Twenty years after he first made waves in country music, Alan Jackson added an unexpected trophy Wednesday to what’s become a significant haul of riches. He was recognized with the ASCAP Founders Award, given by a major songwriting agency to reward a lifetime of creative work.
It’s a rare honor. Only a smattering of people have received it, and the previous winners are definitely major talents — Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Garth Brooks, James Taylor, Smokey Robinson and Emmylou Harris, among them. Alan found out only recently that he’d be added to the Founders history.
“I don’t feel worthy,” Alan said on the red carpet at the Nashville event. “That’s quite a list there, you know. I don’t know that I saw everybody on there, but the ones I saw were some very heavyweights, and I just didn’t feel like I quite fit in there.”
ASCAP clearly disagreed. With a lengthy songwriting resume, Alan has been a dominant voice in country for the past two decades. He’s shown a remarkable versatility along the way, mastering light-hearted moods in “Chattahoochee” and “Don’t Rock The Jukebox,” hailing the working class in “Small Town Southern Man” and mining post-9/11 sorrow in “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning).”
Three artists performed at historic War Memorial Auditorium in honor of Alan. Chris Young turned in a flawless version of “Wanted,” Dierks Bentley offered a bluegrass take on “Midnight In Montgomery,” and Steve Earle delivered a craggy, hard-edged rendition of “Here In The Real World.”
“Steve Earle,” Alan said while accepting the award, “is more of a pioneer than I’ll ever be.”
Alan may downplay his accomplishments, but his fellow artists do not. Chris Young, who’s toured much of the year with Alan, remains impressed by “Wanted,” a song that’s essentially a conversation about a personal ad between a heart-broken man and a faceless classified-ad salesperson on the phone. The newspaper has been mostly usurped by online services such as match.com as a place to start relationships, but technology hasn’t changed the emotion that’s represented by “Wanted.”
“How do you come up with that concept?” Chris asked rhetorically. “You sit there and go, ‘OK, I’m gonna write this song about wantin’ to put a personal ad in the paper because I want my woman to come back to me.’ That’s just such a great angle on that. There’s not another song like that.”
A bundle of Alan’s songs — most self-composed, some penned by other songwriters — will be featured in a November compilation of his material, 34 Number Ones. It’s only the latest marker in an extraordinary career that includes 79 Country Music Association award nominations, more than 50 million in album sales and now this one ASCAP Founders Award.
“I don’t look at the numbers very often,” he said. “But when I do, it’s scary. That’s a lot of stuff.”