Kenny Chesney was born March 26, 1968, in Knoxville, Tenn., and
raised in nearby Luttrell. He attended college at East Tennessee
State in Johnson City and became a fixture in the area's venues,
including Chuckie's Trading Post and Quarterback's
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Barbecue. "The scene up there then was mostly blues, rock
and folk," he recalls. "I was about the only one doing
George Jones and Hank Jr. I got to where I had a pretty good following."
of sorts came when he went into the Classic Recording Studio in
Bristol, Va. Backed by several musicians he knew from college
(who are now the core of Alison Krauss' band), he recorded an
album's worth of songs he'd written. When he pressed up a thousand
copies, sold them all at his shows and made enough to buy a new
Martin guitar, he realized he was onto something. A month after
graduating from college with a degree in advertising, he headed
down I-40 west to Nashville in early 1991.
was slow the first couple of years. He made the rounds of the
publishing companies without much success. He went to see the
only person he knew in the business, producer Kyle Lehning, who
told him, "You've definitely got something, but it ain't
there yet." The only steady gig he could find playing music
was in a down and dirty honky-tonk called the Turf. This was on
Nashville's storied Lower Broadway before the area was gentrified.
In 1992, the head of publisher/writer relations at BMI set up
an audition with Opryland Music Group. Chesney came out of the
audition with a songwriter's contract.
A year or
so later, an appearance at a songwriter's showcase led to a contract
with Capricorn Records, which had recently started a country division.
He'd had only a couple of modest chart singles when the label
closed its Nashville office. But one of his 1994 singles, a song
he wrote called "The Tin Man," stirred considerable
interest up and down the Row, despite making it only to No. 70
on Billboard's country singles chart.
Galante put in a call and not only offered Chesney a contract
but also to buy the masters of his Capricorn album. Galante signed
Chesney to RCA's affiliated label, BNA Records. His Capricorn
album sold only about 100,000 units, but All I Need to Know (1995),
his debut BNA disc, more than tripled that figure. Me and You
(1996) was certified gold, I Will Stand (1997) was certified platinum
and Everywhere We Go (1999) was certified double platinum.
made headlines in 2000, when he hopped on a police officer's horse
at a fair in New York state. Chesney said he had permission, but
when the officer tried to pull him off, touring pal Tim McGraw
blocked the policeman's efforts. Both men were acquitted for their
alleged crimes -- Chesney for disorderly conduct, McGraw for obstructing
governmental administration and resisting arrest. The publicity
was priceless, as Chesney found himself with his highest media
exposure to date.
Hits (2001) reminded listeners of Chesney's consistent track record
at country radio, selling more than 3 million copies. No Shoes,
No Shirt, No Problems (2002) catapulted him into the big leagues
and played up his fascination with the islands. "The Good
Stuff" and "Young" were massive country hits, and
he continues to sell out arenas across the country. Along with
a hugely successful tour in 2003, Chesney headlined a concert
at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, filmed a behind-the-scenes DVD,
and released the holiday album All I Want for Christmas is a Real
At the end
of 2003, he rested atop the Billboard country singles chart with
the hit "There Goes My Life," months before his latest
studio album was released. In 2004, that album When the Sun Goes
Down won a CMA Award, and Chesney captured the CMA entertainer
of the year trophy. He offered Be As You Are: Songs From an Old
Blue Chair, an introspective singer-songwriter album inspired
by his love for the islands, in early 2005.
grew up in a very small town, went to a small elementary, then
high school - and got to play football as a starter. I skinny
dipped and fished in a lake, had my heart broken by my high school
girlfriend. I`ve lived like a lot of guys listening to my music
live? And I think that`s why people buy my records, because they
can relate to the guy singing those songs: They feel like the
songs are about their lives, because they`re about my life - and
I`m not all that different from them, even now."
the pride of Luttrell, Tennessee, is actually quite a bit different.
With back-to-back double platinum records for Everywhere We Go
and Greatest Hits, multiple week chart-toppers and career definers
with "I Lost It," "How Forever Feels," "Don`t
Happen Twice," "She Thinks My Tractor`s Sexy" and
"Fall In Love," the launch of his first true major headlining
tour, he`s the Everyguy who proves that dreams can come true.
