The title track to "This Is Country Music" peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart. Paisley debuted second single "Old Alabama" during Country Radio Seminar (CRS), the annual Nashville gathering of country programmers that took place March 2-4. "Brad had a surprise for the crowd," Overton says. "When Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook from Alabama took the stage with Brad to join him on the song, the room exploded. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Alabama retired from performing together in 2004, and many of the programmers were there when they were first introduced to radio many years ago."
Paisley also kicked off the 46th annual Academy of Country Music Awards on April 3 in Las Vegas by performing "Old Alabama" with Gentry, Owen and Cook. The number earned an enthusiastic standing ovation. It was a big moment for Paisley, who grew up in Glen Dale, W.Va., listening to Alabama. "I was proud to have them," Paisley says of Owen, Cook and Gentry recording with him on the tune, which incorporates Alabama's classic 1982 "Mountain Music" into a new song written by Paisley, Owen, DuBois and Dave Turnbull.
Video: Brad Paisley and Alabama perform "Old Alabama"
"It's unique . . . a combination of a lot of things . . . blending what they do and what I do. I was a fanatic growing up. Guys like me and Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton . . . we played 'Tennessee River,' 'My Home's in Alabama,' 'Lady Down on Love' and 'I'm in a Hurry' . . . those were the songs you couldn't leave out of your set if you're from my generation. When you think about which bands influenced country music in a modern sense, it would be the Eagles and Alabama. You had Restless Heart, Exile and Highway 101 and stuff like that, but Alabama was the deal."
Owen enjoyed working with Paisley. "He was so kind," says the Country Music Hall of Famer, who sings on the track and plays the vintage guitar he used while recording "Mountain Music." "He's the real deal."
Fusing classic Alabama with Paisley's neotraditional sound is proving to be a winning combination at radio. "Old Alabama" is No. 16 on Hot Country Songs and climbing. "We're in an exciting position with the new Brad music," Arista Nashville VP of national promotion Lesly Tyson says. "Rarely do we have two big hit records at radio before the album is in stores. Radio has an incredible opportunity with these tracks being released prior to the street date. It's a great advantage to be able to drive listeners to stations as the place to hear 'This Is Country Music' and 'Old Alabama' from Brad before they can find them anywhere else."
During CRS, Paisley played the new music for key country programmers. "The beauty of this is it's not a song; it's not a single -- it's an album," says Nate Deaton, GM at country KRTY San Jose, Calif. "There are great songs, there's great sequencing. It's brilliant."
Paisley wrote his first song, "Born on Christmas Day," when he was 12, and his school principal recruited him to perform at a Rotary Club luncheon. The director of "The Wheeling Jamboree" then invited him to perform on the West Virginia-based show, which aired on WWVA. Paisley's first big gig was opening for the Judds. "I was 13," he says. "That was in 1985, so you know the Judds were rocking. The opening slots kept coming. I was on there every other week -- Jimmy Dickens and Steve Wariner and George Jones, Roy Clark, Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill, Exile and Desert Rose Band, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Dwight Yoakum -- everybody came through there. I got to see them all."
Like many aspiring artists, Paisley made the trek to Music City looking for stardom. "I did visit. I'm glad I didn't move here. I wouldn't have been Taylor Swift. I was sort of Taylor not-so-swift," he says with a grin. "I needed seasoning and probably still do. But luckily I made it."