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Grand Ole Opry Member
Brad Paisley will be the first to tell you he's led a charmed life – that everything just seems to fall into place for him. What he doesn't say – although it gradually becomes evident – is that his run of good fortune has been enhanced enormously by hard work, astounding musical talent and a clear, unwavering vision of where he wants to go.
If ever circumstances conspired to create an all-around country entertainer, the result is surely Brad Paisley.
Born October 28, 1972, in the tiny Ohio River town of Glen Dale, West Virginia, Paisley seemed predestined for a life of music. "My earliest memory," he says, "is of running down the road to my grandfather's house. He was a railroad worker who worked the night shift. So he'd be at home all afternoon playing guitar. I'd go down there and spend the day watching him play. He loved Chet Atkins and Merle Travis and Les Paul. And he'd play everything from 'Under The Double Eagle' to 'Wildwood Flower' to 'Shortenin' Bread.'"
When Brad Paisley was eight, his grandfather gave him his first guitar – a Sears Danelectro Silvertone with an amp in the case. Although fascinated by his new instrument, Paisley admits it wasn't exactly love at first sight. "As a little kid, you're out playing baseball and running in the woods. There are other things that are a little more fun than holding a guitar. But a year or so into it, I found myself waking up and thinking, 'Man, I love to do this.' Then I really got serious about it. By the age of 10, I was playing well enough to accompany myself."
At that point, a family friend suggested that Paisley perform in church. "I got up and did a song," he recalls. "And, I realized then that people seemed to take more to my singing than my guitar playing. Once you sing in church, it's just a matter of time until someone invites you to do the Lion's Club meeting! Or you go and sing for the Fraternal Order of Elks. Pretty soon, I was performing at every Christmas party and Mother's Day event they'd come up with. The neat thing about a small town is that when you want to be an artist, by golly, they'll make you one."
The next step, of course, was to form a band. To help him do it, young Brad Paisley called on his guitar teacher and chief inspiration, Clarence "Hank" Goddard. "Hank was great," says Paisley, "and not just by local standards. He could play everything that Chet Atkins or Les Paul ever did." Goddard, who was in his late-50s at the time, enlisted two other equally seasoned pickers to help him play backup for the rising young star. "We called ourselves Brad Paisley & The C-Notes," Paisley says, "but some of my friends jokingly referred to them as the C-Niles. The greatest thing about Hank was that he would sit on stage and let me as a little kid butcher solos and play out of tune and out of time. I'd be doing a solo, and I'd be horrible. But Hank would be yelling, 'Good job, Brad.' I owe him and those other guys for a lot."
When he was 12, Brad Paisley wrote his first song, "Born On Christmas Day." Looking back, he still thinks it was a pretty good effort. "I've written worse songs lately," he laughs. Paisley's junior high school principal heard the song and asked him to do it at the next Rotary Club meeting. In the audience that day was Tom Miller, Program Director for WWVA, Wheeling's country radio powerhouse. Miller was so impressed by the performance that he invited Paisley to make a guest appearance on "Jamboree USA," the station's legendary Saturday night show. Paisley was ecstatic: "I ran through the house screaming, 'I'm going to play the Jamboree!' My grandfather was just super-proud. All of a sudden, he was seeing this guitar he'd given to me become my life." Paisley's performance went over so well that he was asked to become a Jamboree regular. During his eight years on the show, he opened for such country luminaries – and personal favorites – as Roy Clark, Jack Greene and Little Jimmy Dickens.
A year after Brad Paisley joined the Jamboree, his grandfather was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. "He basically had three or so months left," Paisley says. "At about that time, I secured my first major headlining gig, opening for The Judds. He was in bad shape, but he got to come see me play. And I think he left this world knowing that he had started something good for me."
Paisley's Jamboree membership also earned him the opportunity to perform each year at the mammoth outdoor summer festival, Jamboree in the Hills. The event routinely boasted dozens of top country acts and drew crowds of 60,000 or more. But the weekly Jamboree turned out to be Paisley's most valuable training ground. On the weekends he didn't perform there, he would hang out backstage. "I'd watch these artists – George Jones, Steve Wariner or whoever – and try to absorb everything from them that I could. It was an incredible learning experience."
Just as important as this front-line exposure, Paisley asserts, was the unconditional support he got from his community: "Growing up in the Ohio Valley, the neat thing for me was that I didn't have to ask to play a single gig. They were always offered to me. I've always felt very lucky – as if there's a hand of fate guiding me toward this profession. I never had to wonder if people would like what I do, because there were always people there who did."
After high school, Brad Paisley began his studies at nearby West Liberty College. But his college adviser, Jim Watson – noting what he'd done and what he still wanted to do – kept urging him to move to Nashville and enroll in the Belmont University music business program. Initially, Paisley resisted, preferring instead to remain close to home with his 'serious girl friend' and his college and musical buddies. But when he came to Nashville to attend a friend's wedding, he stayed on long enough to check out Belmont. Excited by what he saw there, he decided to transfer.
To give Brad Paisley a leg up in his new surroundings, the president of his local chapter of the musicians' union wrote a letter of introduction to Nashville counterpart Harold Bradley, the famed session guitarist. Within a day of his arrival, Paisley was in Bradley's office. "We sat and talked guitars, and he spent an hour or so with me," Paisley marvels. Later that day, he went to Opryland to look up a friend who was working there. By pure chance, he ran into Grand Ole Opry star Porter Wagoner, who graciously took time out from schmoozing with tourists to point Paisley toward his friend's office. "So I'm thinking to myself," Paisley says, "It's my first day in Nashville, and I've just chatted with Harold Bradley and gotten directions from Porter Wagoner. I'm doing OK."
At Belmont, Paisley met Frank Rogers, a fellow student who now serves as his producer, Kelley Lovelace, a frequent songwriting partner; and many of the musicians who would later work in his band and play on his first album. Paisley served his college internship at ASCAP, the performing rights association. There he met Chris DuBois, another of his co-writers. His friends at ASCAP were sufficiently impressed by the songs Paisley was writing and set up an appointment with the talent scouts at EMI Music Publishing.
A week after graduation, Brad Paisley signed a songwriting deal with the company. Like many up-and-coming artists in Nashville, Paisley earned extra money by singing and playing on demos. One of these attracted the attention of Arista Records/Nashville's A&R Department; "they liked both the voice and lyrics and asked to hear more." This budding interest from Arista dovetailed neatly with Paisley's own ambitions. "My goal when I moved to Nashville," he reveals, "was to be an Arista artist. I can remember buying [Arista] albums from 1989 on – Alan Jackson, Diamond Rio, Brooks & Dunn, Pam Tillis, BlackHawk – and the music would always be great. Everything from the songs to the artwork on the albums was a notch above the rest." After a series of meetings and phone calls – during which each party proclaimed its affection and esteem for the other – Brad Paisley added his name to the Arista roster.
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