My interview with Jason Aldean originally appeared in the Californian newspaper. He headlines the Wagon Wheel Festival in Lake Elsinore on Sept. 19.
Jason Aldean is a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.
Check out “Wide Open Live & More!” (Eagle Vision), his first concert DVD/Blu-ray filmed last spring in Knoxville, Tenn., and you’ll see the singer with a raucous band that isn’t afraid to kick out the jams.
Anyone who caught the Macon, Ga. native’s memorable Indio appearance at Stagecoach 2007 will recall the fiery Guns ‘N Roses medley.
“I feel like our live show is a big selling point for me,” said Aldean, in a phone interview. The new DVD was shot in hi-definition. “We wanted to give people who might not normally see our show a preview of what to expect…it seemed like the right time.”
Several selections (including top 10 country hits “Hicktown,” “Johnny Cash” and “She’s Country”) bear a distinct Southern rock attitude – a factor in attracting listeners that might not normally be into the music. “I didn’t set out to go and grab all these people from other genres and say, ‘hey, listen to us.’ But if that happens, it’s incredible.”
The success of Aldean’s platinum-selling, self-titled debut album in 2005 and gold-certified follow ups (2007’s “Relentless,” the current “Wide Open”) provided the opportunity to play and record with some boyhood idols.
First came former Alabama vocalist Randy Owen. The pair covered the superstar country band’s “My Home’s in Alabama” (from 1980) as a bonus track for versions of “Wide Open” purchased at walmart.com. The tune happened to be “one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar.”
“It’s been one of the highlights of my career,” enthused Aldean, 32. “Working with Randy was like somebody else getting a chance to work with The Beatles. That’s as big as it gets.”
During a recent episode of CMT “Crossroads,” Aldean teamed up with Bryan Adams. “We hit it off pretty quick. Bryan is a class act. He came in very prepared; knew my songs. I’m a huge fan of his stuff…to get a chance to work with somebody like that, then look over and watch them singing your songs is special. It was a blast. Hopefully, we’ll have a chance to work together again.”
Aldean started performing in bars and clubs around Georgia at 14, and then expanded to college towns in Florida and Alabama. He initially got a song publishing deal and moved to Nashville in 1998.
Having spent many years there before signing with upstart label Broken Bow, Aldean has a solid rapport with Music City’s top tunesmiths. John Rich (of Big & Rich) helped pen half the songs on the debut, while Brett James contributed a few for “Open.”
Such familiarity means “when we record, those guys write songs specifically for us,” he said, citing the rousing “She’s Country” by Danny Myrick and Bridgette Tatum as an example. “It definitely helps when you have your own identity and people know what that is.”
The romantic mid-tempo ballad “Big Green Tractor” just became Aldean’s third No. 1 single. Although he wishes “I could tell you I had the formula [for picking hits] down, I really don’t,” Aldean does have a loose criteria in choosing songs for his albums though.
“Any time you can sing about something you’ve experienced, it definitely helps.” Then there are elements that “make you sit up and pay attention or else it’s like elevator music…trying to find a combination of songs I like that are different enough for people to be interested in what I’m saying - I think that’s the trick.”