Alan Jackson Finds Platinum End to His “Neon Rainbow”

Alan Jackson found a pot of platinum at the end of that “neon rainbow” he’s been chasing since he came to Nashville in 1985 — and quite a large pot it was. On Thursday (July 12) Arista Records honored the laconic Georgian with a plaque and a party for having sold 35 million albums since he signed to the label in 1989.

Among the friends and well-wishers who showed up for the mammoth outdoor bash on Nashville’s Music Row were George Jones , Little Jimmy Dickens , Larry Cordle (co-writer of the Jackson/George Strait hit, “Murder on Music Row”), Trace Adkins , Jo-El Sonnier, Phil Vassar , Billy Yates and Grand Ole Opry star Ernie Ashworth. After the presentations were over, most of these artists joined Jackson to perform for the crowd of several hundred.

During the early stages of the party, Cordle and his band, Lonesome Standard Time, entertained the assemblage with a supercharged set of bluegrass and country tunes. Taking their cue from Jackson’s songs, the food providers served such rustic delicacies as “Chattahoochee Burgers” and grape snow cones.

The high point for Jackson came when Joe Galante, chairman of the RCA Label Group (of which Arista is a part), presented the singer with a 1965 “amphicar,” a vehicle that travels on both land and water. “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” the water-loving Jackson marveled. “I’ve wanted one of those since I was a boy.”

Just before the party got underway, Jackson, who was running nearly an hour behind schedule, met with reporters to discuss the event and his career. It was an ordeal for both sides. Although he is often poetic and profound in his lyrics, Jackson dislikes talking about himself and is even more averse to waxing philosophical on the subject.

How have his achievements, one reporter wondered, affected his sense of being a “simple country boy”? “I’m a simple country boy with a nice truck,” the star countered. He said performing is easier for him now than it was 10 years ago since he doesn’t have to work as much as he did then: “It’s more relaxing. There’s no reason to quit.”

Jackson dismissed the notion that he is a standard-bearer for traditional country music. “I came here in 1985 to make the kind of country music that I make and the kind I’ve been making for 10 or 1l years,” he explained. “Most of my records sound pretty much the same, and that’s what I came here to do. I haven’t jumped up on a soapbox or changed my style to carry a flag. I think some people have kind of pinned that on me, but I’m just doing the same thing I’ve been doing since the beginning. It’s working for me. Radio doesn’t play as much traditional music probably as some people think it should. But they’ve always played my stuff, so it’s hard for me to fuss about it.”

His successes clearly haven’t jaded the tall, lanky singer. In reflecting on his musical influences, he still seemed in awe when he spoke of Jones, Merle Haggard , Gene Watson , Charley Pride and John Conlee . “I remember when I was real young,” he said, “a guy named Razzy Bailey — he had a few hits — lived in the next little town over from where I lived. It was amazing to me for a guy to have records on the radio. Back then, that was huge.” (Bailey scored several No. 1s and Top 10s for RCA in the late ’70s and early ’80s.)

Jackson said he has “pretty much finished” writing a song he wants to record as a duet with Strait but that he hasn’t played it for Strait yet. He also noted that he wants eventually to record a bluegrass and a gospel album.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to