No Shirt, No Problems finds Kenny Chesney again holding a mirror
up to himself -- and all the folks back where he comes from. If
the 12 songs contained herein are a little older, a little wiser,
a little more aware, they still capture the unbridled joy being
young, life lived for the pure feeling of it and the unburnished
emotions of people who prefer to experience rather than analyze
what`s happening to them.
From the opening
notes of "Young," a song that celebrates the thrill
of all the things you can do before you know what you can`t --
tempered by the acceptance that comes with the wisdom of being
grown, No Shoes is a record that looks at the phases of youth
coming into their own. Whether it`s the haunted yearning of the
Conway-esque "I Remember," the tortured understanding
of Bruce Springsteen`s conflict of faithlessness and jagged hearts
"One Step Up," the make-it-happen-in-spite-of-those-who-say-you-can`t
feel-good anthem "Big Star" or the tropicali attitude
adjustment that informs the title track, Chesney understands the
phases and stages of growing up, the thrill of football and falling
in love, the pain of loss and regrets.
I was strong enough to put more of myself in these songs. . .
because it`s scary to put yourself out there like this,"
the man deemed "Country`s Hottest Bachelor" by Country
Weekly confesses. "To show people your doubts, your hurts,
and even your mistakes, to be willing to show people that part
of yourself, the part that`s so human and raw and aching - well,
it`s the hardest thing about this.
if you truly have the audience I believe I do, then you owe them
that. After all, I can`t imagine giving them less than the truth
-- and since the last album, I lived a lot of life and learned
a lot of lessons. It`s all here, if you listen."
Certainly "A Lot of Things Different" does that. Written
by Bill Anderson and Dean Dillon, the half-spoken, half-sung meditation
on passing up opportunities in the moment that might define one`s
life, "A Lot of Things Different" is a plea to live
every chance, savor every sensation and to experience the richness
of the journey so that one can embrace the fullness of it all.
are the one thing I believe most people live with in one way or
another," Chesney allows. "Everybody lives with it,
because we all have times in our life when we didn`t take the
extra step, didn`t go out on that limb -- whether it was asking
that one girl out or standing up for something we believed in.
Whatever it is? so, you wonder what if? And you wonder what it
would have felt like.
we should live our lives to experience it all, to seek happiness,
to be the things we believe in. But it`s scary, that sense of
getting hurt? so what did we pass up? And that is the real tragedy,
far worse than the longing for what wasn`t. It`s what drew me
to `A Lot of Things Different` from the first line.
know, `I`d`ve spent a lot more time in the pouring rain without
an umbrella, covering my head?` is almost like what it feels like
to be chasing your dreams. Being out on the road sometimes, you
feel like an astronaut, rolling in your own little world, going
to another town -- totally disconnected from anything resembling
a normal life. You hit that stage, though, and you see those people,
hear them connecting with your life, seeing their lives in these
songs -- and you remember why.
disconnected isn?t painful. You give some things up. But look
at what you gain: kinda like being out in the rain, without an
umbrella. It`s not bad, really, and if you feel it for what it
is, it`s actually pretty nice."
Not that everything
Kenny Chesney does is seriousness on top of contemplation. As
he`s the first to admit, "Not every song has to change the
world. I love serious songs, but people need a release, something
that makes you smile and laugh and forget about it. Those songs
are important, too, especially for people trying to make it all
it moves you in the heart, or the soul, or the hips, then we`re
connecting somehow, somewhere that works. And you know, it`s always
Chesney has found a way to merge content with that infectious
feel good beat. And the merger of groove and bigger reality also
informs "Never Gonna Feel Like That Again," a breezy
song about phases in a young man`s life -- from playing football
as a kid, to falling in love and making love for the first time,
to having to face the consequences of two kids in lust in a way
where ultimately each transition leaves the singer richer for
"Live Those Songs Again," a song capturing an aging
hippie, who finds his life`s definition -- albeit a life that
was much less than he`d imagined post-Vietnam, post-Summer of
Love, post-burn out -- in the music that he loved. Riding a wave
of glimpses of Creedence and Buddy Holly and the Haight Ashbury
scene, he can still go back to a time when shooting out the lights
was all that mattered and escape the drudgery life can sometimes
knows about music`s power of personal delivery. Arriving in Nashville
as the Garth/Clint/Vince/Alan wave was breaking, he knew he wanted
to sing. He also recognized that he didn`t have any of the distinguishing
elements that set those artists apart. But he burned with his
dream -- and as the world`s smallest, slowest starting receiver
("It was a tiny school," he laughs), hard work and staying
at something you want wasn`t an alien concept.
