OFFSTAGE: Brad Paisley’s First Time — at ACM Awards

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

You would think Brad Paisley’s first big win at the Academy of Country Music Awards was yesterday. He remembers it that vividly. But it was actually 13 years ago. After his Saturday (March 31) rehearsal for Sunday’s awards show in Las Vegas, I asked him what it was like in 1999 when he was a rookie.

“My first ACM was when I was nominated for top new male vocalist. I won it that year, too. It was me, Chad Brock and Gary Allan. They did their songs, and then I did ’He Didn’t Have to Be,’ ” he told me. “But they would only give you a minute, so how do you do that song in a minute? But that’s when you’re new.”

He explained that some singers can condense a song, but this one was a story that would be hard to get across in one minute. So here’s what he did: “I took off the first verse and started with ’I met the man I call my dad when I was 5 years old,’ as opposed to ’When a single mom goes out on a date.’ It was just me and my guitar. I figured the best way to convey that song in a short amount of time was to go out with just a guitar. There was no band. That was very nerve-wracking. But that was swinging for the fence right off the bat.”

Paisley walked off the stage after that song, only to walk right back on when they announced his name as the winner. “That was the first award I ever won,” he recalled. Even more important, though, was that the song changed his life.

“My album was done already,” he explained. “But after playing this one for some really powerful radio guys, they said to cut it. So we cut it and put it on there at the last minute. And I wouldn’t be talking to you today if it hadn’t been for that song.”

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.