"So many people can relate to it," said an admiring Kenny Chesney. "It just covers so many generations. As a songwriter you search for that commonality."
Photo Credit: Marilu White
Chesney was referring to Mac McAnally's "Down the Road," the song the two recorded together for Chesney's Lucky Old Sun album and which recently went to No. 1 in Billboard.
On Monday (March 9), ASCAP, the performance rights organization, staged a party at its Nashville digs to rejoice in that achievement.
Chesney and McAnally met with reporters before the party to talk about the song and other musical matters.
On the question of how the two got together for the song, McAnally said, "With me, it just started out answering the phone. He [Chesney] said, 'What are you doing next week?'"
It wasn't until after they got together at the recording studio that Chesney decided to cut "Down the Road."
"[The song] sat around for 21 years before someone shined it up. And he was the guy to do it," said McAnally, modestly neglecting to mention he had charted his own recording of the song back in 1990.
McAnally said they selected and recorded the song within an hour and a half. "I remember leaving the studio," he said, "and thinking, 'Boy, that was really good. If he hadn't asked me to sing on that last verse, it might have been a single.'"
Chesney said he hopes McAnally will join him occasionally on tour this summer to sing the song but that, otherwise, he'll probably call on his piano player to do McAnally's part.
McAnally said he continues to work with Jimmy Buffett, both as musician and producer.
Chesney reported that he's currently in the middle of "our little college tour we do every year." He said these appearances, which precede his huge stadium tour each summer, are psychologically important to him.
"It's just an energy you can't replace," he explained. "Everything is so intimate. You spill a few beers on the monitors, and that's OK."
Connie Bradley, ASCAP's Nashville chief and Chesney's longtime friend, first turned to McAnally when she called the celebration to order. "Mac is 100 percent writer on this song," she beamed. "That doesn't happen very often. He doesn't have to share royalties with anybody."
Bradley also noted that McAnally, who began his recording run as a pop singer in the late 1970s, was the first artist David Geffen signed when he started his label.
In summarizing Chesney's accomplishments, Bradley pointed out that "Down the Road" was his 16th No. 1 single and that he is the biggest ticket seller in any musical format in the 21st century.
She then presented each man a commemorative No. 1 guitar, quickly warning Chesney, "And I'd better not see it on e-Bay tomorrow."
When it came time for his remarks, Chesney said, "I want to thank Mac for being a big part of my life before he ever knew it."
McAnally told the assemblage that he wrote his "very simple little song" in Sheffield, Ala., on Christmas morning of 1987 after trying -- with no success -- to find batteries for a gift he was putting together. He said the song embodied all the hopes he had for his children.
McAnally thanked label chairman Joe Galante and the staff at Sony Music Nashville for all their artists who had recorded his songs (including Alabama, which had a huge hit with "Old Flame"). "You guys have taken better care of me than three or four of the labels I was signed to," he quipped.
McAnally said since he wasn't in an income bracket to give Chesney a gift that would impress him by its commercial value he was going to give him something valuable.
"This is about the ugliest guitar you'll ever see unless you've got one of [Alabama's] Jeff Cook's," McAnally said as he handed Chesney a small, battered instrument. He said he had bought the guitar in 1970 for $50 and that his father observed that it "looked like someone learned to play it with a claw hammer."
It was also the guitar, he continued, on which he'd written such Chesney favorites as "Back Where I Come From" and "Down the Road."
"There are still some songs in it," said McAnally. Chesney was speechless and tearful as he accepted the guitar. Then he hugged his songwriting friend for the longest time.
View photos from the No. 1 party.