Alan Jackson’s Forgotten 1994 ACM Awards Protest

December 22, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Outlaw History  //  21 Comments

alan-jackson-1994-acm-awardsCountry music star Alan Jackson has been known for being a staunch traditionalist, and a man who has stood on principle and for protecting the roots and legends of the music throughout his career. One of the most famous moments in country music lore involves Alan Jackson at the CMA awards show in 1999 when producers told George Jones he would have to perform an abridged version of his song “Choices.” George refused, and boycotted the awards altogether. Then in protest, during Alan Jackson’s performance of his song “Pop A Top,” he reversed course and started into George’s “Choices” in solidarity with the country legend.

But this wasn’t Alan Jackson’s only moment of protest during a prime time awards show apparently. Years earlier, at the 1994 ACM Awards, Alan Jackson pulled at stunt that has gone unfairly under-recognized in that annals of country’s finest moments of rebellion and protest.

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.

Alan Jackson walked out for his performance wearing a Hank Williams sleeveless shirt, which in itself was quite irreverent and newswrothy in 1994, when country award shows were still predominantly black tie affairs. Executive producer Dick Clark in a backstage interview during the show asked Alan, “I should ask you a significant question. 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.”

But it wasn’t just Alan’s Jackson’s shirt that caught people’s eye and no doubt drew the worst ire of the ACM producers. Before the show, producers had told Alan that he had to play to a pre-recorded 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.

The performance certainly must have raised a stink at the time, but information and news stories about the incident are virtually non-existent. Dick Clark and the other ACM producers may have hoped only a few people noticed, and decided rather to ignore it than to shine a spotlight on the practice of pre-recording performances.

Nirvana also had a pretty memorable protest to being asked to play to a pre-recorded track.

21 Comments to “Alan Jackson’s Forgotten 1994 ACM Awards Protest”

  • This is why Alan Jackson has my total respect. He isn’t afraid to make a statement. Not many of the other main streamers would have the balls to do this.


  • Interesting, I don’t remember this. I’ve always thought that Alan Jackson hasn’t received the critical praise that he deserves for a number of reasons. One being that he has always been considered a straight arrow controversy free figure and that isn’t considered cool in our modern culture. But he has fought from inside the system a number of times (this example, ‘Gone Country’, the Jones ‘Choices’ episode, ‘Murder On Music Row’) and has for the most part stayed true to country music.

    It’s about time for the Hall Of Fame I think since Garth Brooks is in and they started the same year.


  • Man I love that drum story! That’s so awesome. Had no idea


  • Brilliant–I am a longtime fan, but had forgotten this story. Thanks for bringing it to our attention again.


  • I had never heard of this till now. This is just another reason why Alan Jackson to me is the classiest person in Country music.


  • He’s way better at playing air drum than I am.


  • Thanks for posting. I hadn’t heard about this one. It does seem like Jackson is actually singing, was it just the back track that is different?


    • Backing tracks can be used selectively. It could have just been the drums, which is the hardest instrument live to control the sound of. That’s why you sometimes see clear plastic cages around the drums to help control the sound. Or it could have been the entire backing band, or just the rhythm instruments. The drummer also sings backing vocals, and those were probably live. Definitely don’t think Alan Jackson was lip-syncing, or we may have seen an even more entertaining protest.


  • This has always been my favorite awards show story about Alan Jackson. One of my favorite country artists. We saw him at Carnage Hall in November, he played his Bluegrass Album and threw in “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning”. Not a dry eye in the house.


  • It probably would be a lot more noticeable on todays HD broadcasts and large HD TV’s. In 1994 the average home still had a 19″ 320×320 television 10 or 15 feet away from the couch (and now the average family home probably has a 42″ TV with the average broadcast probably being 720p). I remember I got my first 32″ TV in early 1997 (and the sucker weighed 160lbs and cost $750). I doubt many women from the time even noticed there was a drummer behind Mr. Jackson. :)

    It would have been a lot more interesting if Alan had slid over there, kicked the drums over and then went back to the microphone to finish the song.

    If I was going to protest at the ACM’s… I think I’d knock Hunter “Justin Beaver” Hayes down and shave that ridiculous peach fuzz off his upper lip (it aint working jr., let it go).


  • Hats off to Alan for a well-deserved snub and for wearing a Hank shirt to a black-tie event, where taking oneself too seriously is the norm.


  • So this would be like FGL wearing a Kenny Rogers shirt at a awards show.


    • Actually Brian Kelley of Folorida Georgia Line wears a lot of old classic country star T Shirts like Hank Williams, Waylon, George Strait, Hank Jr., and Alan Jackson. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about that.


      • Part of the act. My guess if you asked Brain Kelly to name songs from those artists we would get a response like:
        “I love those guys, songs like ‘Shot a man in Reno’, ‘Monday Night Football’, and ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ classics, really influenced me.”


  • You know, I’ve always liked this song. The lyrics are literate and observational, which references to different eras in music history (Greenwhich Village folk scene, west coast pop scene, etc.)

    I found out it was written by Bob McDill, one of my favorite writers. He wrote a lot of hits for Don Williams, including songs like “Good Ole Boys Like Me” which also weaves together a lot of different references. I like the fact that “Gone Country” can be taken at face value (“Whoopee! Everybody’s going country!”) or a subtle critique of pop-country culture.

    Anyway, I’ve never really been into AJ’s music but I see him as a class act due to incidents like this and the George Jones “Choices” thing.


    • Yeah, Applejack, Bob McDill’s always been one of my favorite writers too. I never knew he wrote so many of those great old Don Williams songs till not too long ago. :D I don’t suppose many folks here are fans of Dan Seals, but he wrote several great tunes with Seals as well, including “They Rage On,” “My Baby’s Got Good Timing,” and my personal favorite, “Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold).”


  • I think I remember watching this when it aired — I must’ve been digging the song too much to notice the drummer! :D


  • Thanks for sharing this! I was too young to notice that the drummer wasn’t holding sticks but do remember the 99 “Pop a top” protest. Didn’t know about all the politics behind music…mostly cause there weren’t blogs and radio was the only social media and no one talked about anything controversial for the most part.
    I wish artists would do more stuff like this awards shows….ha now that I said that I am gonna get blackballed from red carpets across the land.


  • Respects, Alan Jackson. Great post Triggerman!


  • Not sure it is because I know what is going on in this clip, but the look on Alan’s face is one of not to happy to be performing to a track. I don’t ‘think he is mailing it in, but you can see he is wondering if folks really know how dumb this is.

    Kind of like Dusty stopping singing for 3 bars, 3 bars!!!


  • My father and I saw Alan in AC at the Taj Mahal in Sept. It was an amazing show he blistered through 20 of his biggest hits without breaking a sweat. He also sang Sissy’s Song to a little girl who recently lost her brother. He demanded the spotlight go on her and nothing happened until he insisted. Class act all time great. Better songwriter then Garth.


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