000 release When Somebody Loves You.

7. Recording “Murder On Music Row” with George Strait

Arguably one of the most important country music protest songs in the history of the genre, “Murder On Music Row” written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell became a big success when Alan Jackson joined up with George Strait to release the song in 2000. The duo first performed the song in 1999 at the CMA Awards, and the next year the performance won the CMA for “Vocal Event of the Year.” Then the following year when it was released on George Strait’s Latest Greatest Straitest Hits album, it was awarded the CMA for “Song of the Year.” That’s right, a song talking about how country music had been murdered on Music Row walked away with the genre’s highest distinction for a song.

Even though the song was never released as a single, unsolicited airplay still saw the song chart on Billboard at #38. At George Strait’s final concert in June of 2014, the duo performed the song again to the largest crowd to ever see an indoor live music event

8. “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”

In stark contrast to the inflammatory nature of Toby Keith’s post-911 über hit “Courtesy Of The Red, White, & Blue”, Alan Jackson did his best to humanize and come to peace with the tragedy of 9-11 through song, and it resulted in both his most critical and commercial success of his career. Written by Jackson himself, when he first played it for label executives, there was complete silence in the room for a full minute after it stopped. Jackson was scheduled to perform his current #1 song “Where I Come From” at the 2001 CMA awards in November, but mere days before the presentation, he decided to play “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” instead. The four CMA heads were not happy about this decision until Jackson’s tour manager Nancy Russell played the song for them. They were all crying by the time the song ended.

After Jackson played the song on the CMA Awards, demand for it skyrocketed. The song was so new, his label hadn’t officially released it as a single yet, but stations already with a copy started playing it, and the song shot to #25 on the Billboard Country Songs chart almost immediately. By the next week it was at #12, and by the end of the year, it was #1 where it stayed for five weeks. It also charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 at #28.

Jackson’s label couldn’t make the song a commercial single fast enough to meet demand, so they instead decided to move up the release date of his album Drive from May of 2002 to January 15th. When the album was released, it went to #1 on both Billboard’s country and all-genre charts, and stayed there for four weeks off the strength of the song. “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” eventually won both the “Single of the Year” and “Song of the Year” from both the CMA and ACM Awards, as well as the Grammy for “Best Country Song.” It also helped propel Alan Jackson to be awarded both “Male Vocalist of the Year” and “Entertainer of the Year” by the CMA Awards in both 2002 and 2003.

Jackson said about the song, “I think it was Hank Williams who said, ‘God writes the songs, I just hold the pen.’ That’s the way I felt with this song.”

9. Being Nominated For The Most CMA’s Ever In One Year

Bolstered by his song “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”, Alan Jackson received a total of ten CMA nominations in 2002—the most in CMA history. Jackson won five of them.

  • 2002 Album of the Year – Drive (Won)
  • 2002 Male Vocalist of the Year (Won)
  • 2002 Entertainer of the Year (Won)
  • 2002 Single of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Won)
  • 2002 Song of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Won)
  • 2002 Song of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
  • 2002 Single of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
  • 2002 Vocal Event of the Year  – “Designated Drinker” w/ George Strait (Nominated)
  • 2002 Video of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Nominated)
  • 2002 Video of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)


10. Keeping Virtually The Same Band & Producer Throughout His Entire Career

Every single one of Alan Jackson’s 15 major label album releases has been produced by Keith Stegall. Even when Jackson switched labels from Arista, Stegall stayed on board.

Jackson has also kept virtually the same band the entire time, aside from using a few bluegrass ringers for The Bluegrass Album. The loyalty Alan Jackson shows in his people, and his people’s loyalty in him, is both a sign of integrity and success.

  • Monty Allen – acoustic guitar, harmony vocals
  • Scott Coney – acoustic guitar, tic tac bass, banjo
  • Robbie Flint – steel guitar
  • Danny Groah – lead guitar
  • Ryan Joseph – fiddle, harmony vocals
  • Bruce Rutherford – drums
  • Joey Schmidt – keyboards
  • Roger Wills – bass guitar


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46 Comments to “10 Badass Alan Jackson Moments”

  • #11. Writing and recording “The Bluegrass Album”


    • I couldn’t agree more, especially when The Bluegrass Album has a solid, traditional bluegrass sound – not some kind of country-ish/newgrass hybrid crap. (I’m looking at you, Dierks.)


  • Class act and always has been. Great article Trig.


  • Getting stuck in Austin I do remember watching cartoons the night of 9 11


  • I remember being a kid in the 90’s and everyone lamenting the country that was out then. Been listening to a bunch of it lately and no one realized how good they had it. The old guard owe an apology to a lot of those artists (like Jackson).


