When Jason Aldean takes the stage at the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre in Tampa on Friday, he will do so as one of country music's fastest-rising stars, a dude (definitely a dude) who salutes hickdom with his Big Green Tractor but also charms poppy non-Nashvillians by teaming with Kelly Clarkson on No. 1 smash Don't You Wanna Stay.
But beneath that cowboy hat pulled trademark low, the 34-year-old born Jason Aldine Williams will also be just another lucky dad on the loose, a father of two little girls getting away from the fam. So if the Southern rock stomp of She's Country has a lil' more juice in its caboose, it might be because Aldean is a paroled papa.
"In the summer, the kids come out with me a little more," says Aldean. "But they can get a little stir crazy on the tour bus, and you don't want that."
Aldean is a good-natured guy, real genuine, dialing me up himself early in the morning. After we talk the scourge of preteen ear infections and pink eye — I have two daughters the exact same age — we get around to musical heroes, platonic crushes and how Aldean can team with rappers and not lose his fan base.
A lot of people who aren't country fans are totally buying what you're selling. What's the key to the Jason Aldean seduction plan?
I think obviously our brand of country is a little different from most. I grew up (in Macon, Ga.) listening to a lot of different kinds of music, and all of those influences show up: Mellencamp, Bob Seger, Alabama, Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker. I wasn't a huge rap guy growing up; it was pretty hard then, N.W.A. and those guys. I was more into Guns N' Roses.
Although Nashville can be pretty rigid about who buddies up with whom, you're not shy about collaborating, whether it's Miranda Lambert or Kelly Clarkson or even Ludacris. That didn't really work for Big & Rich and the kitchen-sink MuzikMafia movement, but you get hotter the more eclectic you get.
I love collaborating with other artists. I respect those people. I certainly don't do it just to do it.
How did Don't You Wanna Stay come about with Kelly Clarkson? Nice pairing there.
The song was pitched to me by a friend, (songwriter) Jason Sellers. It wasn't originally written as a duet. But the more I drove around listening to the song, the more I thought that this really could be a duet. My producer asked me who I had in mind. I said, "Someone with a soulful type of voice, like a Kelly Clarkson." Next thing you know, Kelly really wants to do it. It was meant to be, you know?
You can't fake chemistry, and you guys have it in spades.
She came into the studio, and that was the first time I met her. I had all these notes I had put together. But once she started singing, and our voices blended so well, I took my notes and threw 'em in the trash! (Laughs) It's one of those things you can't predict. She's super cool.
You also dueted with rapper Ludacris on Dirt Road Anthem for the CMT Awards.
CMT came to me to see if I'd be into it, teaming with a rapper. I was like, "I don't know, man, it depends on who it is." I didn't want to do anything that really screwed up the song. Eminem got thrown out there, Snoop Dogg got thrown out there. Then Ludacris got thrown out there, and I was like, yeah, he's from Georgia, that might be cool.
You're getting one of those Kenny Chesney reps for delivering mondo summer shows.
I want to deliver a cool show top to bottom. We know that people pay good money to come and escape the weekly grind. And I want those same people to leave our show feeling like they got their teeth kicked in.
But in a good way.
(Laughs) Yeah, in a good way.
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.