"And if my broken-hearted love don't find a way to mend/ I'll go on loving you till the end." - Till The End - Cathy Gosdin.

Alan Jackson has good reason to remember October 15, 1988, at a car dealership in Tennessee civil town Franklin.

The lanky singer was still working on demos of his first album under the management of expatriate Australasian Barry Coburn.

And Coburn had arranged a radio interview for me - not with the shy Georgian but his mentor Vern Gosdin.

I met Jackson and wife Denise the night before at the 16th Avenue office that doubled as the home of Coburn and former Hollywood starlet and singing spouse Jewel Blanch Coburn on their arrival in Nashville.

"I remember that show, it was the first time I had seen Vern in concert," Jackson, now 52, told Nu Country TV in a call from Nashville on the eve of his belated debut Australian tour.

"But, no, I don't remember the name of the dealership."

Now, 22 years down the Lost Highway, the multi-millionaire singer has honoured the late Alabama born icon by recording his 1977 hit Till The End.

The song, featuring Texan Lee Ann Womack as Jackson's duet partner, is a salient salute to Gosdin, who died at 74 on April 28, 2009.

"Yes, that song was written by one of Vern's ex-wives Cathy," Jackson said of the hit, originally recorded as a duet by Vern and Janie Fricke.

"It was also the perfect song for Lee Ann. She is one of the greatest traditional country singers out there. She has sung on a couple of things of mine. She's traditional country - and that's all I know how to do."

Vern worked as a teenager with late brother Rex as The Gosdin Brothers (a gospel group) and in a later incarnation as a country rock band after The Hillmen with Chris Hillman but his staple was stone country in his solo career.

Shortly before meeting Jackson and Gosdin I fluked Vern's epic vinyl album Chiseled In Stone for 99c on the floor of a second hand record store in Fort Lauderdale.

I was killing time while awaiting Michael Turner to play his final game as captain of Geelong against Collingwood at the Joe Robbie stadium in North Miami.

That night I celebrated by taking injured Geelong defender and latter day Fremantle coach and National Party Upper House member Damian Drum to a cowboy bar called Doo Das where Gosdin was on the jukebox.


"Nobody saw them running/from 16th Avenue/they never found the fingerprints/or the weapon that was used/but someone killed country music/cut out its heart and soul/ they got away with murder down on music row." - Murder On Music Row - Larry Cordle-Larry Shell.

Meanwhile back to Jackson duet partner Womack, former singing spouse of Jason Sellers and later day wife of producer Frank Liddell.

Lee Ann was also a guest singer on the 2000 Jackson-George Strait satiric Murder On Music Row.

The stars defied the Nashville establishment by performing the song - that parodied power brokers - on the CMA Awards show.

Did Jackson fear he and Strait would be shunned for singing their mind?

"No I never worried about recording that," Jackson laughed.

"George called me about the idea. It was a song I had heard already anyway."

So did Jackson hear the original song penned by Lonesome Standard Time singer Larry Cordle and partner Larry Shell?

"Yes, it was the Cordle version," Jackson said.

"I haven't heard the David Frizzell recording."

Equally vitriolic earlier was Jackson's choice of the veteran songwriter Bob McDill tune Gone Country.

"It was a perfect song for the time, country music got very popular and everyone jumped on the bandwagon," Jackson said.

"Bob wrote that song as a consequence of that - as it became more commercial as it became more pop - taking advantage of the popularity of country. The fans understood and loved it."


"The ocean's wet, the river's dry/ don't ask me why, cause I can't say/ it's just that way." - It's Just That Way - Vickie McGehee-Keith Stegall.

Now, with more than 51 million albums sold in two decades the father of three daughters is belatedly touring here at the peak of his career.

It's no surprise he has added a third concert in Brisbane and is exploiting his lengthy local links.

It's not just his discovery by Coburn and spouse Jewel Blanch.

Expatriate Starmaker winner Kylie Sackley, former partner of chart topper Lee Brice, co-wrote recent Jackson hit It's Just That Way with his prolific producer Keith Stegall.

"I had forgotten she's from down that way," Jackson joked.

"I don't know who did the original demo.

Keith had a copy of it but it wasn't Keith's version. Rhonda Vincent did harmonies on that and two other songs on the album.

She's one of my favourite singers."

Jackson was also a supporter of Novocastrian Catherine Britt after Stegall produced her first Nashville album.

Britt, who still had a deal with BMG after one time partner and latter day superstar Jamey Johnson walked the plank, opened for both Jackson and Brooks & Dunn on a major tour.