"I made up my mind I was going to figure out how to make
my living playing music," says the veteran of Chucky?s in
Johnson City where he played 5 nights a week for tips while attending
East Tennessee State University. "Having done that, I figured
I could scrape out a gig somewhere in Nashville, anything playing
music was fine."
said anything, he literally found one of the most meager homes
there was: the Turf. A time-battered honky tonk on the worst part
of Nashville`s once vibrant Lower Broad. If it was once a Ryman
overflow haunt, the Turf`s times had grown rough -- mixing tourists
with drunks, dreamers that never made it, working girls and the
faded refugees that wanted their country music real in the truest
sense of the word.
fit right in. A kid from a small town in East Tennessee who loved
Conway and Waylon, George Jones and Lefty Frizzell, Willie Nelson
and George Strait and Merle Haggard, Vern Gosdin and John Conley
and whatever else hardcore country fans wanted to hear.
5 or 6 nights a week if I could get it, 4 hours minimum for five
dollars an hour and tips," Chesney remembers. "When
you`re making music in Music City, it?s all okay. I had a bad
little tape someone helped me put together. Clay Bradley, who
was at BMI at the time, helped me eventually get a publishing
deal at Acuff Rose and that kind of lead to my Capricorn deal.
one of those things where, looking back, it?s hard to believe
you didn`t get discouraged or doubt, but in the moment, it all
felt like it was happening, because you didn`t know what happening
really was. It?s funny? I played the Gaylord Center (Nashville`s
arena) on New Year`s Eve and there were almost 12,000 people.
The Gaylord Center isn`t 100 yards from where the Turf used to
stand before a tornado blew it away.
onstage, looking at those people -- and it was like all of a sudden,
I remembered having that New Year`s Eve gig at the Turf eight
years ago. It was like maybe 10 people, but it was such a big
deal to be working THAT night in Nashville? and in that moment,
I just got lost because it was all a blur, every last bit of it.
And you know? I`m not sure that the thrill -- even though the
sound and the crowd`s energy was much bigger -- was all that different."
This is a
confession not from a man who doesn`t appreciate where he is,
but someone who`s never lost touch with his core. Over the four
years since Everywhere established the quick-to-laugh, never-one-to-shy-away-from-what-needs-to-be-done
young man as a force to be reckoned with, he`s still finding his
fans are as much a mirror of who he is as he is who they are.
everybody talks about what?s country? Well, I think first and
foremost, it`s about being true, singing about people really live
their lives. And it can be some dumb little moment that maybe
doesn`t seem like much, but is probably one of the moments that
defines your life.
am a fan -- and I know what mattered to me," he continues
softly but pointedly. "I used to be that guy out front in
the baseball cap, and I drove to see Keith Whitley at an (W)IVK
listener appreciation show by myself to hear him sing `Don`t Close
Your Eyes` and `Miami, My Amy.` And you know? I still will, still
do -- because music is how we connect.
to people, especially about the stuff that matters, can be hard.
When you sing or listen to a song, it just opens up doors. Whether
it`s something like `I Can`t Go There,` which is about not being
able to go places you love because the memories of what you lost
are too strong, or `Young,` which is remembering how much fun
being young is, or `How Forever Feels,` which is just the thrill
of falling in love, it`s very real in a very basic way.
"I think people realize that. I`m not so different from them,
they hear it in the songs -- and I`m like their buddy. You know,
it`s not a bad way to make friends."
Chesney, of the nearly 8 million albums sold, the soon-to-be arena-sized
headliner, the inevitable chart-climber, that`s all cake. For
him, it`s about the guy in the baseball hat and the girl that
guy thinks is pretty. Real life the double platinum boy, who finds
his solace in the ocean, realizes doesn`t always show up with
the gilded edges and profound pronouncements -- you gotta find
the truth as it rolls by with tan lines, an easy smile and a twinkle
in its eye. And you know, so far, that`s worked just fine.