For country music neo-superstar Alan Jackson, who performs at the Rocky Gap Country Bluegrass Festival, near Cumberland, Saturday, it all must still seem like a dream come true.
After all, it was only five or six years ago that the tall, blue-eyed, blonde, Marlboro Man-handsome singer and his wife Denise reluctantly decided to sell their house in their hometown of Newnan, Ga., and relocate to Nashville.
"It was a big jump for me," admits Jackson, who this year won the Academy of Country Music's New Male Singer award, was the Nashville Network's 1990 Star of Tomorrow, and was chosen by the editors of R&R, a leading music trade magazine, as Best New Artist of 1990.
"I'd lived in that little old town my whole life, and had never traveled much. Just moving away from my family was a really big step," he says.
"And it wasn't like I was born with a guitar in my hand. About all I ever heard growing up was gospel music. I never even went to my first country concert until I was 20 or so. In my little town, a music career was just something that seemed out of reach."
Needless to say, Jackson not only found the courage to reach for the brass ring of stardom; within a surprisingly short time, he's grasped it. His debut LP, "Here in the Real World," released in early 1990, topped the million sales (platinum) mark and resulted in the four consecutive No. 1 singles: "Wanted (One Good-Hearted Woman)," "Chasin' That Neon Rainbow," "I'd Love You All Over Again," and the LP title tune.
His second LP, "Don't Rock the Juke Box," released just a couple of months ago, is already steaming toward platinum certification at a much faster pace than the first album. Meanwhile, the LP title tune, released as a single, went barreling to the top of the country charts.
Thus, in a relatively short time, Jackson has catapulted from obscurity to that heady stratosphere of success occupied by best-selling country singers like George Strait, Clint Black, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks and Ricky Van Shelton.
"I really didn't expect things to take off as fast as they did," Jackson muses with off-the-cuff humility. (He describes himself as "the same good ol' average boy I've always been," and says he still enjoys such hobbies as bass fishing and tinkering with cars in this spare time.) "Sometimes the whole thing just doesn't quite grab me. But then all of a sudden, I'll just be sittin' somewhere and it'll kinda sneak up on me, and I'll realize just how lucky I am."
Not that Jackson has much time to sit around pinching himself these days: he's been working the road tirelessly in the coveted position of opening act for such blue chip performers as Strait, The Judds, Reba McEntire, and his old friend, Travis. (Jackson has known Travis since his own early "starving artist" days in Nashville, and Travis recently recorded several songs that he and Jackson co-wrote.)
Here and there along the tour circuit, Jackson's rich and countrified baritone and his exceedingly good looks have inspired minor riots as screaming female fans have held siege to his tour bus or attempted to storm the stage during his performances.
"I remember the first time it happened, at Billy Bob's [honky-tonk club in Fort Worth, Texas] the crowd's reaction was so wild it scared me and my band half to death," the 32-year-old singer says, laughing with mild astonishment and slight embarrassment. "I was shocked to see just what a difference a hit record can make! People kind of tend to put you on a pedestal or something, which they shouldn't.
"I mean, for several years before [the record deal] we were playing every honky-tonk from Miami to the Mississippi and that never happened. And 10 years ago, when I was driving a forklift in a K-mart warehouse, I guarantee you there wasn't anybody screaming at me.
"But I guess I've sorta gotten used to it," he says, shrugging. "I'm flattered to have people that are interested in me and the music and everything. I'd sure rather have 'em doing that than throwing rocks at me!"
Such star-struck adulation might cause ego problems in an artist with a less finely honed sense of his own roots. But, by all indications, Jackson's feet are still planted firmly on the ground.
After all, it was only a few years ago that he was just another unknown singer making the rounds of Nashville's record labels with his demo tapes, getting turned down flat by all of them. One major label even sent him packing with the assurance that he simply didn't have "star potential."
"Things like that were hard to swallow," he admits with a matter-of-fact drawl devoid of any noticeable bitterness. "But a lot of times you've just got to realize that it's only one man's opinion, and not let it stop you from keeping right on trying."
Jackson was born in 1958, the youngest of five children, all the rest of them girls. He admits that on account of this he was trifle spoiled.