"I haven't heard much about her lately," Jackson said, "but I would love to have her as a support again."

But this time the major touring partner is Texan Miranda Lambert whose fourth album Revolution has scored platinum with a million copies sold and nine CMA nominations.

I suggested Miranda, fiancé of Oklahoma star Blake Shelton and daughter of a former Dallas undercover narcotics detective might be a little louder.

"Miranda is a rootsy country act and a perfect touring partner," Jackson said.

"She has written some great relationship songs."

And also recorded a Fred Eaglesmith song Time To Get A Gun on her new album.

Lambert's second album Kerosene is belatedly being released here for her tour.


"I just come down from Chippewa/had a station wagon and a hundred dollars/thinking about the girl I'd lost a year before/I hadn't seen her for some time/I thought that I might go on by/when your memory came flooding in/ and you closed that door." - Freight Train - Fred Eaglesmith.

Jackson was bemused to learn Fred Eaglesmith - writer of his 18th album title track Freight Train - and fellow Jackson hit writer Kieran Kane were frequent Australian tourists.

"I didn't know Fred had toured there a lot," Jackson said.

"I heard Freight Train on a bluegrass satellite station and loved it a lot."

What about the Kane song I'll Go On Loving You that shares more than a few lyrics and melody with the Cathy Gosdin song Till The End?

"I had always been a fan of Kieran's writing," Jackson revealed. "He sent me that song and some others and I really loved it. It had a really sensual feel about it."

Jackson, a prolific writer who wrote eight of 12 songs on Freight Train and all 17 on previous album Good Time, is a good judge of a hit.

But there's one major exception.

"Yes, I passed on Chicken Fried," Jackson confessed.

"Keith brought me some of Zac Brown's songs before they even recorded them. Zac is kind of like me - he likes to hang onto his songs. Chicken Fried was one of them. I liked it and was going to cut it. I had just done Where I Come From that had corn bred and chicken.

On every album I had recorded these songs about food. I had a song about bologna. Every album I've got has these songs about food. In retrospect I should have done it. Then Zac cut Chicken Fried. I passed on it. I'm glad I did. It gave him the break he needed. And he really deserved it."

Now the duo joined forces for As She's Walking Away - first hit from the Zac Brown Band fifth album You Get What You Give.

"Zac's a good old Georgia boy like me," Jackson added.

"He's a songwriter - they played bars for a long time like I did.

They played a long time in a lot of states before they made it. There's a real personal connection - carrying on the tradition."

That hit is also a bonus track on Jackson's latest album - 34 Number Ones - released in November.


"Now the court square's just a set of streets/ that people go around but they seldom think/ about the little man that built this town before the big money shut them down/ and killed the little man." - Little Man - Alan Jackson

Jackson may be a multi-millionaire who reaped $28 million as he recently sold his lakeside mansion.

But it was a back roads trip to Florida where he owned two more homes that he wrote social comment tune Little Man.

"I was going on a drive down to Florida, driving on back roads through these small towns," Jackson recalled.

"I saw all these towns had suffered because of small businesses being shut and taken over.

They all been closed and replaced by corporate chain stores."

Equally poignant was his 9-11 social comment song Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?

But the singer draws a line in the desert storm sand between social and political comment.

"I don't like to get on soap box," Jackson said.

"I don't really like to preach. But I write topical stuff, something more personal, things like that more about the common man and woman. There was a recent President Bush movie that had a clip of Chattahoochie but that was not a political song."

Jackson, son of a mechanic who fixed and collected cars in small town Newnan, carries on the family tradition.

His former lakeside home, replete with 20-car garage, was never big enough for all his classics.

Although he is building a new home it won't be the answer.

"We've got cars all stored right now," Jackson confessed.

"Denise retrieved the first car, we dated in it. It was a 1955 classic. I don't know how many cars we have. I also collect old boats - I'm always selling something and buying something."


"But there's nothing wrong with a hard hat and a hammer/ kind of glue that sticks this world together/ hands of steel and cradle of the promised land/ God bless the working man." - Hard Hat And A Hammer - Alan Jackson

But not the anvil he inherited from his late father Eugene who also earned a couple of tribute songs.

That instrumentation provides a link to a key song on Alan's debut disc Here In The Real World - just 21 years ago.

The first two lines of Chasin' That Neon Rainbow are "daddy won a radio/ tuned it to a country show."

