“I Hope to Earn This”

Brad Paisley Joins the Grand Ole Opry

He may have been visibly emotional when Bill
Anderson invited him to join the Grand Ole Opry in
December, but 28-year-old Brad Paisley was the
picture of calm Saturday night (Feb. 17) as he was
officially inducted into the cast of the long-running
radio show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.

“This is most amazing thing I’ve ever been a part
of,” Paisley told the standing-room-only crowd and
the TV audience watching at home on TNN’s Grand
Ole Opry Live
. “Looking out, I think I know every
one of you.”

Indeed, the crowd was filled with folks from
Paisley’s home state of West Virginia, where as a teenager he became a regular
fixture on WWVA’s live radio show “Jamboree USA.” It was there that fellow Opry
member Steve Wariner, who handled Paisley’s Opry induction, first met the
then-13-year old.

“I could tell even back then the desire and the passion was in his heart,” Wariner
said from the stage. “So it’s no surprise to me that he’s here.”

Paisley took the historical moment to debut a new song, “Two People Fell in
Love,” from his upcoming sophomore album. During a TV commercial break, fans
filed by the edge of the stage, handing him a bouquet of roses and a teddy bear
as flashbulbs popped all over the hall. Paisley came back for one more song,
playing his recent hit “Me Neither” and trading guitar licks with Wariner.

“I thought I’d lose it, but I was singing a new song and I wanted to make sure I
got all the words right,” he told reporters afterwards at a press conference in the
Ryman lobby. “I don’t feel worthy of this yet, but I hope to earn it.”

For his big night, Paisley wore the same bejeweled yellow Western-style jacket
that Buck Owens wore on the cover of his 1960 Buck Owens & the Buckaroos
Live at Carnegie Hall
album. Paisley said he asked Owens if he could borrow it
while he was visiting the Hall of Fame member on New Year’s Eve at his Crystal
Palace nightclub in Bakersfield, Calif.

“Buck said, ‘You can have anything I’ve got. Do you have anything in mind?’”
Paisley said. “And, of course I did, because Live at Carnegie Hall is one of my
favorite albums. The jacket was in his museum in a case, and I went and tried it
on, and it fit. Just before I came in here tonight, I actually sat on my bus out in
the parking lot with my band and we listened to the whole [Live at Carnegie Hall]
album.”

As part of the official induction, Opry General Manager Pete Fisher presented
Paisley with the first copy of a new statue created for cast members. The “Opry
Member Award,” designed by Montana sculptor Bill Rains, features a bronze
replica of the famous Grand Ole Opry microphone stand. The wooden base is
made from actual Ryman pews left over from its 1994 renovation.

More gifts awaited Paisley at a packed private celebration down the alley from
the Ryman at Jack’s Bar-B-Que. RCA Label Group Chairman Joe Galante
handed the singer a limited edition Grand Ole Opry 75th Anniversary Martin
guitar. Paisley’s alma mater, Nashville’s Belmont University, also presented a
special plaque commemorating his move “from the Belmont stage to the Opry
stage.”

While speaking to reporters, Paisley recalled first hearing the Opry on the car
radio in West Virginia on the way home from his “Jamboree USA” performances.
He attended his first Opry show at 17, and he has made himself a familiar guest
around the Opry house since he moved to Nashville and signed with Arista
Records. He emphasized the importance of the radio show’s tradition and its
affect on his career.

“I hear more people talk about that [his Opry appearances] at my live shows,”
Paisley explained. “I give the Opry 50 percent of the credit for my success over
the last year or so.”

Paisley has had quite a year. His debut album, Who Needs Pictures, has been
certified gold, and the touching ballad, “He Didn’t Have to Be,” gave him his first
No. 1 single on the Billboard country singles chart. In October, he won the
prestigious Horizon Award from the Country Music Association, and last Spring
he was named Top New Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music.

When asked about his Grammy nomination this year for the all-genre Best New
Artist category, Paisley joked that he “doesn’t have a prayer according to a
couple of critics.” He’ll perform a shortened version of his single “We Danced”
and then “pick some” with Dolly Parton on the live broadcast Wednesday (Feb.
21), but he says he’ll be fine if he doesn’t go home with the trophy.

“That’s okay,” he said with a genuine smile, “I won tonight.”