Brad Paisley: Textbook 21st century country star
(CBS News) Fans are willing to travel a country mile - and then some - to hear Brad Paisley perform. Bob Schieffer leads off our series, A Summer Song:
This story was originally broadcast on December 11, 2011.
When Brad Paisley hits the road, it takes a small army to set the stage for a single night's performance.
"It's like the circus," he told Schieffer. "I mean, complete with freaks and farm animals and everything else. Elephants - we carry an elephant!"
Well, no elephants yet. But there IS a midway which is up and running and selling thousands of dollars worth of merchandise long before the tons of sophisticated electronic gear are in place and tested - and test it he does.
It takes two hours of sound checks for Paisley to get it just the way he wants it. And not just for the audience...
"There is a responsibility with it. There's a responsibility to make it worthwhile for these people to be away from their families," he said. "You know, most of these people have someone they love back in Nashville. Some of them have two, three ex-wives they gotta support!"
With all the lights and lasers and effects, it may look like rock and roll, but as PAISLEY lays it out, this is Country Music.
Country music, yes, but a long way from the old days when guys like Hank Williams sang melancholy songs in a honky tonk.
Thirty-nine-year-old Brad Paisley blends up-to-the-minute social satire and biting commentary with melodies that are unmistakably country.
He's taken pot-shots at reality TV in "Celebrity" ... cautioned us how much better people can appear "Online" than in-person.
Of course, there are old-fashioned themes in his store of songs, from the barroom-rouser "Alcohol," to "Ticks," where he makes an unusual proposition:
"'Ticks' is as probably close of a glimpse as to how my brain works as any," he chuckled.
"I'd like to sing you out in the moonlight,
I'd like to kiss you way back in the sticks.
I'd like to walk you through a field of wildflowers.
Then I'd like to check you for ticks."
"That would be the right thing to do," he explained. "It's a public service-type song," Paisley laughed.
He's had twenty number-one country hits along the way, but he's not afraid to fall back on one of country's favorite go-to's: a tug on the old heart strings.
His video "Waitin' on a Woman," featuring the late Andy Griffith, is as sentimental as they get.
Paisley is the textbook 21st century country star, bending old formulas to say something new.
"I'm not necessarily out to break the rules - I've never been that kind of guy," he said. "I'm more of the kid in class . . . I wasn't the outright, just defiant, break-the-rules kid. I was the kid that was like, 'How can I do this and not get caught?'
"Which is sort of what I do in music."
His friends growing up were into rock 'n' roll, but he went country - something he says was just a family tradition.
"That's what my grandfather liked. He said, 'I like country music . . . Well, by golly, that's what I like.' And I kind of stuck to that."
From landing his first paying gig at age 11, to becoming a regular on his hometown of Wheeling, W.Va.'s radio revue, "Jamboree U.S.A.," to joining the cast of the Grand Ole Opry, his grandfather's advice paid off.
One thing he said to Paisley was, "You learn to play this guitar and you'll never be alone."
"Yeah, he's about right about that," Paisley said.
More than one million fans attended Brad Paisley concerts in North America and Europe this past summer. He's got big-name fans as well. Singer Carrie Underwood has become his regular co-host for the annual Country Music Association Awards, and she partnered-up with him for the duet, "Remind Me."
Underwood says it's his uncanny way with lyrics and melody that has won her over.
"Everybody knows he plays guitar. But I think a lot of people don't know exactly how freaking awesome he is at it," Underwood told Schieffer. "He sings. He writes. He's such a talented person. He just doesn't need all the extra crap that so many other people need."
Paisley's so secure in his country credentials, that when he took us to his favorite down-home restaurant outside Nashville, he didn't feel the need to order fried chicken. He had a fruit salad.
He may be a regular guy off-stage, but the story of how he met his wife sounds like a movie. When an old girl friend dumped him after a movie date, he decided that who he really wanted to be with was not the girl friend but the woman in the movie - actress Kimberly Williams of the "Father of the Bride" films.
"He stalked me, that's the long and the short of it," said Kim Williams-Paisley.
To get to know her, Paisley cast Williams in his music video for "I'm Gonna Miss Her."
"My manager called me and she said, 'This adorable boy called me. He's from the South. You're gonna love his accent. You're gonna date him,'" Williams-Paisley laughed.
"He says it was love at first sight for him, and for me it was more like love at first month or two."
Two kids later, their marriage continues to grow, as Paisley keeps looking for new musical barriers to break.
Inspired by the election of Barack Obama, he wrote, "Welcome to the Future," a song that celebrates racial progress.
It was a hit, but some of his red-state fans were less than happy with the song - or with his 2009 performance at the White House.
"Real fans are real fans," Paisley said. "But I think . . . I know there was a few people that all of the sudden I was becoming very political. And it was less about politics for me and more about things that just seemed right and wrong."
Political or not, Paisley says he'll keep on using his music to speak whatever's on his mind.
"I think we've come a long way," he said. "We have a long way to go. But writing about that, why isn't that country music's job? It should be. I mean, that's the beauty of country music. Nothing is off-limits."
And the way Brad Paisley sees it - nothing ever will be.
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