  • And let’s not forget he signs autographs while his band plays “mercury blues” at the end of each concert, as well as throwing tee shirts and guitar picks into the audience throughout his shows. Not many artists do that anymore. A true class act


    • I saw him last year. He spent a good 15 minutes signing autographs after the end of the show. I’m so used to artist maybe signing one or two that this really stood out to me.

      I’ve always been impressed by despite having all the success he has had and let’s be honest, he is one of the all time greats, he never let it go to his head. Always been a really humble guy, and it shows.


      • Definitely something that is not seen enough anymore. He signed an album sleeve for me at mohegan sun last week and it was definitely the best part of the night for me. It’s a simple gesture that many big acts don’t seem to understand.


    • My husband and I just saw him this last Saturday night in Conn. He played for an hour and half, all the hits. Thanked his audience numerous times for spending “their hard earned money to come see him” and did just what you said, tossed tee shirts, guitar pics and signed autographs for at least 20 minutes. A class act all the way around. No fireworks going off, no bells and whistles, just a solid band with an awesome pedal steel player and a fiddle that you could actually hear in the mix!! Imagine that!


      • The length of the show was my only issue. It started at 8:45 and ended just after 10. And there were a couple glaring omissions that he almost always plays, but he banged out most of his biggest hits. Just wished he played a bit longer.


  • Badass and class act all wrapped into one.


  • Best part of the “Choices” deal on the award show was how Alan just walked off right away at the end. He didn’t look for any pats on the back or to be the star of the message he was conveying, he just did it with complete conviction and walked off, whether he knew it or not, with a “fuck you” swagger to the executives.
    Funny, I know Alan’s name and Alan is still a legend… who are the guys that product the award shows that seem to have all the right answers???


  • Trigger . Your list had me in tears . And that’s all I’m gonna say about that .


  • One might argue that Alan’s moments are bigger than anyone elses. He didn’t do them for self-promotion, or to live up to some image, he did them because they were the right thing to do and in a reasonable/respectful way to all involved, regardless of the side of the fence you are on. And nobody can argue the points he makes.
    I mean what are you going to argue, he shouldn’t have honored George Jones? Shouldn’t have honored Hank? etc…


    • Usually he gets it right–with his ‘moments’–I agree. But that ‘Where were you . . ‘ bullshit is just straight up pandering. Thankfully he has done way more than enough to offset that, for sure.

      But seriously, fuck that song. I hope half the money that poured in went to charity, at the least.

      I prefer the South Park version. Greatly prefer.


      • I think it is easy to call that song opportunistic, and then there are some replies her picking it apart for lyrics…but can’t we at some moment realize these artists, labels, etc.. are actual humans too. Everyone reacted to 9/11 differently, and I take that song as Alan’s reaction and the only way he knew how. I don’t think he shared it to make any money (and I believe all the money made off it went to charity, 100%, and still does) and I don’t think he shared it in an arrogant way that he is the healer for everyone with the song.
        He is a songwriter and expressed himself in a song. People around him encouraged him to share it as their way of dealing with 9/11, etc… but that is just my opinion….actually it is how Alan explained it all shortly after his performance of the song.

        Of course if some punk turned underground country guy cut that song, we’d all have different opinions right?


  • #11. 35 number one hits, most of which he either wrote or co-wrote.

    Alan has been my favorite artist for a while now. So seeing this list really made my day.


  • I have to say, Alan Jackson wasn’t one who I was expecting you to memorialize with one of these lists but I’m glad you did. All very good and indicative of Jackson’s integrity, character and class.

    On a slightly different but nonetheless relevant note, Ronnie Dunn was called out by someone he called “a friend and a fan” for his hypocritical outlaw-esque statements, the conflicting message of Peace, Love and Country Music and his departure from Brooks & Dunn – (August 4th post). Ronnie’s attempts to be badass himself have been called out and he listened.


  • This is a man with guts of brass combined with a deep love for the genre he calls home.

    Glad to see that you have come around on “Where Were You”, by the way.


  • This may be the wrong place to post this link but your article on Alan Jackson brought to mind this song again , Trigger . I can’t speak for U.S. stations but Canadian country radio all but ignored “TONIGHT I’M PLAYING POSSUM’ when Randy Travis released it shortly after George Jones’ passing . I can barely listen to this lyric without choking up . Not only does it cry COUNTRY but it is such a clever and heartfelt tribute in the right hands with Randy Travis and reminiscent of many of the songs Alan Jackson has recorded in terms of honesty , gut-wrenching emotion and respect for the people and the genre . I wanted to share it just in case the folks here were as deprived of its radio presence as Canadian listeners were . THAT is the tragedy of modern country radio . A song THIS good , a performance this solid and a lyric to pay respects to arguably COUNTRY music’s greatest voice and influence ever is lost in a sea of inconsequential bro-country .

    I believe its a Keith Gattis write .God bless him .


    • It was mostly ignored down here as well. I covered it and gave it two guns up.


