"A pretty little blonde haired girl/ stole my heart and changed my world/ two kids and a moonlit sky/ a little love on a Friday night/ built a fire that just won't quit/ that was 1976" - 1976 - Alan Jackson.

Don't dismiss Alan Jackson as a bucolic balladeer floating gently in the mainstream.

The Georgian born chart topper has taken subtle risks from his career genesis almost three decades ago.

The first was signing for management by an outsider - expatriate Australasian Barry Coburn and helping launch the Nashville branch of Arista Records.

Jackson also took a punt when he and Texan troubadour George Strait recorded the Nashville parody Murder On Music Row.

The duo fanned the flames by performing the Larry Cordle-Larry Shell song on major awards shows.

And, more recently, Jackson recorded gospel album Precious Memories and acoustic disc Like Red On A Rose with Alison Krauss as producer.

Now, he has returned to original producer Keith Stegall, for 17th album Good Time.

Stegall also produced expatriate Australian starlet Catherine Britt's second album Too Far Gone.

Jackson wrote 22 songs for his new disc.

Despite his culling of five tunes it still left 17 on Good Time - also good value.

The story of Jackson, son of a small town motor mechanic, and Denise his wife of 29 years, is a perfect rags-to riches tale.

Denise, daughter of a postal worker, met her husband in 1976 after church services on a warm Sunday night in their hometown Newnan - also birthplace of Steve Young.

Alan, then 17, noticed Denise, 16, and made his way to her table and later called her but she wasn't interested.

She was the homecoming queen and cheerleading captain and much keener on the school's quarterback.

But a few months later she ran into Alan and sparks flew. They married in 1979.

She graduated from West Georgia College in 1981 and taught primary school before becoming a Piedmont Airlines flight attendant.

Alan, who dropped out of school to support them, worked as a car salesman, carpenter and forklift operator while performing in the band Dixie Steel on weekends.

They left Georgia for Nashville in 1985.


"If Jesus walked the world today/ he's probably be a hillbilly/ common man of men/ and the king of many/ he'd lay his hand on his brother man/ save us all from the sinning." - If Jesus Walked The World Today - Alan Jackson.

Now, 23 years later with 45 million album sales and 32 #1 hits, Jackson can afford to limit his touring.

There have been predictions of Australian tours by Jackson, Tim McGraw and Alison Krauss but so far no firm dates.

Jackson may not need to tour here - his prolific CD output has won him a strong fan base with no mainstream airplay.

Maybe he could be tempted to tour as a working holiday for his family.

Alan, Denise and their three daughters Mattie, 17, Ali, 14, and Dani, 10, now live in luxury.

One of the family's homes is a 24,000-square-foot Southern manor on 140 picturesque acres along the Harpeth River in Williamson County - a stretch of land that includes a lake, three ponds, a barn and a cabin.

They have another house on Centre Hill Lake and a Florida vacation home.

Denise Jackson details all this in best selling 2007 book It's All About Him: Finding the Love of My Life.

The first book topped the New York Times best selling chart so she has since released a second book - The Road Home.

Denise's first tome delved into the couple's separation at the peak of his career climb and their romantic resurrection.

It's a different resurrection to that described in the Good Time finale song - sardonic social comment saga, If Jesus Walked The World Today.


"His long hair and sandal feet would be in style/ surround himself with good ole boys to tell his tale/ he'd have a mighty cross tattoo on his hands by the nail holes that killed him." - If Jesus Walked The World Today - Alan Jackson.

Jackson has been a prolific writer from the start - 1989 debut disc Here In The Real World featured six co-writes with tunesmiths such as Stegall, Jim McBride, Roger Murrah, Mark Irwin and Charlie Craig.

"The way it started was that someone said you've got to have a tape to showcase your singing, and you've got to have your own material," Alan, 50 on October 17, recalled his career roots in a recent interview with American Songwriter.

"Once I realised that I had to have original material to sing, I wrote some things and went into a studio in Atlanta. A guy I knew helped me put them down - just guitars and some bass, really. And that's what I had in my hand when I came to Nashville."

While the number of outside songs rose between 1989 and 2000, so did Jackson's solo writing efforts.

By 2002 and the chart-topping Drive, eight of the album's songs were Jackson solo compositions, with three outside numbers and a lone co-write.

"I didn't quit co-writing for any reason other than that I was gone all the time," says Jackson.

"It was easy to write on the bus - when we're on tour I don't do much but sit on the bus and go out there and sing - and I get a lot of ideas riding down the road. And then, when I'm home, I'm doing things with the family, so it just seems easier to write by myself than set up appointments."

