Brad Paisley rockets from his state roots to country music

October 01, 2000


At the Grand Ole Opry, dancers in green gingham and country music fans mill backstage, a seemingly – surprisingly – nonexclusive area of an exclusive club.
Brad Paisley, due in at 8:30 p.m., an hour before he will sing two songs on the stage he regards as a shrine, arrives on the dot.
Clad in a purple shirt and dark jeans, he stands shorter than one might expect, about 5-foot-8 or so, depending on how much gel he has in his jet-black hair.
Suddenly, the mood backstage changes to a tentative one, as the Glen Dale, W.Va., native makes his way down the long hall to his small dressing room.
A woman named Amber approaches Paisley. “Would you sign this card for my mom?” she asks. “She’s having surgery on her back.” Paisley obliges and takes the card. “My mom had surgery on her back…” he begins.
An older woman wearing a red, black and white country-western shirt holds out a CD of Paisley’s gold debut album, “Who Needs Pictures,” for him to sign.
“Thank you so much,” she says to him.
“Thank you guys so much,” he replies.
Fans, including the members of the green-clad Dixieland Dancers, who already have had their turn on the Opry stage, ask for an autograph or photograph. He obliges each one, almost the same way every time, pressing in for a cheek-to-cheek pose.
The scene continues as Paisley does a do-si-do of his own. Step, sign, step, pose, step, shake hands. Step, sign, step, pose, step, shake hands. Over and over again.
Prize winnings The whole year has been this way, following the release of Paisley’s lauded debut CD. “Who Needs Pictures,” which features Paisley’s brand of tradition-based country tunes, including the heart-rending single about stepfathers, “He Didn’t Have to Be,” that made him the only 1999 chart-debuting artist to achieve a No. 1 single in Billboard.
Following wins as Top New Male at the American Country Music Awards and three nods from the TNN Music Awards (Discovery Award, Song and Video of the Year),Paisley tied with Faith Hill for six Country Music Association Award nominations, including Male Vocalist and Album of the Year.
The singer, who co-wrote almost every song on his CD, will return to these sacred grounds on Wednesday, when he will perform a medley of his songs during the CMA Awards, to be broadcast by CBS. He also will go head to head in competition with the likes of Vince Gill, the Dixie Chicks and Hill herself, a notable new name among veterans such as Alan Jackson and George Strait.
In the meantime, though, Paisley has a performance to get in tonight before climbing on his tour bus and heading out for another concert the next day. He finally arrives in his dressing room, where his band already has instruments out for practice.
Someone hands Paisley a CD that apparently features a song Porter Wagoner wants the newcomer to hear and possibly record.
Paisley turns to his friend, Tony Brawner, whose chiseled looks sometimes get him mistaken for the singer’s father, Doug, who works for the West Virginia Division of Highways.
“I need something to drink,” Paisley tells him. “Could you get it?
‘Cause if I go out, it will be 30 minutes.” In spite of all of the hullabaloo, Paisley’s performance of two songs – “We Danced” from the album and “Little Cabin Home on the Hill” – goes off without a hitch.
Nothing less would be expected from the 27-year-old, who cut his teeth opening for the Judds and other country superstars, as a regular on another longstanding country radio show, Wheeling’s “Jamboree USA.” That gig came about after Paisley learned to love the guitar and the likes of Buck Owens at the knee of his grandfather back in Glen Dale.
He so far has not been asked to join the Grand Ole Opry, but an invitation does not seem out of the question.
“That’s a really big deal,” he says during a telephone interview from a hotel in Arizona, nearly two weeks later, in a conversation postponed because he needed to rest his voice. “There’s talk and a lot of speculation that they’ll ask me. In fact, I made a joke, because of how many Opry members don’t play it, like Garth and Reba and the others.
If Paisley made the rules, Opry members would have to make a few appearances a year (Paisley himself made at least that many during the summer, including two in September alone.) “They asked me about becoming a member during a ‘Backstage at the Opry’ interview,” Paisley said. “I told them I was apprehensive, because I don’t want to quit playing here.” Buck and friends For a relative newcomer, Paisley has a lot of clear ideas of how to guide his career, one that began at Jamboree USA and which he refined as a music business major at Belmont University, just off Music Row in Nashville.
Now, Paisley has exploded onto the scene, described in turns as “the next country superstar” and “the next Garth Brooks.” Such circumstances lead to a lot of highlights and a few downsides.