      • Trigger . I missed your moving article on George and the song TONIGHT I’M PLAYING POSSUM,..I appreciate you directing me to it .

        You’ve absolutely nailed the importance of that song and what it SHOULD mean to fans of Country music , the writers , the artists , the labels and the radio stations and programmers . IMHO , that song is as good as it gets as a from-the-heart write , as a tribute , and as a classic country music performance with all of the elements intact and greater than the sum of their parts . The fact that it was barely acknowledged as such on any of those counts is criminal and says more about the state of the industry than the industry itself would wish to acknowledge , I’m certain .
        At the risk of repeating myself , your thoughts articulated beautifully and sincerely the meaning of songs like this in the “big picture’ where the fate of the genre is concerned and I applaud you for taking the time to do so.


  • Beautiful list, Trig. :)


  • Alan is my favorite artist. The guy just oozes cool and class. It’s a shame the younger ilk has pushed him off radio, but in true Alan fashion, he gracefully takes it in stride and keeps doing his thing. Alan can rest assured that a lot of us have followed suit and left country radio behind as listeners.


  • Alan is one of the best, and hands down the classiest country artist of our time. I have been fortunate to be able to see him in concert!


  • I don’t understand the point about Ronnie Dunn?


  • I feel like we should add an honorary #11 to this list.

    11. Releasing Like Red on a Rose, an album that lent nothing to the current trends and forced his fans to expand their horizons and learn to eventually appreciate what I would argue is his best album, front to back. Not a single bad song on that record. Just phenomenal.


  • A great article on Alan Jackson’s career – my favorite of the 10 is “Murder On Music Row” – but then again there are so many more moments not even listed. Thank you Alan Jackson for staying true to your roots!


  • Damn Trigger, remember a few years back when you wrote a screed attacking Alan in general and “Where were you…” in particular?


      Here we are… Guess you wised up a bit since then.


      • Wised up would be the right phrase.

        Having had the misfortune of going through the SCM archives, let’s just say that I never want to go back and check those old articles again. Doing so would not be good for my blood pressure.

        The level of intelligence and emotional maturity shown by Trigger, as well as the quality of the commenters, has increased dramatically since the Free Hank III days.


    • I still don’t like the “Iraq and Iran” line. I think it portrays country music listeners and Americans in general as ignorant.

      But that article was written seven years ago. That is a long time. And much has changed with this website (including the name), and with country music. Truth be known I’m still not a huge fan of the song on a personal level. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a badass moment.


      • Yes. That line sucks and it does portray not just country music listeners, but Americans in general, as morons. And who was he talking to when he said “I watch CNN?” If his audience is country music fans, I’m pretty sure most of them aren’t watching CNN. You might be watching CNN, Alan, but you’re the only one. Also, one other bone of contention, what the fuck does the line “Did you stand in line and give your own blood?” mean? Could you give someone else’s blood?


  • He had a couple decent pop country songs, but its just a testament to how bad things have gotten over time, that Alan Jackson is now some sort of classic country legend. I’ll never forget when he tried to play “Too Many Nights in the Roadhouse” on stage with Junior Brown and just couldn’t keep up. Also, he was the king of the slow, boring, fake-emotional song that doesn’t really say anything, but is sung very deliberately with lots of hernia-type wincing to try and convey “this is really important.” In reality, 15 years ago, he was the definition of pop country in all of its line dancing glory.


    • 15 years ago, he was the definition of pop country in all of its line dancing glory.

      15 years ago, Alan Jackson was covering Jim Ed Brown and Charley Pride. I realize he put out his share of clunkers, but I just cannot for the life of me get my head wrapped around the thought process required to come to such a conclusion.


      • “My 80% friend is not my 20% enemy” Ronald Reagan.

        Yes he has had some silly songs but I would argue that the vast majority of his contributions have been very positive for the fans of traditional country music. I just can’t get my head around these purity tests that some people seem to insist on.


  • Great list. I was hoping this one would come around sometime. Might also be worth mentioning that when his family life was in shambles (mostly due to his own faults) he decided to step up and fix it rather than walk away. That’s pretty badass in its own way.


  • Trigger, the 10 badass moment of… are my favorite articles on this site. I’m still patiently awaiting David Allan Coe! Keep up the good work!


  • #12 Played CBGB a few years back


  • Great article. Love these “badass moments” lists, great reads. I would love to see a list of George Strait moments.


  • This is awesome! You should do one with Buck Owens


  • Did George Jones ever respond to Alan breaking in to “Choices” during the show? I’ve often heard about Alan doing that but never anything about a response from The Possum.


  • 11. That ridiculous video where he was water skiing in red boots with his jeans tucked into them.


  • Where’s Ricky Skaggs’s ten badass moments? He was one of Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys, he played onstage with Bill Monroe at age 6, he took a Monroe song to #1, he made Nashville execs let him produce his own records…


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