Alan Jackson: Celebrating New Album “What I Do” and a 25th Wedding Anniversary (2004)

Originally published in the Sept. 28, 2004 issue of Country Weekly magazine.

Too much of a good thing is a good thing, sings Alan Jackson in his new smash, “Too Much of a Good Thing.“ 

But is that really true? 

“It is when you’ve got a good relationship going,” declares Alan. “You hear that too much of a good thing can be bad for you sometimes – but I think when it comes to love, it can’t be ever be too much.“ 

“Too Much of a Good Thing,” the first hit from Alan’s new album, What I Do, is a self-penned celebration of a comforting, long-lasting love. That’s something Alan understands intimately – in December, he and wife Denise will celebrate their 25th anniversary. 

“Twenty-five years!” he marvels, as the afternoon sun peeks out after a rainy day in Seattle, where he’s playing a show this evening. “Like anybody, we’ve had our days that weren’t so pretty. But we’ve grown up together, and really have a lot of respect for each other – even more so now.“ 

Most crucial to the success of the marriage, Alan figures, was Denise’s good taste in marrying him in the first place. “I think she just made a really good choice,” he jokes. 

“Too Much of a Good Thing” and Alan’s current state of domestic happiness aside, much of What I Do is downbeat, focusing on songs of loneliness and broken romance – something Alan had noticed only after he finished recording the project. 

“I remember telling my wife when I started looking at the list of songs, ’You know, there’s a lot of sad songs on this album,’ “ he recalls. “A lot of it’s about lost love or heartbreak. I like singing those better anyway.“ 

Still, the somber tone wasn’t what Alan had intended. In fact, he didn’t have any grand plan in mind when recording What I Do, the follow-up to 2002’s quadruple-platinum Drive and last year’s triple-platinum Greatest Hits Vol. II

“I don’t have any big agenda,” he says. “Just to find some songs or write ’em and try to make a good album – that’s what I’ve always done. Vince Gill said at an awards show one time that I’m kind of like McDonald’s – you always know what you’re gonna get!“ 

Speaking of fast food, one of the album’s lighter moments is “If French Fries Were Fat Free” – in which Alan sings, I’d wear a smile endlessly, if french fries were fat free / And you still loved me. “It started out as If Krispy Kremes were fat free, but I changed it to french fries – I felt like that was a more universal food item,” he explains with a grin. 

But surely the famously lanky Alan doesn’t have to worry about fat? “Everybody thinks I’m tall and skinny, but I have to hide it!” he chuckles. “I do a little exercise, but I like to eat.”  

“If French Fries Were Fat Free” is the latest in a tradition of food-related Alan tunes, notably “Where I Come From” and “Meat and Potato Man.” “My wife was saying, ’You have songs about food on every album,’” he notes. “I said, ’Well, I write about what I know about!’”

It turns out Alan’s love of food extends to cooking, as well. 

“My wife’s a great cook, but I can do a little bit if I have to,” he says, “or just when I feel like it. I make cornbread – Denise still does it better – but I can make it pretty good. And I can make homemade pancakes from scratch. A lot of times I get up and make them for the kids in the morning.“ 

His kids are growing up fast, it seems – Mattie is now 14, Ali is 11 and Dani is 7. “I almost like my children more as they get older, because they’re more like adults and I can really communicate with them,” observes Alan. “So far, we’ve been very blessed. They’re all three really sweet, smart, healthy and creative. I like to see them grow up enjoying life.”

Alan may have a mantel full of trophies from the CMA and ACM, but Mattie recently gave her dad the chance to see someone else in the Jackson clan win a few trophies. At her eighth-grade graduation, she picked up valedictorian honors, as well as several other academic and citizenship awards. 

“She’s extraordinary in her grades,” brags Alan. “I told her, ’Mattie, you’re already beyond where I can help you with your schoolwork. The only thing left that I can do is teach you how to drive!’ ”

When she’s old enough, Mattie will be able to drive on the Alan Jackson Highway, a stretch of I-85 outside Alan’s hometown of Newnan, Ga., renamed in her dad’s honor a couple of months ago. Alan’s feelings about the honor are tied to memories of his own father, Eugene, who died in early 2000.

“I used to drive that old highway,” he says, “and my daddy did, too, every day when he was going to work in Atlanta. I’m sure he never thought at any time that there’d be a piece of it named after his son. I’m sure he’d be very proud of that.“ 

For Alan, the honors will surely keep coming. What I Do is in stores now, and his wildly popular tour with Martina McBride will continue till the end of November. 

Though the superstar pairing has been filling arenas since January, Alan hasn’t had much of a chance to catch up with his touring partner. “She’s pretty busy,” he says. “Her husband’s out here with her – and a lot of times she’s got her kids with her, so I try not to bother her.”

Fans hoping the two tour mates will record a duet will have to keep hoping – there are no plans in place. “We haven’t really talked about it specifically,” admits Alan. “We played Nashville earlier this year, and she came out and sang ’Let’s Get Back to Me and You’ with me. That’s really the only time we’ve done anything.”

At that same May concert, Alan surprised the crowd by segueing from his hit “Summertime Blues” into his own rendition of the catchy pop hit “Hey Ya!” by Atlanta rappers OutKast – a favorite tune of his daughters. 

“I did it for them, just as a joke,” he says. “They got a kick out of it, because they had a bunch of friends there. I actually like that song – some of that Outkast stuff, it’s got a melody and you can sing along with it. Some of the stuff my daughters listen to, I don’t really care about.“ 

Asked if he considered including “Hey Ya!” on What I Do, Alan chuckles and lets loose a “Noooo!” – as might be expected from this true-blue country traditionalist.

Nonetheless, listeners will be glad to know that another tune Alan debuted live a few months ago – at the CMT Flameworthy Awards, to be exact – is on the album. Though it was penned by songwriter Tim Johnson, Alan uses “To Do What I Do” as a very personal expression of gratitude to his fans for allowing him the opportunity to live his dreams. In the song, Alan sings: 

There’s so much joy this music can bring

So I count my blessings before I step up to sing

’Cause there’s so many people that would give anything

To do what I do

“There was a lot of sentiment there that I appreciated – most artists that have tried to get there and finally made it can identify with that,” he says. “I really connected with a lot of the lines in that song, because I lived them.”

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