Although Georgia native Jason Aldean, that rare hat act who wears small hoops in both earlobes, has been performing at VFW halls and the like since he was 14, his career as a singer began in earnest the day he sat by the phone and it never rang.
"My dream growing up was to play major-league baseball," says Aldean, an all-district leadoff hitter in high school. "I had some scholarship offers to play baseball in college, but when the (Atlanta) Braves didn't draft me, I decided to dive into music full time." The four-year full ride didn't appeal to Aldean, who flatly states, "I hated school."
The decision has worked out for Aldean, 32, who headlines Cedar Park Center on Thursday night. His latest album, "Wide Open," has sold more than a million copies and spawned the No. 1 singles "She's Country" and "Big Green Tractor," with latest single "The Truth" rocketing up the charts. Aldean's self-titled 2005 debut also went platinum, with 2007's "Relentless" continuing the hit streak when it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard country album sales chart.
That Aldean, who possesses a smooth, elastic tenor voice that straddles country and rock, has been able to sell so many records on an independent label, Broken Bow, is all the more impressive.
Aldean's shaky experience as a major label act no doubt contributed to his indie signing. Soon after turning 22, he joined the roster at Capitol Nashville, but instead of royalty checks, he got a reality check. "I got dropped two years later without ever releasing a record," says Aldean, whose real name is Jason Aldine Williams. That's a long time to sit on the bench, especially when you're raising a family. Aldean married his high school sweetheart, Jessica, in 2001 and two years later, daughter Keeley was born. The couple's second daughter, Kendyl, was born in August 2007.
"I was ready to go back to Georgia and get a job," says Aldean, who was raised in Macon but spent his summers in Florida, where his father worked as a weapons mechanic at Cape Canaveral. Aldean's parents split up when he was 3, but both have had a hand in their son's career, with his father taking over managing and booking early in the ride to the top.
But by 2003, it looked as if music would be relegated to just a weekend thing. "It was a real hard time for me," says Aldean, whose entree to Music City was as a staff songwriter for the Warner-Chappell publishing giant, a gig he also lost. "My wife was so encouraging, but I was ready to head back home with my tail between my legs."
At what was supposed to be one of his last shows in Nashville, Aldean was approached by talent scout Lawrence Mathis, who said he'd have a record deal within a year; Aldean gave him six months. Five weeks later, Broken Bow put in an offer.
Aldean's debut single "Hicktown" reached the top 10 and the follow-up "Why" became a No. 1 single. But you haven't really made it in country music until you conquer Texas. Aldean was raised on Texas music — his guitar-playing father's favorite artist was Johnny Rodriguez of Sabinal — but he approached his first tour of the Lone Star State in 2005 with some trepidation. "I had heard all sorts of horror stories about playing Texas," says Aldean, "like if you're not from there, the audiences won't accept you. But it's been the opposite. We've always had the best time playing in Texas."
It certainly didn't hurt that Aldean's debut LP included the top five hit "Amarillo Sky," about a Panhandle family farmer struggling to make it. Like most of Aldean's hits, that one was written by outside writers.
"The key for me (when choosing material) is, 'Does it have staying power?'u2009" he says, pointing to "Mountain Music" by Alabama as an example of an LP that's never gotten old to him. "If I start to get tired of a song after a couple months, then it's not right for us."
Although Aldean is part of a new Georgia movement in country music that includes two-thirds of Lady Antebellum, the Zac Brown Band, Billy Currington, Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland and Luke Bryan, Aldean's current touring mate, he says members of the Peach Pack are "just all so busy to hang out together." Even on a recent six-week break from concert touring, Aldean worked doing interviews, listening to demos and rehearsing new material with his band.
That's what happens when you give up one dream, then almost ditch another. When things finally fall into place, you want to play every day. Like a hitter with a hot bat.