"My life would be very puzzling to most people if they had to follow me around for a day or two," says country and western star Brad Paisley. "They'd say, 'Wait a minute, yesterday we were out fishing on your pond, and now today we're going to William Shatner's for dinner?' I jetset around and play these songs and get to hang with some pretty amazing people, then I go home to [something of] a disaster area of a farm.”
Brad Paisley wears a Stetson and in many ways appears to be the archetype of a clean-cut cowboy living on a ranch. But looks can be deceptive, as the Virginian has many sides to his personality. One side, certainly, is of an enormously successful country singer who has sold over 11 million albums, and has had no less than 19 number 1 hits on the US Billboard country chart. Among his musical achievements, Paisley has won three Grammys, and at a young age grabbed country music’s biggest prize by joining the ranks of those who have won the Grand Ole Opry, which is a century old country live music and radio channel that recognizes particularly outstanding acts.
Paisley has also played with many legends outside the traditional country scene, including Mick Jagger, John Fogerty, Bill Anderson, Timbaland, and those who have ‘crossed over’ into the mainstream, like Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. He is also a huge fan of artists beyond his genre, such as Eric Clapton, Albert Lee, Jeff Beck, Snow Patrol and Coldplay. Furthermore Paisley has ventured into films, books and philanthropy. In short, this is a man who continually breaks conventional boundaries. But just who is he?
Brad Douglas Paisley was born on 28 October, 1972 in Glen Dale, West Virginia. His passion for country music came from his maternal grandfather, Warren Jarvis, who also gifted him his first guitar, a Sears Danelectro Silvertone, at age seven. Soon after he hit the stage at his local church to play, and when the parishioners heard what he could do, they rejected the other musicians on offer and demanded that “Brad do the whole thing." That first concert set him on the path to popularity: "Pretty soon, I was performing at every Christmas party and Mother's Day event. The neat thing about a small town is that when you want to be an artist, by golly, they'll make you one,” he says.
He wrote his first song Born on Christmas Day at the tender age of 13, which was later recorded professionally. His guitar teacher, local guitarist Clarence "Hank" Goddard, was so enthusiastic about his student’s progress that the pair teamed up with two others and formed the prodigy’s first band called Brad Paisley and the C-Notes. As if making quick progress was something easy, when the school headmaster heard Paisley play his first song he invited him to play at his Rotary Club meeting, where Paisley met Tom Miller, the head of a West Virginia radio station. Soon the country singer was playing regularly alongside well-known performers such as George Jones, Jimmy Dickens and The Judds. “I was really lucky to know George Jones, Buck Owens and Jimmy Dickens,” he says of those times. “I became friends with these guys, and we’re losing them. So I feel a responsibility at any show now to have them represented in some way.”
Paisley became the youngest person inducted into the Jamboree USA Hall of Fame, but he also excelled academically as he was awarded a full scholarship to Belmont University in Nashville, where he gained a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1995. It was here that Paisley met several people who would play a key role in his career development, including Chris DuBois and Kelley Lovelace, who he co-wrote songs with, and Frank Rogers, who became his producer. With a fortuitous mix of hard work, intuition and good luck, Paisley signed with EMI within seven days of leaving university and shortly after wrote Another You, which became a country chart hit.
However Paisley’s own career really took off in 1999 following the release of Who Needs Pictures, and a few months later he had his first No. 1 hit with He Didn't Have to Be, shortly followed by his second number 1, We Danced, co-written with Dubois. The love song told the tale of a couple who fall in love on the dance floor of a pub, but that was not clear when the pair started writing it: "We had no idea at first where we were going with this song. It started out with us focusing on a guy who owns a bar. Then this girl comes in who's forgotten her purse. We built the rest of the song around that. That's my favorite way of writing a song, because you never know where it's going," Paisley explained.
