Alan Jackson Recalls Waylon Jennings Asking, ‘What’s a Chattahoochee?’

Few would question the country music credentials of Alan Jackson here in 2021. At this point, he’s as close as one could come to a country music music purist on a major label, and his latest record Where Have You Gone might be his most country, and most pure yet.

But that’s not always how Alan Jackson was regarded. Though he most always towed the line even in his heyday, and held to a promise he made to his mentor George Jones to always “keep it country,” Jackson had his dalliances on the commercial side of country as well, namely on one of his biggest hits, 1993’s “Chattahoochee.” The catchy, pretty silly, and radio-friendly track that had Alan water-skiing in jeans in the video also had Jackson finding his biggest commercial success.

In a recent video released by Alan Jackson in the midst of promoting his takeover of the Country Cookout Playlist on Spotify right before the 4th of July holiday, Jackson revealed that when Waylon Jennings first heard the song, he didn’t know exactly what to make of “Chattahoochee.”

“I think Waylon said one time, Waylon Jennings said, ‘What the hell is a ‘Chattahoochee’?’ (laughing). That’s why it was surprising to me when they decided to put ‘Chattahoochee’ out, I was reluctant, ’cause I said, ‘Nobody’s gonna know what that is. But the regular working people, professional people, just trying to do the same things, make a living, raise a family, enjoy life. I learned that there’s a Chattahoochee everywhere.”

Of course the real Chattahoochee is the river that acts as the demarcation for the southern half of the Alabama and Georgia border, as well as a portion of the border between Florida and Georgia, running not too far from where Georgia-native Alan Jackson grew up. Like so many Southern landmarks, it’s etymology is Native American, specifically Muskogee Indian, and it’s thought to mean ‘painted rock’ for the colorful granite in the area.

In Alan Jackson’s Greatest Hits collection, he says about the writing of the song, “Jim McBride and I were trying to write an up-tempo song and Jim came in with the line ‘way down yonder on the Chattahoochee’. It kind of went from there. It’s a song about having fun, growing up, and coming of age in a small town – which really applies to anyone across the country, not just by the Chattahoochee. We never thought it would be as big as it’s become.”

And big it was. It won both the CMA Single of the Year and Song of the Year in 1993, and has since become one of Alan Jackson’s signature tunes. Waylon Jennings and everyone else learned what “Chattahoochee” meant real quick.

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