"I was born on the Dixie Highway/ red clay and Georgia pines/ I was raised on the Dixie Highway/ no sweeter place you'll ever find." - Dixie Highway - Alan Jackson.

Georgian superstar Alan Jackson hit top gear on his literary licence when he wrote Dixie Highway about his childhood home in Newnan.

Yes, the same hometown as fellow singer-songwriter Steve Young who also toured here four times in a colourful career that also created hits and misses.

Newnan is 30 miles west of Dixie Highway but Alan covered all bases by naming his 20th album 30 Miles West.

Jackson, 53, ignites his nostalgia fuelled tune by sharing vocal duties with fellow Georgian Zac Brown.

It's a smart move - Jackson gave Brown a 1966 Cadillac after they shared a Grammy for a previous #1 hit duet on As She's Walking Away.

Jackson has scored 46 #1 hits in a career that ignited more than 60 million album sales and countless major awards.

The imagery of American locales in country songs and titles seems easier on the ear than we poor Aussies can offer.

My family farm has long been on the Princes Highway on the Shipwreck Coast between Warrnambool and Allansford.

The Hopkins Rivers runs beneath steep cliffs at the homestead back door but none of those names immediately lend themselves to country songs.

That's despite the home stables being breeding base of 1910 Melbourne Cup winner Comedy King.

Maybe we can find better rhymes for Highway One - the numerological name for Princes - or even neighbouring Deakin Uni.

Sadly, I had to settle for "the dust on his glasses was the only film he had ever seen/ while riding the paddocks and getting high on diesoline" in a long ago childhood song.

We still have the lonesome whistle of the V-Line engine that signals the pre-dawn train that breaks the day of the Friesian herd as they amble to their first milking.

But I digress from a song that starts with Scott Vestal's banjo intro and a riff from Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama.

Jackson nails nostalgia with lines like "had rabbit tobacco growing on the roadside/ rolled it up and smoked it down/ it don't do much but it makes you feel big/ when you're 10 years old in a tiny town."

Now, we were warned about evils of mushrooms and 1080 laced carrots for rabbits and foxes so that was not an option or temptation.


"The Holy Ghost on Sunday morning/ gospel songs and the Bible read/ Sunday lunch at Mama's table/ thank the Lord and break the bread." - Dixie Highway - Alan Jackson.

Jackson's music is steeped in the religion that tightens bucolic buckles in the bowels of the Bible belt.

He favours a more easily palatable potion than staple diets of high rolling televangelists who provided fertile farce fodder for writers diverse as the late Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein and Rev Billy C Wirtz.

I guess religious fervour and fear doesn't have the same clout down here - well, not decades after suffering adolescent bullying and brainwashing.

We may have suffered for our rebellion but didn't inflict pain on the next generation by force-feeding them biblical bread, grown off farm.

My mother died suddenly when I was 15 and my grandfather renounced Catholicism after boarding school so the only bread broken was far away from the moneychangers in the temples in town.

Young, a farm guest, exuded Dixie humour when he suggested a change of his Ballarat concert venue after we drove from Warrnambool through Snake Valley to the equally quaintly named Camp Hotel.

Snake handling was an art that fellow farm guests and Jackson's original managers Barry and Jewel Coburn developed on their move to Nashville in 1984.

I never asked houseguests for lyrical help but was delighted the Coburns collected my modest publishing royalties through their company.

Back to the fifties and sixties.

We read Geelong and Warrnambool football records and other classic literature and listened to the Johnnies - Cash and Horton - Marty Robbins and old Hank and Bob Wills, courtesy of local station 3YB where Aunt Thelma hosted the Red Cross radio show.

Now, with nostalgia kicking into an even higher gear, we reach the tail of Jackson's childhood tale.

"When I'm old, heaven's calling/ and they come to carry me away/ just lay me down in the South land/ bury me in the Georgia clay."

I may opt for the banks of Hopkins or Willie Nelson's hot gospel Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die ahead of Phil Kaufman's cut-rate cremation wishes of Gram Parsons.

I just hope musical accompaniment is of the calibre that producer Keith Stegall has provided for Jackson for more than 20 years.


"Let me just say for the sake of conversation/ if there's such a thing as reincarnation/ don't you go crying for me when I'm gone/ cause I'm gonna come back as a country song." - Gonna Come Back As A Country Song - Chris Stapleton-Terry McBride.

Collective humour of Jackson and Stegall peaks with the album entrée penned by bluegrass bard Chris Stapleton and Texan Terry McBride - the man who discovered Quorn born hotshot expat Australian guitarist Jedd Hughes.

