Brad Paisley

BRAD PAISLEY MAY BE A RELATIVELY NEW FACE on the country music scene but his credentials are growing quickly. On May 3rd, the talented singer’s reputation took a giant leap forward when he received the Academy of Country Music’s official stamp of approval as top new male vocalist. That win put him in the company of past winners Merle Haggard and Randy Travis.

One could argue it’s the public’s longing for the sound of pure country that has set the baritone from West Virginia apart from the overcrowded arena of country/pop-sounding artists. In fact, the 27-year-old balks at the idea of jumping on the crossover bandwagon.

“Country radio … that’s the only place I want to be played,” Paisley told POLLSTAR. “My thing is country music exists on its own. It seems like we’re always looking for some other outlet to play this music but I don’t know that we need it. … Country radio does a great job of playing our songs and people do listen to that format, pretty much more than any other format, and I don’t know why we always feel like we have to go somewhere else.

“I’m not a fan of taking my songs, at least, and going out there and changing them around just to get airplay on pop (radio).”

Paisley’s style is country – pure and simple. And his passion for making undiluted music plus a degree from Belmont University’s music business program has opened doors and ears along the way.

“Brad is a student of the music business. He interned at record labels, management companies and publishing companies, and he has a real set plan on how he wants to attack [touring],” Rob Beckham, Paisley’s responsible agent at William Morris, told POLLSTAR.

Paisley’s plan was mobilized in 1993, when he moved to Nashville to attend Belmont. One week after graduating in 1995, he signed a songwriting deal with EMI Music Publishing and then a record deal with Arista Records Nashville.

While Paisley finds it difficult to pinpoint his big break, he said, “The thing I would say affected me more than anything would be going to Belmont University … because I met so many people that I needed to meet with regard to the industry. It became a situation where I had a choice as far as what path I wanted to take as an artist – where I wanted to go label-wise, where I wanted to go publishing-wise. … That school would probably be the most important move I ever made.”

Moving, whether by bus or by plane, has become a lifestyle lately. Last month, Paisley returned from his first European tour. He, Reba McEntire, Ricky Skaggs, Jo Dee Messina, Wayne Hancock, and The Derailers played festival dates in London, Glasgow and Dublin.

“My big interest in going over there was that early in my career, hopefully, we can start cultivating a following in another country,” Paisley said.

The touring continues this summer, Beckham said, with new tour sponsor, described as “your one stop shop for everything meat” on its Web site.

Paisley’s extensive road schedule, which includes Japan in October, and Australia and Europe in 2001, was orchestrated by himself; his manager, Jimmy Gilmer; and Beckham, among others.

“This first year of touring, [Paisley’s] plan was to play as many fairs, festivals, clubs and opening slots as we could possibly do to get his name out,” Beckham said. “We’re probably looking at doing 150 dates this year.

“Next year, we will go on to theatres and small arenas. … He would much rather play a theatre than an arena.”

Of marrying his music with touring, the single Paisley said, “I pretty much make records that I can tour. … It’s just a lot more fun when you have something to say. And as a songwriter, that probably would be my primary concern.”

Brad Paisley

The artist started composing songs at age 12 and since then, they have been recorded by David Ball, Tracy Byrd, and David Kersh, who had a top 5 hit with Paisley’s “Another You.” Additionally, Paisley wrote or co-wrote each song and played every guitar part on his debut album, Who Needs Pictures, which went gold last month.

The Midas touch has extended to other Paisley productions, as well. His second single, “He Didn’t Have to Be,” hit No. 1 on R&R, Billboard, Gavin and CMT; he was named best future star of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville Scene; and he recently received the international rising star trophy at the HMV British Country Awards.

Despite the awards, being on the Opry stage “probably beats anything at this point,” Paisley said. To date, he has performed there 25 times since debuting at the venue last May.

The singer’s affinity for the Opry parallels his down-home-style training grounds and the influence of some of country music’s greats. He first sang at a Methodist church at age 10, two years after his grandfather gave him his first guitar. A couple years later, he sang on the radio show “Jamboree USA” – a guest appearance that turned into an eight-year stint. During that time, he opened for Roy Clark, Little Jimmy Dickens, Jack Greene, and others.

Years later, as the spotlight has grown brighter, Paisley’s pro-country, non-pop tune remains the same. “I feel it’s our obligation, to some extent, to keep some of the soul in this music – keep it a little more honest, maybe.” And he is grateful for the opportunity. “Having a career in this industry is a privilege. It’s not a given, ever.”