Looking mildly amused by all the fuss, a hatless Brad Paisley stood on the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 18) and listened to friends and associates praise him, his co-writers and his recording partners for his two latest No. 1 singles -- "Old Alabama" and "Remind Me."
Photo Credit: Marilu White
Flanking Paisley were Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook of the group Alabama, who sang with him on the former song, and Carrie Underwood, who sparred vocally with him on the latter.
Paisley, Chris DuBois, Dave Turnbull and Owen wrote "Old Alabama," and Paisley, DuBois and Kelley Lovelace teamed for "Remind Me."
To accommodate the crowd, the Opry's technical crew hydraulically elevated a part of the house floor and the first three rows of seats, thus extending the stage by several feet.
ASCAP's Marc Driskill opened the proceedings by praising DuBois for his win earlier in the week of the songwriter of the year award from the Nashville Songwriters Association International. He also noted the NSAI had cited Turnbull's "The Boys of Fall" in its annual list of "The Songs I Wished I'd Written."
Paisley, DuBois, Turnbull and Lovelace are all ASCAP-affiliated songwriters. Owen is a member of BMI, ASCAP's chief competitor.
BMI's Jody Williams then came forward to direct the crowd's attention to Owen, strands of whose "Mountain Music" are woven into "Old Alabama."
"Mountain Music" was a No. 1 song for Alabama in 1982 and the vehicle by which it won its first vocal group of the year Grammy.
Calling the song a "country classic," Williams remarked that Alabama's trend-setting sound that dominated the charts throughout the 1980s was a "perfect combination" of Southern rock, country and bluegrass.
Williams cited just a few of Alabama's achievements, from earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to selling "75 million albums."
"Seventy-eight million," Owen corrected.
Williams cited Owen for helping raise $350 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and presented him a plaque stating that "Mountain Music" has racked up more than 4 million performances.
Troy Tomlinson, head of the Nashville division of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the company that now handles Alabama's catalog of songs, recalled how important the group has been to him both personally and professionally.
It was 30 years ago, Tomlinson said, that he pulled his car into the Portland High School parking lot [in Portland, Tenn.] with an Alabama song blasting from the speakers.
There he encountered his English teacher who told him, "If you spent half as much time on your English as you did on that band, you might amount to something." He passed English, he declared, without forsaking the band.
Later on, Tomlinson said, he visited a friend at Middle Tennessee State University, where the two snagged T-shirts that enabled them to pass themselves off as security guards at an Alabama concert there.
After the concert, Tomlinson said, he watched in awe as the band signed autographs for hours until the last fan in line had been attended to.
By 1988, Tomlinson was deep in the music business, pitching songs for Acuff-Rose. The first No. 1 he scored for that company, he said, was via Alabama's recording of "If I Had You," which topped the charts in 1989.
When he moved to Sony ATV, Tomlinson found himself working Alabama's catalog. A more fitting rebuke to his English teacher's warning could hardly be imagined.
Paisley voiced his appreciation for the band, too, although less reverently than Tomlinson.
"It's amazing," he said, "to watch a group work that still enjoys music after ... how many hundred years?"
Owen remembered a less flippant Paisley seeking his approval after "Old Alabama" was recorded. "Brad is the reigning [CMA] entertainer of the year, and on a rainy afternoon he called me and asked if I wanted to hear the final mix."
Owen said he and his wife met Paisley in a mall parking lot and that Paisley was driving a pickup truck with a "girl in the back seat."
Everyone clustered around to listen to the mix. Owen said Paisley's hand was shaking as he turned the knob to adjust the sound.
Owen liked what he heard and cracked, "It should come into the charts at No. 1." His confidence restored, Paisley responded, as Owen recalled it, by saying, "I've already got 14 [No. 1's]."
(Actually, Paisley would have had 18 at this point.)
Afterward, Owen said his wife asked him, "Who was that girl with Brad?"
"I believe it was Sheryl Crow," Owen said.
Owen called Paisley "pivotal" in raising funds for victims of the tornadoes that swept through Alabama this spring by providing all the equipment and underwriting expenses of a major benefit concert.
Driskill returned to the microphone to introduce the principals of "Remind Me."
To that end, he first brought out Lovelace, announcing this was the songwriter's 14th No. 1, a string that started with Paisley's first No. 1, "He Didn't Have to Be," in 1999. That breakthrough hit was based on Lovelace's own experience as a step-father.
Then Driskill called Underwood to the stage. She strode out in impossibly high heels, an assist that still left her an inch or so shorter than the diminutive Paisley.
The two will again host this year's CMA awards show.
Driskill noted that "Remind Me" was Underwood's 14th No. 1, as well, and that she has sold 13 million albums and reaped five Grammys.
Always low key, Lovelace told the crowd, "It's fun to make a living and support your family with your closest friends."
DuBois said he was still astounded Sheryl Crow was willing to sing Underwood's part for the basic "work tape" of "Remind Me."
"I really need to thank Carrie," said Paisley. "You've jumped off many a cliff with me."
When the song was just the germ of an idea, he said, he called Underwood in Los Angeles and "mumbled" the outline of it to her -- since there were still few words except the refrain "Remind me."
Paisley imitated the halting humming sounds he sang to Underwood and said that after she caught the sense of the song, she responded with "this angelic 'Remind me.'"
So, he asked her, "Are you in?"
"I guess so," the still unsold Underwood said.
"The key to all this," Paisley summarized, "is the best singer in country music. Me. No, I'm just kidding. It's Carrie. Thank God for that TV show [American Idol] that plucked you out of obscurity in Oklahoma and brought you here where you're supposed to be."
"Thank you for trusting me," said Underwood. "What would you have done if I showed up and [the song] was bad?"
"Blake [Shelton]," Paisley replied, broadly hinting that he would have sung the song with Blake Shelton.
See photos from the party.