The musicians who play on Good Time are, with one exception, the same ones who played on his debut almost 20 years ago, from fiddler Stuart Duncan to guitarist Brent Mason to piano legend Hargus "Pig" Robbins.

"Pig missed a year or two when he was sick, but they've remained pretty true all these years," Jackson recalled.

"These guys know what an Alan Jackson record is supposed to sound like," Stegall added.


"Pig in the ground, beer on ice/ just like ole Hank taught us about/ singing along Bocephus songs/ rowdy friends all night long." - Good Time - Alan Jackson

Keith Stegall
Jackson detailed the embryo of his new 71-minute disc and recording with his session supremos.

"The first song we cut was Good Time, and I could see them kind of light up, and that just stayed on through the session," Jackson revealed.

"Keith and I will get on the bus, play things on guitar and figure out what we're going to do.

Then Brent (Mason) will come on the bus, I'll play it for him, he'll chart it, and we'll work up an arrangement while I sing along. I'll hear an arrangement in my head - not as detailed as it ends up, but I know what kind of production a song's going to have. Keith and I have always worked together, and he'll have an idea and I'll have an idea, and we just try to do some different things.

I guess that's a culmination of everything I've done; back when I was playing in the bars, people wanted to hear a lot of different kinds of things.

Then when we go into the studio, most of the time we just do one or two takes live. It's pretty much a live cut musically; I don't sing a song more than two or three times, four at the most, and then we'll move on to the next. We don't patch it all up or tune it to death. We just try to get a natural vocal."


"Born the middle son of a farmer and a small town southern man/ like his daddy's daddy before him, brought up working on the land/ fell in love with a small town woman and they settled down." - Small Town Southern Man - Alan Jackson.

"Actually, I wrote 22 and we cut all of them," Jackson says.

"The label wanted 12, but I felt that these 17 belonged together. There were some of the bunch that might have been a little repetitious in the style, so I didn't mind leaving those off.

But if I'd left one of these 17 off, I'd probably have replaced it with one of the others. It wasn't a plan to use all of my songs. I've always been careful to feel that. I don't care who writes it. I don't care where it comes from or if it's a remake. We just want to make the best record and try to mix it up. I've seen too many singer songwriters think everything they write is great. I don't force-feed my stuff."

The first hit single Small Town Southern Man, accompanied by a video clip, is an autobiographical tale torn from Jackson's back pages.

The song, Jackson's 51st single, helped shoot Good Time to #1 on the Billboard all genre charts on debut with sales of 119,151 - his fourth album to attain #1 on debut.

"I got to dress up sort of like Hank Williams Jr. from that era and kind of the '70s-looking thing with the big side burns and all that in the video," Jackson joked.

"That was pretty cool. I've had a lot of comments about that - the sideburns, mainly, in that scene where it's kind of real funky looking."


"She flew up to heaven on the wings of angels/ by the clouds and stars and past where no one sees and she walks with Jesus and her loved ones waiting." - Sissy's Song - Alan Jackson.

Jackson revealed that Sissy's Song was based on a human tragedy.

"That's a song about a girl that worked in our house and was part of our family," he says.

"After her accidental death last spring, the song "just came out in about 15 minutes. It helped me, and I think it helped make her family feel special. I did a guitar and vocal on it, and we played it at her funeral. That's what we put on the album. It wasn't intended to be on there, but Keith argued pretty strongly for it."

Jackson's disc also features a duet with Martina on Never Loved Before.

Other highlights include Right Where I Want You - a waltz - the bluegrass laced Long, Long Way, the culinary metaphor of I Still Like Bologna and honky tonk rooted If You Want To Make Me Happy.

Jackson mines a self-deprecatory humour motherlode in the bravado of Country Boy but his character struggles with romance resurrection in Nothing Left To Do.

There's also a tinge of regret in I Wish I Could Back Up - perhaps an apology to his spouse.

"Time takes you places you never knew you'd be goin'/ it softens the edges of memories you're towin'/ it changes the reasons you wanted to hold her/ I wish I could back up and start all over."

Jackson covers all bases from an attempt to refresh the boudoir joys in Nothing Left To Do, diverse shades of love in Listen To Your Senses, When The Love Factor's High and This Time and Jimmy Buffett style escapism in Laid Back In Low Key.

With 17 songs Jackson delivers on a disc that grows on repeated listening.

It's a far cry from my first meetings with the singer in 1988 at then manager Coburn's Music Row office and a Vern Gosdin concert at a car dealership in Civil War town Franklin.

At that stage he was cutting his debut disc with Keith Stegall whose future Australian client Catherine Britt was just five.

A belated Australian tour would be good tidings for Britt, who supported Jackson and Brooks & Dunn, on a U.S. tour when she was still with BMG.

top / back to diary