Former Steeldrivers member Stapleton and McBride wrote this rollicking requiem for unrepentant bar flies and roots country music lovers.

So you cancel your posthumous wishes and ask why you didn't write the perfect reincarnation refrain Gonna Come Back As A Country Song.

"I loved that song, and it's just perfect for me, because if I die, and I get to come back as something, I want to come back as a country song," Jackson confessed recently.

So forget about cremation as you soak up joyous sentiments of a tune that segues into You Go Your Way - a flippant flip off to a departed damsel.

"I poured some bourbon in a coffee cup/ it's been too long since I drank too much/ so here's to me and here's to the moon/ and here's to love that ends too soon."

It may have taken three writers - Troy Jones, Tony Lane and David Lee - but is a likely hit.

"It's a little sleeper on there, you have to hear it two or three times and then you can't get it out of your head," says Jackson.

"It sounds like a single. You go your way and I'll go crazy."

It's a vast contrast to Jackson's melancholic tribute to true love in his original Everything But The Wings.

"It's a song about a sweet person," Jackson says.

"And somehow I end up writing a song like this every now and then."

Stapleton, Morgane Hayes and septuagenarian Texan and duel Aussie tourist Guy Clark provide living-life to the fullest tune Talk Is Cheap.

Salient song sequencing ensure the next song is new single So You Don't Have To Love Me Anymore - penned by nephew Adam Wright and Jay Knowles - enables Jackson to turn self deprecation into an assertive ruptured romance anthem.

It's a perfect sibling to Look Her In The Eye and Lie - a wry how to avoid sexual temptation marital advice tune and one of six Jackson originals.

"I don't know where I got that. I think I heard it on the TV or something," Jackson says.

"Same ol' story where you run into your ex somewhere and you don't want to let them know you're sad, so you act like you don't care."


"She used to get her fix/ just one little kiss or touch/ could send her over the edge/ I'd keep her up making love all night." - She Don't Get High - Clint Daniels-Kylie Sackley-Jeff Hyde.

Jackson is the latest in a long line of major artists to validate the decision by 2001 Star Maker winner Kylie Sackley to leave her Port Douglas digs last decade for Music Row.

Sackley won Star Maker at 18 with You Can Cry Now - an evocative song about her mother Trish's brave battle with breast cancer.

It's ironic she had landed a song on the album that also features a song by Jackson inspired by his wife Denise's breast cancer.

Sackley's powerful ballad helped her win the prestige award and ABC Music deal with a song recorded at Herm Kovac's Ramrod Studios in Sydney.

Sackley is the co-writer here of lost love lament She Don't Get High with Jeff Hyde and Clint Daniels.

The prolific writer also earned healthy royalties for her songs recorded by Faith Hill, LeAnn Rimes and co-writer Lee Brice.

It precedes Jackson tune Her Life's A Song - a joyous ode to a hi-tech nouveau woman equally at home in Silicon Valley as a honky tonk.

"She likes the hip hop/ she loves to rock it/ she's got country on her Ipod on her pocket."

Jackson wrote it for daughters Mattie, who just graduated from college, Ali, who just graduated from high school and Dani, who just finished her freshman year of high school.

Her Life's a Song was inspired by how the girls and friends walk around listening to wide varieties of music on their Ipod.

"The girls are always making me write about something," Jackson said.

"I see all their friends coming over, and one song will be some real country thing you wouldn't expect they'd like, and another would be some hip-hop thing where I have to fuss at 'em because the lyrics are nasty."

Influence of his three daughters obviously pays off but nephew Adam Wright and Jay Knowles source the vast contrast of an easily pleased partner in Nothin' Fancy.

The singer's character finds sweet solace in the videogenic drinking song Long Way To Go - an all weather honky tonk anthem - but not in the debt laden despair, tempered by optimism, in Shawn Camp-Al Anderson song Life Keeps Bringing Me Down.


"Then the blessings poured from heaven/ like the rain on that first spring/ since that moment I first thought/ you might not always be with me." - When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey) - Alan Jackson.

Jackson may have soared to fame and fortune from humble digs after being sired by mechanic father Eugene.

But the 20 car garages, galaxy of cars, lakeside mansion and glitter can turn to dust with one small slab of fate.

So the singer proves why he is also a master of pathos in the melancholic finale When I Saw You Leaving for wife Denise.

He met wife Denise as a teenager after he flipped a penny down her shirt at a Dairy Queen and asked if he could retrieve it.

