Brad Paisley: The Billboard Cover Story
Brad Paisley: The Billboard Cover Story

Paisley performed on "Jamboree" until he was 20, when he moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University. During college, he interned at ASCAP, Atlantic Records and Fitzgerald Hartley Management, which now handles his career. He signed with Arista and his first album, "Who Needs Pictures," bowed in February 1999. Since then he's released nine albums, including six studio sets; a 2006 Christmas collection; an instrumental album, 2008's "Play"; and a greatest-hits package last fall, "Hits Alive," a two-disc set that includes live and studio versions of such hits as "Ticks," "Celebrity," "Online," "Waitin' On a Woman," "I'm Gonna Miss Her," "Little Moments," "American Saturday Night" and "Welcome to the Future."

Paisley has scored 16 No. 1 singles on Hot Country Songs and has placed five releases at No. 1 on the Top Country Albums chart. His last set, "American Saturday Night," has sold 741,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and he's sold more than 10 million albums total. He's won three Grammy Awards and has been named the Academy of Country Music's top male vocalist the last five consecutive years. He's won 14 CMA Awards, including three male vocalist of the year titles, and the entertainer of the year honor in 2010. He and Underwood have hosted the last three CMA Awards shows, and Paisley recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as a member of the Grand Old Opry.

But he's not quite a member of the old guard. "I'm reading Twitter right now," Paisley says, "and people are actually mad at me. They haven't even heard the song and there are a lot of Carrie fans that are upset it's not the next single and they've never heard it . . . They're like, 'What a missed opportunity!' I wrote today: 'Patience please, you haven't even heard it. Come on. It doesn't mean it won't be a single just because it's not next. Give me a chance. We have some great things in the works. It will happen when it's time. Have some faith.' "

Paisley's wit and sense of humor have made him popular on Twitter. He was initially hesitant but at the label's prompting, he began tweeting.

"My first tweet was at the CMT Awards when I won an award and typed 'Thank you.' Then I was hooked because the followers started multiplying. It's a great tool. It's not as effective as people thought at selling product. That's not why I do it. They found in studies that it depends on the person. People following Charlie Sheen may not buy things because he tells you to, but people following Oprah [Winfrey] would be more likely to run out and do it if she tells you to do it. It's interesting. I don't know where I fall in that -- probably somewhere between Charlie and Oprah. I don't use it for monetary or career gain. People see through that. I use it for observation and I use it in a way that my fans can see a little bit of my personality."

Whether he's tweeting or writing a tune, Paisley's accessibility has been one of the keys to his success. "Brad is real. He's made friends with everyone in the industry," says Ginny Rogers Brophey, assistant PD/music director at country WKLB Boston. "And the way he uses words to create music is incredible in that it's not above anyone. His music is down to earth. He's a great guitar player, and Brad puts all the elements together to make great country songs that are so relatable to our listeners."

It's a platform Paisley takes seriously. "I'm proud to do this," he says. "We do sing about things that other people don't sing about, for good or bad. This is a format that isn't afraid, on the same album or on the same station, to have a song about patriotism following a song about faith, following a song about divorce, following a song about the beach. There's nothing off limits."