Those words come directly from the working life of Eugene who died in January of 2000.

Jackson also honoured his car-loving dad in 2002 album title track Drive (For Daddy Gene.)

Eugene owned the anvil on Hard Hat And A Hammer, mounted on a section of a telephone pole.

"We used dad's anvil on Hard Hat And A Hammer on the new album," Jackson explained.

"It was broken but in the garage on display. I got to play it on Hard Hat And Hammer. It's got an anvil in there if you listen to it. We cut it, and I said, 'man, this thing needs, you know, somebody hitting a hammer on an anvil.'"

So how historic is the improvised instrument?

"It's a big old anvil," Alan explained.

"The back of it's broken off, and he got it when he worked for the county farm. They gave it to him 'cause it was broken, I guess, so it stayed in our garage my whole life. I beat on a lot of parts and steel on that thing, and he did, too. And when he died, I got a lot of his stuff, and that anvil's in my car museum garage there, and so anyway, that's what we used. We took a hammer, and it didn't sound right, and we finally had to get two or three different hammers - finally found one that sounded right, and that's what's on the record. And I sat there and beat on that anvil."


"They should have made taillights blue/ so when I see them go/ they'll look the way I do/ just a pale blue glow." - Taillights Blue - Adam Wright -Jay Knowles.

Jackson also extended family royalties by recording Taillights Blue - one of many songs penned by his nephew Adam Wright and Jay Knowles - on his new album.

Taillights Blue is one of those delicious tunes using a colour metaphor for faded love.

Illinois born singer Noah Gordon's Blue Pages on his 1995 album I Need A Break is another.

Adam and wife Shannon record as The Wrights for Jackson's indie label ARC and released an album Down This Road they promoted by touring with their boss.

The Wrights also had a hand in Jackson recording his 1987 co-write with Roger Murrah on True Love Is A Golden Ring on the new album.

"Adam and Shannon Wright - he's my nephew and she's his wife - are a duo called the Wrights," Jackson revealed.

"They've been around and had some records and they're both good songwriters. Anyway, they cut an album a couple of years ago and wanted some of my old stuff. They went and dug that song up. It was in one of my catalogues at a publishing company. I had forgotten about that thing. I had always wanted to cut it but I just forgot about it. They ended up doing a really cool version of it. When I heard that, I thought I might put it on my next album. It made me remember writing that song. I wrote that with Roger Murrah. I don't know the exact date, but I would say probably 1987. I remember the first few albums, when we were starting out. I had so many songs lying around. Every now and then I tried to use some of them. Some of them don't always work together on an album, so you leave them out - and then you forget about them. I still have, gosh, I don't know how many lying around in publishing catalogues that I've always wanted to cut. That was just another one that was there. I always liked that song."


"Her right hand closed the front porch door/suddenly a child no more/all the ribbons, all the bows/in a box now on the closet floor/anxious for what's to come/afraid to leave a place she loves." - After 17 - Alan Jackson

But it was the new generation - the eldest of Jackson's three daughters - who was the inspiration for new paternal song, After 17.

It's a sibling song of sorts for Janis Ian's classic - At 17 - written long before she acted out his hit Gone Country and moved to Nashville.

"It was my oldest daughter Mattie who is now at college," he confessed.

"I was inspired by her. I don't know if it's likely to be released as single but it was one of my favourites."

The Jackson genetics have been passed down the generations.

"Yes, my daughters are all very creative," said Jackson whose younger daughters are Alexandra 17 and Dani 13.

"Mattie helped with the script for video for It's Just That Way. She came up with all the story line adaptation ideas."

But will Jackson emulate superstar and actor Tim McGraw by bringing his three daughters down under?

"I'm working on it but they're all in school and all have different spring breaks." Jackson said.

"It's hard to schedule to try to make it work. We will have some time off after the concerts."

OK Jackson might be a classic car and antique wooden boat collector, but unlike Tim, he doesn't have a pilot's licence to fly all his family over the outback.

And there are no plans to tempt fate with the great white sharks.

"I love the water and want to see the Reef," Jackson confessed of his off stage plans after kicking off his tour at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on Friday March 4.

"I want to get out on the water and catch some big black Marlins."


"A pretty little blonde haired girl/ stole my heart and changed my world/ two kids and a moonlit sky/ a little love on a Friday night/ built a fire that just won't quit/ that was 1976" - 1976 - Alan Jackson.

Wife Denise has now released two books including best selling 2007 book It's All About Him: Finding the Love of My Life.

