“Everybody has a Chattahoochee River.”
That’s what Alan Jackson’s record label told him when he was reluctant to release his song “Chattahoochee” in 1993. Early in his career, according to Billboard, Jackson wasn’t so sure country lovers would relate to some of his songs because they were so specific about his life.
“I love that song, but it’s about the river where I grew up,” Jackson explains about the water just a little bit north of his hometown of Newnan, Ga. “When the label wanted to put that song out, I said, ‘I don’t think many people around this country are going to give a flip about the Chattahoochee River or know what it is.’ And they said, ‘It doesn’t matter, everybody has a Chattahoochee River.’”
They were right, and the song climbed up to the top of the charts, and won the Country Music Association’s award for song of the year in 1994.
Jackson talks as vividly as he writes, so the story has bits and pieces from his early days of fronting the Dixie Steel Nails band in Georgia, to his eventual talent as a prolific songwriter. “It must just be a gift from heaven. I don’t know where it came from. I never wrote a song in my life until I was in my early 20s,” he says. That’s when, he recalls, a musician friend from Georgia told Jackson that if he was going to move to Nashville, he needed to come up with his own songs.
“So I started writing. I do remember in high school I wasn’t much of a student — all I wanted to do was get out of school. But I remember in English literature class when we had to write short stories, my teacher always bragged about what I wrote and read it in front of the class, so maybe that was an early sign. I’m a real visual person,” he said. “As I write and sing the songs now, I pretty much visualize the story.
“By the time I moved to Nashville, I had already lived a lot of lives and had a lot to pull from. I think that helped.”
Jackson will be inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame on June 14.