Then he hid in her back seat and surprised her as she drove home that night.

"I remember screaming and pulling over," Denise revealed.

"When I got my breath a little bit, we rode around and talked, and the relationship started from there."

The couple wed in 1979, moved to Nashville several years later and, after three daughters and 18 years of marriage, separated in 1998 at the peak of Jackson's career, sparked by the singer's infidelity.

They reconciled a few months later but suffered a bigger shock in 2010 and inspired the hardest song he cut in the studio.

Denise had cancer.

History repeated for Jackson who wrote Drive when his father died and Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning after the September 11 terrorist plane bombings.

"It was just days after we got the word that the song started coming out of there," Jackson recalled.

"I never played it for her or anybody. Then we went in the studio, and I wanted it to be on the record for her. I told the band what it was about and everybody got so choked up, we couldn't hardly get through the thing to get it on tape."


"Ain't it funny how one minute/Your whole life's lookin' fine/And a few short words later/It just comes untied." - When I Saw You Leaving - Alan Jackson.

Jackson says he's proud the song is subtle and people have to really pay attention to know what it's about.

"It just came out. I felt like I needed to write it, but I never told her I did," Jackson confessed.

"I'm glad we recorded it, and it's on there, not only for Denise, but once you go through something like that, you run into so many people that have had the same thing happen. I feel this song will say a lot to them and they'll be able to connect with those emotions that are in there. Maybe it'll be good for some people to hear that."

He describes the period after her diagnosis with colorectal cancer, in which she underwent months of radiation and chemotherapy, as a "tough time."

"Denise and I, we go so far back," he recalled.

"We started out as children and we were dating at 16 and 17, and I pretty much took care of her from that point on. I bought her a car and paid for her college, and that was before we were married. Then when it got to fighting the cancer, there wasn't a thing I could do."

Denise's cancer treatments were finished a year ago, and today she is cancer free, but Jackson says he knows her health is now a worry that constantly rests on her shoulders.

The couple are now focused on their future - they sold the Williamson County farm where their daughters grew up in favour of a smaller house, and they've put their Centre Hill lake home and Florida home up for sale.

"Things kind of got all revisited after Denise went through this," Jackson revealed.

"I think Denise and I just decided we just didn't want all that anymore."


"Well I drove down to the ocean/ left my heartache way behind/ but the rain won't leave and the pain won't ease/and the sun don't want to shine." - Long Way To Go - Alan Jackson.

Meanwhile he re-released his 2006 gospel album, Precious Memories. Jackson grew up in the church singing many of the songs that appear on the album and wanted to put it out again because there are no more copies available.

"We just had so many people still wanting it. It's just amazing," he said.

"That thing has sold and sold, and so, when I got over to EMI Nashville we decided that we'd get it out there, see if anybody else wants it still." Precious Memories includes many gospel favourites I'll Fly Away, The Old Rugged Cross, Softly and Tenderly, What a Friend We Have in Jesus and How Great Thou Art.

Alan says he would like to do a second gospel album for his mother and mother-in-law.

"I still want to do another one," he says.

"My mama, she's getting pretty elderly now and doesn't get out much, but I'd really like to do another version of that for her, and especially my wife's mama. She's older than my mother, but she actually gets around better. She loves that thing, and would love to have another version with some more new songs, so I need to do that. It doesn't take but a minute to record that thing."


The singer is also keen to revisit his passion for bluegrass.

"I've always wanted to make a bluegrass album," Jackson revealed.

"I tried to do that before with Like Red On a Rose produced by Alison Krauss. She took me in there and we made that easy-listening album. It was a cool album and I'm really proud of that, too. But it was a long way from bluegrass by the time we got through with it. I still want to do a pure bluegrass album."

Jackson's latest album is his first on his own imprint ACR - Alan's Country Records - a partnership with EMI Records.

But he insists that while his voice may have matured, he hasn't changed how he goes about making music.

"Sometimes I go back and listen to old stuff, it's kind of interesting to compare it," he says.

"My voice has gotten a little deeper-sounding to me as I've gotten older. I don't know that I've changed that much. I've always recorded songs, or tried to that are just fun things like Chattahoochee and then much later, It's Five O'Clock Somewhere. I don't feel like I've strayed as far as some artists I've seen."

The son of a Georgian mechanic is blessed to mix his love of collecting classic cars with music.

"I'm just lucky to still be here and make the kind of music I like to make, and still go out there and sell a few tickets," says the singer who toured here with his long time road band The Strayhorns in 2011.

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