Known as “the heart of Georgia” with a population of nearly 100,000 people, Macon wouldn’t be what most would consider a hick town. In fact, it wouldn’t be a place most would even associate with the expression. However, childhood memories of the area helped inspire country music newcomer Jason Aldean’s first hit single, “Hicktown.”
Raised mainly by his mother in Macon, and his father in Homestead, Fla., Aldean said he’d seen his share of “Hicktown” moments even if he wasn’t from a small town. And with lyrics about truck pulls, mudding, football games and other rural endeavors, country music fans have identified with the song written by Vicky McGehee and Big & Rich’s Big Kenny and John Rich. Aldean has also learned he isn’t the only one who relates to the reference about a neighbor unintentionally baring more than his soul to the rest of the world.
“I can picture guys sitting out in their yard, working in their yard, bending over to plant some trees or something, and half their crack shows,” laughed Aldean. “I mean, that’s kind of one of the things that drew me into the song. The song talks about things that I grew up experiencing.”
Despite the hit single, Aldean’s fast-growing success isn’t as easy as it may seem. He moved to Nashville in 1998 when he was offered a record deal that soon fell through. A year and a-half later, he tried yet again with a label that eventually dropped him before he ever began recording. Finally, three years later and nearly ready to give up, Aldean signed with Broken Bow Records, an independent company that recently took Craig Morgan to the top of the country singles chart.
“There’s many an artist that comes to Nashville in hopes of doing the same thing I’m doing right now,” Aldean said. “A lot of them, for whatever reason or another, don’t make it and end up packing and going back home.” Now that he’s finding success as an artist, he added, “This is what I’ve always wanted to do. The fact that it has now happened … is what I hoped for all those years.”
All those years came with much hard work. Growing up, Aldean played music on the weekends as a young child. After school during the week, he’d perform at clubs for extra money. He held jobs — including stints as a Pepsi deliveryman and a grocery store bag boy — just to earn extra cash but always kept his love and passion for music at heart. “But that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “That’s what all the long days and late nights and early mornings are all about — getting to this point where I am right now.”
Aldean credits his father for inspiring his talent and abilities as an artist.
“I remember being 4 or 5 years old, sitting in front of a record player with headphones listening to my dad’s albums,” Aldean said. “So, his love of music just kind of transferred to me, I guess.” Aldean’s father would write guitar chords into a notebook for him to practice while he was away at work. As he became better at the chords, Aldean was able to play songs simply by listening.
After moving to Nashville, these musical abilities afforded Aldean the opportunity to work with several talented country musicians, including Bobby Pinson and Rich. Aldean had actually written songs with Pinson before either one had been signed to recording contracts. When Aldean needed another song for his CD, he chose “She Loved Me,” one he and Pinson had written years earlier. “I hadn’t heard it in a while,” Aldean said. “I went and took it to the label, and they loved it, so we put it on the record.”
Aldean’s first collaboration with Rich resulted in “You’re the Love I Want to Be In,” a song they co-wrote with McGehee. “I think John Rich is one of the most talented guys in Nashville,” Aldean said. “I think he’s just a great songwriter, and obviously, artist-wise, that speaks for itself.”
So far, Aldean’s most memorable career moment came when he first stepped foot on the Grand Ole Opry stage and felt the history of those that came before him.
“It makes you feel good to go out and stand in that little circle [taken from the Ryman Auditorium] on the stage,” he explained. “You feel a lot of ghosts in that building. It’s got a certain vibe about it. … The guys like Little Jimmy Dickens, they make you feel welcome and it’s a good thing there. It’s a good vibe.”
Behind Aldean’s rowdy country image is a man who lives a quieter life at home.
“I’m an open book,” he said. “I’m very family oriented. I’m a family man.”
With his career heating up to the point that he’s on the road almost every day this summer, Aldean is working hard to devote as much time as possible to his wife, Jessica, and their 2-year-old daughter, Keeley. He said, “I try to do as much as I can with the time that I have — which usually isn’t a lot.”
However, Aldean’s work ethic paid off last week when his self-titled debut album hit No. 6 on Billboard’s country albums chart during its first week of release. Encouraged by the early sales figures, he hopes the album is just the starting point of a long career.
“It’s in the beginning stages,” he admitted. “Last year at this time, nobody knew who I was.”