The first book topped the New York Times best selling chart so she has since released a second book - The Road Home.

"Denise wrote about the years when we struggled to survive," Jackson said of his wife of 31 years and their storms of life and love.

"We started out as kids dating at high school and got married very young. She wrote about that and the move to Nashville and that struggle when we didn't have anything and how it put a strain on our relationship."

Jackson vividly recalls the rejections when he and Denise first arrived in Nashville from Newnan.

"I worked on cars and houses," the youngest of five children recalled of his time in the hometown he shares with frequent Australian tourist and singer songwriter Steve Young.

"I didn't realise he was from Newnan," Jackson joked.

Jackson quit school and worked as forklift driver, carpenter and building contractor while fronting Dixie Steel at weekends in honky tonks.

Alan was 17 and Denise was 16 in the spring of 1976 when they met at church on a warm Sunday evening in the red dirt clay.

Denise, daughter of a postal worker, was a homecoming queen and cheerleader who graduated from West Georgia College in 1981 and taught primary school.

It was during a stint as a Piedmont Airlines flight attendant that she met Glen Campbell and plugged her husband's music.

"Back when I started I had no idea how long it would last, maybe two of three years, that's a long time," Jackson recalled.

"I got a job in the mail room at Nashville Network (a cable TV channel that launched many careers.) That was my first job - in the office - seeing all these artists come and perform. I only worked there about six months but it was my launch pad, seeing all the artists perform. It was a real inspiration and helped open so many doors."


"She loves a violin, I love a fiddle/ we go separate ways but we meet in the middle/ don's see eye to eye but we're hand in hand/ a blue blooded woman and a redneck man."- Blue Blooded Woman - Alan Jackson-Keith Stegall-Roger Murrah.

One of those doors was prolific producer, hit writer and one time solo artist Keith Stegall.

"Keith was one of the first guys - as a songwriter, singer, artist and producer - who showed an interest in me," Jackson says of the studio czar for artists diverse as John Anderson, Zac Brown Band and Britt.

"He worked on both sides of the microphone.

He was producing another guy at the time and I sort of worried him to death to produce some demos with me."

Stegall remembers Jackson's persistence.

"I kept putting him off," said Stegall, who produced 15 of Jackson's albums.

"But every time I'd see him, he'd say, 'When you gonna do some demos on me?' Finally, he called & said, 'The publisher's going to give us $1,500 to record some demos.' We went into studio - 2 of songs we cut were Wanted and Chasin' That Neon Rainbow - that was the beginning.' "

Jackson is already writing for the studio album that will follow 34#1's. "I'm always writing songs," he confessed.

"I have some new ones already. In the last few years I had done a lot of solo writing when I'm out on the road. But I co-write when I'm off the road and home near Nashville."

Jackson and family have moved to smaller digs near after selling their Sweetbriar mansion for a cool $28 million.

"We're now living one road over from the lake house," Jackson said.

"We built a place up on the hill over there, more private. We moved out on the first of summer. We have been working on the new place for a year now. I've got the cars all stored right now."

So what were the old digs like?

Sweetbriar sat on 135 acres along the Harpeth River.

It has six bedrooms, seven full baths and two half baths, along with 20 car garage.

There's also a full basketball court and lake boathouse, two ponds, air-conditioned gym, horse stalls, a log cabin with two bedrooms, a 10-acre lake and plane landing strip.

"It's just like a Disney World out here," Jackson once said.

"But we realised, as our girls got older, that they don't really use the property much. Once they get to be teenagers, they're mostly hanging out with their friends and on the iPod and cell phones in their rooms. If I'd had three boys instead of girls, they might be out here fishing and riding four-wheelers or something."

The Jackson family also owned two beachfront houses in Florida but sold one recently.

Jackson put the 1966 vintage beachfront home at Tequesta on the market after six years with an asking price of $1.275 million.

The retreat is northwest of Jupiter - not the planet - where the family also owns an 8,000 square foot home.

One was a rental property we stored our boats in," he explained of the house he owned for six years and sold for $1.275 million.

Although the singer has dabbled in real estate he is not a magnate like the late Gene Autry, Buck Owens or Eddie Arnold.

"I've always owned my own buses but I never owned a bus company," he added.

"I try not to get involved in crazy things. My investments are cars and boats and hobbies like that. I'm not interested in investing in commercial buildings down town."

CLICK HERE for Tonkgirl's Gig Guide for Jackson-Lambert tour dates.

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