Country Purist Brad Paisley Tastes Success

Singer/songwriter/guitarist boasts gold debut LP, only #1 country hit by new artist in 1999.

NASHVILLE — Singer, songwriter and guitarist Brad Paisley, who scored the only #1 country hit by a new artist in 1999, is starting to realize the magnitude of his recent success.

His ascent to stardom, fueled by his innovative, poignant lyrics, wit and deft picking, has become especially apparent on his current tour.

"The crowds are huge," Paisley said. "It's very different from just a few months ago."

Paisley, 27, recently won the Top New Male Vocalist honor at the Academy of Country Music Awards. His 1999 debut album, Who Needs Pictures, (RealAudio excerpt of title track) is certified gold. His heartfelt single "He Didn't Have to Be" (RealAudio excerpt), about a child's love and respect for his stepfather, was #1 on the country charts.

Paisley's trying to take it all in stride. "The industry has been so good to me," he said. "But I don't know if I deserve all these accolades."

Rather than bask in the adulation, he's hard at work recording material for his second album between dates on his packed tour schedule. The album is due this summer.

He said some of the next album will feature the sort of humor that pervades tracks he co-wrote for his first LP. Those songs include "Me Neither," a dance-hall romp, and "Long Sermon," which describes the trials of an antsy fisherman stuck in church on a sunny day.

"You can always expect that from me," he said. But he added, "this next album is very country, with mostly songs I wrote."

One cut, "Too Country," follows in the controversial vein of the George Strait and Alan Jackson duet, "Murder on Music Row." " 'Too country' — that's a phrase we don't need to use anymore," Paisley said. "You know, it hurts when someone tells me I'm too country, because that's like saying I'm not good enough. 'Too country' is a compliment."

Paisley said he plans to record the song with its author, Bill Anderson, country legend Buck Owens and possibly one other artist.

As a rising star in country, Paisley is well aware of the increasing strain between its traditional and pop divide.

"I talked to someone the other day who was not in the industry who said he could feel the tension between the two camps on the ACM Awards," Paisley said. "He said, 'It was almost uncomfortable to watch. I wish y'all would resolve that.'

"There are differing opinions on what country is. I don't always know what it is, but I know what's not. ... Subject matter is the biggest thing, but this pop stuff isn't country at all," he said. "You lose a little bit of the music when you don't use elements of its past now. The artists crossing over are big already and I'm not faulting them. ... But someone needs to hold down the middle."

Reiterating his acceptance speech from the ACM Awards, Paisley said, "I'm not going to leave country radio. I will never record music that could be played on a pop station. ... There will be so much fiddle and steel that pop stations won't be able to justify playing my music."

Despite his presence in the limelight, Paisley remains humbled and committed to his craft. "[When] some of my heroes like Buck Owens have come forth to say they like what I'm doing, that's it. That makes me think, 'OK, I've made it. I'm gonna go fish now.' "

(Music clips are courtesy of Arista Nashville/TwangThis.com.)