Chesney Toasts Writer of “When the Sun Goes Down”

ASCAP Honors Brett James for a Tenacious No. 1 Hit

ASCAP, the performance rights society, passed out grass skirts, straw hats and leis to guests arriving early Wednesday (May 19) for a party honoring Brett James, the writer of Kenny Chesney’s latest No. 1 hit, “When the Sun Goes Down.”

Never one to draw attention to himself when he’s offstage, Chesney was already standing at the bar and quietly sipping a frozen margarita before the festivities began at ASCAP’s Nashville headquarters. He was dressed tropical chic — a black ball cap turned backward, sunglasses, black T-shirt, khaki pants and sandals. Uncle Kracker, who sang the song with Chesney, did not arrive in Nashville until several hours later.

Connie Bradley, ASCAP’s senior vice president, opened the ceremonies by pointing out that “When the Sun Goes Down” had spent five weeks at the top of Billboard’s country singles chart and had taken only nine weeks to get there. Handing James a certificate of achievement, Ed Benson, executive director of the Country Music Association, proclaimed, “You’re the best songwriter in this town today.”

Donna Hilley, head of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, was similarly effusive about James. “This good-looking hunk left the practice of being a medical doctor to become a songwriter. I’m sure every female in America would like to be his patient.” (James spent three years in medical school.) Hilley noted that Chesney’s newest album, also titled When The Sun Goes Down, has sold nearly 3 million copies since its release in February.

With 3-year-old daughter Clare clinging to his leg, James thanked Chesney and the people at his label, BNA Records, for doing so well by his song. He also thanked his family, some of whom had made a trip to Nashville just for this occasion.

Joe Galante, chairman of the RCA Label Group (BNA’s parent corporation), told how “When the Sun Goes Down” got to Chesney. “We first heard this song,” he said, “when Brett was on Arista Records [another RCA company]. But we were having some issues with radio stations then, and Brett graciously gave it to Kenny to record.” (James told after the party that he had recorded the song on an album for Arista that was never released.)

“There’s a difference between having a hit record on radio and having a hit record,” Chesney observed. He said that when he’s on tour, he takes a portable margarita-maker out into the parking lot on the afternoon before his show and serves free drinks to fans who have gathered early. At a recent show in Miami Beach, he continued, he spotted three pickup trucks surrounded by “50 or 60 people,” all of whom were singing “When the Sun Goes Down.”

“That showed me,” Chesney concluded, “it wasn’t just a hit record on radio, but that it was a part of their lives.”

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