The first time anyone heard Jason Aldean on the radio was way, way back in 2005, when his debut single “Hicktown” was released. And the last time you heard him on the radio was probably about five minutes ago, when his latest single “We Back” came on.
The common denominator in both of those songs that have bookended Aldean’s career so far is his producer Michael Knox. He’s produced all nine of Aldean’s studio albums, and 126 of the tracks on those albums.
In a new Jake Brown book — Behind the Boards: Nashville — Knox talks at length about his 20-year partnership with Aldean. When they first met around 1998, Knox explains that he’d gone to Atlanta for a two-day talent show and he liked what he saw in Aldean. “He looked cool, and was singing Alabama, Tracy Lawrence, Guns N’ Roses, it was all over the place. And I’d been looking for a country rock guy for probably three or four years. We had McGraws, and guys who were making a lot of noise, but it was more cowboy noise, and I said, ’Man, I need a Mötley Crüe country guy, who takes all of this to the next place,'” Knox recalls in the book.
While the book goes deep into Aldean’s entire discography, here’s what Knox had to say about the first song and the latest song.
On the sound of “Hicktown”:
“By the time I got to work with Jason, ‘Hicktown’ was already four years old. We’d played it to Jason, and he fell in love with the song, so we played it live a couple of times, then went in the studio and sang it. And it had some things that weren’t naturally what he was doing before, but it was definitely where we were going with attitude, guitars — we changed the fiddles to guitars — and kind of rocked it out pretty hard. That was definitely the beginning of that new generation of where country was going. The main thing to remember of what we brought to country music was that really aggressive, AC/DC guitars, the really distorted guitars and hard-core drum kits and banging. Jason really busted the door down with heavier guitars, stacked guitars, we had six layers of guitars, and then live drums being recorded by Peter Coleman, who did The Knack, Blondie, and Pat Benatar, and defined what rock and roll was in the 70s.”
On the making of “We Back”:
“I was interviewing The Warren Brothers, Brad and Brett, for my radio show and they go, ’Hey man, we’re writing with (Florida Georgia Line) Monday, what do you need?’ And I told them, ’I need something up-tempo, we need a show opener, something to get the crowd going, and we don’t have that yet.’ They had written ’Lights Come On’ before for us, and so I sat with them for about 45 minutes and played them songs we had and songs I wished we had. And that’s the key. Those are hard to find. And they went to write it and sent it over to Jason and we cut it a couple weeks later. It happened that fast.”
Other country music producers profiled in Behind the Boards: Nashville (due out in June) include Dann Huff, Dave Cobb, James Stroud, Tony Brown, Byron Gallimore, Shane McAnally, Ross Copperman, Zach Crowell, Chris Destefano, Jesse Frasure, Josh Osbourne, Luke Laird, Frank Liddell, Jimmy Robbins, Nathan Chapman, Paul Worley, Jeff Stevens, Jody Stevens, Joey Moi and more. You can pre-order the book here.