The highlights? Being friends with idol Owens, for one.
“It’s the coolest thing in the world,” Paisley said. “It’s probably my proudest thing, to be friends with Buck Owens, Bill Anderson and George Jones.” The trio will appear on his upcoming album, along with Chely Wright in a duet called “Hard to be a Husband, Hard to be a Wife,” due out next spring on Arista-Nashville.
Paisley has another Buck Owens story from when the legendary picker played in his own stomping grounds of Bakersfield, Calif., recently, before Paisley arrived for a performance at the same location.
“My grandmother flew out here to California to actually see me play,” Paisley said. “She had never made it past the Mississippi and she’s 74 years old. Friday they took her to see Buck play in Bakersfield, and she got a seat saved for her.” Owens, who knew about her presence, announced that the band would play while he danced with Brad Paisley’s grandmother.
“I’ve got pictures,” said a still incredulous-sounding Paisley. “I told him, ‘Man, Buck, that was a really nice thing to do.’ He said, ‘She’s a fine woman. I was proud to do it.’ And I said, ‘If my grandfather was alive, you’d be in trouble.'” And the downside to this fame thing?
“Today, I got off the bus, and I had on some really bad shorts,” Paisley said. “I haven’t been able to work out, and my back hurts. I looked horrible. I hadn’t shaved. I had just hopped off the bus and there’s no shower on the bus, and on the way to the hotel room, there’s probably five or six people who have figured where the buses have parked. I took pictures with them, and I guarantee you, those are the ones that wind up in Country Weekly.” There may be other negatives, although Paisley does not discuss them.
Back at the Grand Ole Opry, as Paisley takes the stage, a tour staffer watches from the side and responds to a remark about the ease with which one can get backstage at the venue. The word “stalker” comes up.
“Oh, we already had one of those here tonight,” the staffer says.
“She’s harmless, but we keep an eye on her anyway. She thinks Brad asked her to marry him.” She did not gain entrance to the backstage area, although Baker looked for her near the front rows as Paisley performed.
The fame game Paisley does admit he gets recognized with increasing frequency.
“It’s grown all year. The ACMs helped, and the TNN Awards helped, and the No. 1 record has helped.
“I was sitting in Cracker Barrel after I had been fishing. I was sitting there at dinner with a ball cap pulled down and wearing a sweatshirt. I didn’t look anything like I do on the CD cover. I was saying that I don’t know if it would ever reach the point where I’ll get recognized in a place like this.
“Right then, a guy came up and said, ‘I didn’t want to bug you while you were eating, but now that you’re done, could I get an autograph for my little girls?’ At that point, I knew my life had changed more than I realized.” But Paisley expects things to, if not die down, at least level off, as early as next year after the release of his sophomore album, which he describes as more of the same from “Who Needs Pictures,” “but, like a progression.” However, for now, a life that includes time for activities like fishing and dating seems to be on hold.
He does not anticipate spending much time at home except during the CMA Awards, which, he said, “will feel like giving blood, with interview after interview. That’s not time off.” And in spite of all the women who approach him, Paisley does not run into many girlfriend candidates.
“It’s one thing to meet somebody in a very nice way and then go out on a date, but it’s another thing to go across the country and see how many girls you can get phone numbers out of.
“It’s not a level playing field. They don’t see me as the person I am.
I have clothes on the floor of my bedroom and they’re going to be there up to the CMA Awards. And I leave the toilet seat up. I’m probably not all that easy to live with or be married to. I don’t know that a fan could get that. It would be a major letdown when they realize how normal I am.” Favorite things Back at the Opry, Paisley finishes up his two songs. He walks back to his dressing room and gets ready to leave. But instead of returning to his pickup truck, he gives the keys to Tony and asks him to drive the car back to his house south of Nashville.
Paisley will not be spending the night in his own home, surrounded by clothes on the floor. Instead he will board a bus, maybe play some poker with the band and listen to Roger Miller and Merle Haggard boxed sets before arriving for a gig in Illinois the next day.
Baker and an entourage walk with Paisley to the Opry parking lot.
Amber, the woman whose mother had back surgery, mills around until the end.
In just one week, Paisley will return to the Opry to play an acoustic set, sans band.
“That’s pretty much my favorite way to do it. I love that feeling when you hear the words and the people in the audience hang on every word.
I feel like I can entertain that crowd real well. It feels like you’re having a great experience on the most hallowed stage, singing the songs the way they were written.”