"It's an amazing thing to retire this early," Brad Paisley told the crowd that packed the stage of Nashville's Ryman Auditorium Tuesday (Sept. 28) to celebrate his having sold 5 million copies of his first three albums. Paisley was just joking about retiring, of course, but he continued to do so until Joe Galante, the head of his record label, warned him -- with mock severity -- to stop.
Paisley has developed such a reputation as a humorist -- both in songs and interviews -- that he told reporters, just before the ceremonies started, he welcomed the leavening influence of "Whiskey Lullaby," his grim but chart-topping duet with Alison Krauss.
As the guests assembled on the historic Grand Ole Opry stage to await the start of the ceremonies, they were treated to home videos of the young Paisley -- and his ever-present guitar -- projected onto large screens around the auditorium. Among the celebrants were Opry stars Bill Anderson and Jack Greene and songwriter Jon Randall, who co-penned "Whiskey Lullaby" with Anderson.
Steve Buchanan, a senior vice president for Gaylord Entertainment, the owner of the Opry, welcomed the crowd and cited the Opry as "the place where [Paisley's] passions and creativity play out." Paisley became a member of the Opry in 2001 and has played the legendary radio show more than 100 times.
Following Buchanan's remarks were two comic video clips. The first, an animated feature done in South Park style and sensibility, depicted Paisley as a guitar god and babe magnet. The second had Anderson and a bewigged Little Jimmy Dickens playing Paisley's proud but worried parents. It showed them browsing through photos of his apocryphal career, which included a stint with Nirvana.
Then Galante took the podium and summoned Paisley to stand beside him. He presented the singer a Gretsch 6122 electric guitar, a model once favored by Chet Atkins and George Harrison. John Jorgenson, who played guitar in the Desert Rose Band and is one of Paisley's major influences, gave him the guitar he used when DRB appeared on Austin City Limits. Jorgenson explained that Paisley had spoken fondly of watching the band on that show as he ate pizza with his buddies. He noted that the G&L ASAT model had been a gift to him from famed guitar designer, Leo Fender. Paisley thanked Jorgenson and then chided him for failing to mention him in an interview that he -- Jorgenson -- had done for Vintage Guitar magazine. "I was in Vintage Guitar a couple of months before," Paisley pouted, "and I talked all about him."
Grand Ole Opry manager Pete Fisher lauded Paisley for his willingness to perform on the show every time he's available. In appreciation, Fisher gave the artist and his wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, matching pairs of Grand Ole Opry cowboy boots. Mark Hartley, Paisley's manager at Fitzgerald-Hartley, brought forward another gift guitar, a McPherson made of koa wood.
During his meeting with reporters, Paisley said the 5 million party came as a surprise to him. "They'd told me a few weeks ago that they wanted to throw a platinum party [for a million albums sold]," he admitted. Still, he added, the fact that his in-laws had just flown into Nashville for the first time might have been a tip-off.
Asked if there had been any trepidation at the label about releasing "Whiskey Lullaby" as a single, Paisley said there was. "I go on record that I was one of the people that was skeptical," he continued. "There haven't been a lot of double-suicide songs."
When the talk turned to recording songs with other people, Paisley observed, "Duets are sort of like half the pressure and twice the fun." He urged the reporters to check out a duet he had recorded with actor William Shatner. (The song is "Real" and is on Shatner's forthcoming album, Has Been.) Paisley also spoke of the joy of working and writing with Pat Green. "He's one of my recently acquired role models," Paisley deadpanned. "He has no ego. He's a good guy."
Paisley agreed that songs such as "I'm Gonna Miss Her" and "Celebrity" had begun to pigeonhole him as a writer and performer of humorous songs. "I don't think I would ever turn off that switch in my personality," he mused. "[but] 'Whiskey Lullaby' was sort of like 'Take that!'"
Paisley reported that his friend and mentor Buck Owens appears to be mending from his recent illness and that he will do a show with Owens this New Year's Eve. "He's sort of the torchbearer for what I always wanted to be," Paisley said.