Alan Jackson Recalls the Time an Industry Exec Told Him “Go Back to Georgia”

Jackson recalls his early career days when he was "turned down over and over from every label"

Today, Alan Jackson is a Country Music Hall of Fame member with 35 No. 1 hits and 60 radio singles to his credit, along with more than 150 major music industry accolades. But back in the 1980s, this Newnan, Georgia native was another newcomer just trying to get his songs heard by the powers that be on Nashville’s Music Row.

During an interview with Kelleigh Bannen for Essentials Radio on Apple Music Country, Jackson recently shared memories of some of his early days in Nashville, such as the time he played a free show at one of Nashville’s best songwriter venues at the time, Douglas Corner Cafe, in the hopes of catching the attention of record label executives.

“I can’t even remember all the showcases that I had done previous to that [concert] and had gotten turned down over and over from every label,” Jackson said. “One woman at CBS even told me I needed to go back to Georgia, and seriously!”

He also recalled meeting producer-writer Keith Stegall, who alongside Kyle Lehning, had been instrumental in the creation of Randy Travis’ 1986 debut album Storms of Life, which went on to sell three million copies.

“I was just hardheaded, I guess,” Jackson said. “I think I’d been in it and recorded [as] you do, where you’d go and record a few demos to try and get somebody’s attention. And, I’d had a couple of other producers trying to help me. Nobody could let me or get me what I wanted to sound like the type of sound and the music that I wanted. We would cut other people’s songs, mostly. I had met Keith Stegall through the songwriting thing that I had, and I knew he had just been a part of Randy Travis’ first album that did so well, and I knew Keith just from Louisiana, and his daddy was an old steel player. He was a country guy doing country music. I just had this feeling that Keith was the guy that could help me, and I kept harassing him.”

Jackson’s tenacity paid off, and Stegall was a co-producer on Jackson’s 1990 debut album, Here in the Real World, which led to Jackson’s first hits, including the title track, as well as “Wanted,” “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” and “I’d Love You All Over Again.”

By 1995, Jackson had amassed enough chart success to issue a 20-track Greatest Hits album.

“The nineties were a lot different than now. You could have three number one records in a span of a year, so you’re just constantly rolling, and you’re gone all the time, but it’s fun because it’s all new. I hadn’t been anywhere in my whole life, and so where I went was exciting [during those] first few years. All of it was exciting, to have those crowds when you never had that,” Jackson told Bannen.

“I mean, I’ve played clubs where people wouldn’t even dance. Then when I took my break, they’d turn the jukebox on and dance. They didn’t know you were there. It’s totally different, and it’s a lot to swallow too. It’s a big adjustment to get all the attention and all that can be hard on you. [Jackson’s wife] Denise and I just had a baby right when my first one, “[Here in the] Real World,” hit the top of the charts. And so it was hard on her. It’s a whirlwind.”

The working relationship between Jackson and Stegall has been both profitable and enduring; Stegall is also a producer on Jackson’s 16th studio album, Where Have You Gone, which released on May 14.