Whew!!! There was a time when blistering hot singer Kenny Chesney thought he was on a roller coaster ride that would never stop. Fortunately, after several loops, spins, downward plunges and even a few times when he thought his career had turned upside down, the 29-year-old entertainer is finally on a “glory-hallelujah” charge to the top. This, country friends and neighbors, is where he plans to stay.
The goal is not so unrealistic either. Only within recent months has Chesney fueled his confidence, as well as his exploding fan base. The young singer/songwriter can deservingly boast a string of hit records, including his current “She’s Got It All” sensation, “When I Close My Eyes,” “Don’t That Make You Want To Fall In Love” and “Me And You.” Along with his long-awaited “No. 1” victory, Chesney could also grin real big about his first certified gold album for his critically praised Me And You disc.
Regardless of such current success and the fact that he’s a firm believer in perfect timing, Chesney was, however, forced to battle out what could be described as the early 90s, hat-act shuffle.
“I do think maybe with the All I Need To Know album, I kinda got lost in the shuffle,” Chesney admits. That album got off to such a slow start. We opened with a real stiff,” he laughs. “‘Back In My Arms Again’ died in the 30s on the charts. Then after we released the “Me And You” single, we finally started seeing solid sales increases every single week. Then we put out “When I Close My Eyes,” and it just continued to go even past the success we had with “Me And You.” It was the first time that I had ever sold 15,000 records in one week. That was really a neat feeling. Before that, we were probably only selling about two albums a week,” he chuckles. “What a difference!”
Since then, Chesney has jumped the roller coaster and has landed in a whirlwind of success that just seems to keep spinning. But despite his career getting off to a crawling start, the East Tennessee native admits that his more recent accomplishments are well worth the frustrating wait.
“I have to look at all of what’s happened as a good thing,” he says. “Of course, when we first started out, I wouldn’t have said the same thing. I would have loved for my career to have boomed, had a gold album right off the bat and No. 1 records. But I’ve learned a lot just by taking small steps. I’ve also learned a lot about this business in the past four years, too. I’ve grown gradually and so has my fan base. It’s getting bigger and bigger every day, and so is our fan club.”
For Chesney though, it’s not so much the chart success or gold albums that’s become so rewarding. He’s perhaps most happy about his relationship with his growing number of die-hard Chesney fans.
“I think more now than ever that people across America are finally starting to know who I am,” he explains. “They’re finally starting to put the face and the image with my songs. It used to be that they would know the songs, but they had no idea who Kenny Chesney was. We would be doing shows out somewhere and people would say, ‘Oh, so that’s who sings that song.’ Now, they know who sings the songs before the bus even pulls up. That feeling is just awesome, and it’s what I’ve been working toward the past three or four years.
Chesney’s brand new album, I Will Stand, will hopefully continue to build on that same effort and commitment. With his hit single, “She’s Got It All” already being a sure-fire radio sensation, Chesney’s climb becomes ever so sweeter each and every day — a far cry from the flavor he was tasting only a few years back.
“Oh yeah, many times there were those (frustrating) feelings,” he admits, “But I’ve always tried to keep it in perspective. Me and Clay Walker actually came out on the same day. Things started happening for him and they just didn’t for me. So of course, I was asking myself, ‘Why Clay and not me?’ And I love Clay. He’s just a wonderful singer, songwriter and entertainer. But it just wasn’t the right time for me then. It wasn’t meant for me to happen at that moment. But it’s happening now,” he laughs.
Something else that’s happened for Chesney in the past few years is a vocal maturity that could easily explain his recent progress as an entertainer. He’ll be the first to admit it, too.
“I just think my voice has matured a lot more since my first album,” he says. “It just ain’t the same Kenny Chesney that did that Capricorn record four years ago. It’s just a neat feeling to really know that we’ve grown and that my voice has matured. And our stage show is a lot better than it was three or fours ago. It’s all evolved into this really cool thing that we’ve finally got going. Hopefully, we’ll evolve even more; and not to say that we’ve made it. But the fact is that we finally have a gold album and a No. 1 single and almost 3,000 people in our fan club. It’s the fact that we’re just finally on the right road.”
The right road for Chesney also means being out on it a lot more as well. He’s hitting both the honky tonk and fair circuit throughout the rest of the summer — playing dates with LeAnn Rimes, Tracy Byrd and multiple shows with Alabama.
But when the end of the year hits, Chesney plans to hit the beach for about four weeks.
“I know that I’m going to really be busting it from now until the middle of November, and won’t have any time to do anything but work. So I’m probably going to take the whole month of January off to go down to the Caribbeans somewhere to just hang out. I’m not taking a guitar or a writing pad, and will just unplug the phone and TV. I’ll just read some books and lay out in the sun.”
Until then, however, Chesney will be working as hard as possible to promote his latest BNA disc, as well as continuing to build his enormous flock of fans, the latter having become a definite asset to the young artist. Although Chesney is nearing the thirty-age bracket, he’s been a vital tool in reeling in much of country music’s more recent younger demographic. He’s often been classified in the same “young-gun” brigade as LeAnn Rimes, Bryan White and Mindy McCready.
“That’s always been so odd to me,” admits Chesney with a nod. “I’m nine years older than those guys,” he laughs. “I’m almost thirty! I guess some people want to categorize me and put me where they want me in their own little world. But I’m trying not to make bubble-gum music. I think there are people out there who are targeting their music to just 12 and 13-year-old girls. I just think there are a lot more people out there that ain’t being sung to right now.
“Sure, I want the young people to love and enjoy my music, but I want to sing to the whole spectrum,” he continues. “I don’t just want to target myself to the young-gun crowd.”
Undoubtedly, the all-age crowd will go for Chesney’s latest work. His I Will Stand. disc, which was just released in mid-July, promises something for everyone, including emotion-packed ballads, honky tonk blasters, a Tina Turner cover tune and one cut which features both George Jones and Tracy Lawrence on contributing vocals. This top-notch package could just prove to be yet another “small step” to the top for Chesney.
“Hopefully, I’ll continue to keep making these small and gradual steps for the next ten or fifteen years,” he says. “If that happens, that means I’ll be in this business for the next ten or fifteen years, too. That would be good.”