In 2001, something extraordinary happened in the Virginian’s personal life. The title track of his second album, Part II, related the story about how he took his girlfriend to see the film Father of the Bride. Upset when that relationship broke up, Paisley decided to go and see its sequel on his own, and promptly fell in love with the leading actress, Kimberly Williams. That would normally be the end of the story for most of us, but Paisley cast her in one of his videos and shortly after, yes … they married and had two children.
In 2003 Paisley released his third album, Mud on the Tires, which many regard as a classic. The title track again made number 1, while bluegrass ballad Whiskey Lullaby, a duet with Alison Krauss, made Number 3. The song was written by Bill Anderson and Jon Randall and was inspired by the latter’s messy divorce from country artist Lorrie Morgan. “Jon was going through some pretty rough times back then,” explains Anderson. “He had lost his writing and his record deal all within just a day or two of each other. He went to a friend's house and crashed. When he decided to sober up, he apologized, and his friend said to him, 'That's alright Jon, I've put the bottle to my head and pulled the trigger a few times in my life.' So when Jon came to the writing session, [those words were] fresh on his mind."
In 2005, Paisley released Time Well Wasted, which won the Country Music Association Award for Best Album. This was followed by 5th Gear, in 2007, which produced four number 1’s in a row: Ticks, Online, Letter to Me, and I'm Still a Guy. The fifth single from 5th Gear emerged from a new recording of Waitin' on a Woman, which is based on a real-life story of a terminally ill man in a hospital who asked his wife to go home, because there was nothing more she could do for him. The country artist described the song as “one of the most important I’ve ever recorded”. Paisley probably took his signature Gibson J-45 Guitar on tour with him to promote the album, as he refers to it as his ‘road model’. He played to over a million people on the tour, which included Taylor Swift as one of his opening acts.
Paisley’s sixth album, Play, was released in 2008, and included a duet with Keith Urban, Start a Band, which became another number 1. The album also featured contributions from BB King and Albert Lee. His next album, which includes some of his best work, American Saturday Night, spawned the lead single, Then. Paisley wrote this love song with DuBois and Ashley Gorley, and they had an unusual measure for its success: "Our goal was to write a song that would touch our wives,” explains Dubois. “Our wives are not in the music business. If we could make our wives cry, we figured [it would succeed].”
This Is Country Music followed in 2010, and the title track, again written with Dubois, became another hit: “We were talkin' about the way country music can go so many places that no other form of music goes…” explained Paisley, “it is really a love song to our fans.” Paisley’s eleventh studio album Love and War, released in 2016, featured Without a Fight, a duet with Demi Lovato; however despite the chemistry and the steamy video the song was a rare blip in Paisley’s otherwise stellar career.
Maverick and inquisitive to the last, Paisley has co-written books including Jug Fishing for Greazy and Other Brad Paisley Fishing Stories, and the autobiographical Diary of a Player: How My Musical Heroes Made a Guitar Man Out of Me. He has contributed to film soundtracks such as Cars 2 and collaborated with Robbie Williams on others. Paisley also featured on an episode of South Park. Additionally he has worked alongside Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Buffett, and Sheryl Crow on a CD that relates Mark Twain’s life in song and spoken word.
Additionally, Paisley has been involved in philanthropic projects. In 2018, for example, he and his wife partnered with Belmont University to establish a special grocery store to help Nashville residents in need. Further, following a performance at the White House for President Barack Obama in celebration of country music, he travelled to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to play a full concert for the soldiers stationed there.
The country star also loves British culture and is keen to establish himself as an an artist in the United Kingdom. Britain doesn’t have such a strong country culture like America, with successful musicians like Shania Twain and Taylor Swift largely making their mark by ‘crossing over’. However as one critic argued Paisley, “with his humour, easygoing charm and ability to successfully navigate between different cultural capitals… could [also] break the mould.”
Amazingly, Paisley even likes British weather. “I like the rain and the fog,” he says. “I imagine if you live there, you’d be tired of it. But the last time we were there we had a couple of days when it was sunny and bright, and I was like: ‘That’s not what I want!” An unconventional man to the end.