The darkest hour is just before dawn.
In the summer of 2003, Jason Aldean was ready to throw in the towel. He'd been dropped from his record company's roster. His songwriting contract was expiring. He had a new baby, a mortgage and two car payments to make and nothing looked promising on his musical horizon. For five years he'd been trying every way he could think of to make it in Nashville, and all he had to show for his efforts was a broken dream.
But just weeks later an offer was on the table, and in January 2004 Jason signed with Broken Bow Records. He joins a roster that includes such outstanding stars as Craig Morgan ("Almost Home"), Joe Diffie ("Tougher Than Nails") and Sherrie Austin ("Streets of Heaven"). The man who almost gave up has a whole new outlook.
"I went through a time when I was depressed and didn't know what to do," recalls Jason Aldean. "By the middle of 2003, I was frustrated, and I was moving back home. I had already applied for some jobs back in Georgia. I was just kind of at that point where I felt like I was beating a dead horse. I knew that if we moved home, that was probably going be it with me and music.
"I had no idea what was in store for me. I was scared that if we stayed here we were going to lose everything - the house, the cars, whatever. I wasn't really bitter about it - I felt like I had come up here and given it a legitimate shot.
"I do believe that if it's meant to be, it will be. Luckily for me, things worked out. I mean, it went from looking really bad to looking really good."
Jason Aldean's Broken Bow debut showcases a singer with a burnished honky-tonk tenor that resonates with emotional honesty. And it introduces country fans to a truly polished song craftsman.
Although still in his 20s, Jason Aldean already has a wealth of performing experience. He was raised on country music from the time of his birth, Feb. 28, 1977.
Parents Barry and Debbie divorced when he was three. He was raised by his mother, mainly in Macon, GA. Summers were spent with his father in Homestead, FL.
"My dad played the guitar and is a pretty good singer. He's really the one who put the music bug in me, I guess. He's a big fan of Merle Haggard and Johnny Rodriguez. I was going to country shows by the time I was in second grade. My first concert was Kenny Rogers and The Gatlin Brothers. The first record I remember having was Mountain Music by Alabama. I've still got it. They were always my favorites growing up, and still are. I've seen them in concert 10 or 15 times.
"I'd go to Dad's house in the summers. When he'd go to work during the day, he would always map me out the guitar chords on notebook paper to show my fingers where to go to play which chords. I just sat there and did that all day while he was at work. When he got home, we'd get out his guitar and play together. So that's kind of how I learned to play.
"Then it got to where I could just listen to songs and be able to play them after hearing them for about three times. That's when I really started learning a lot of songs."
Early favorites included George Strait's "The Cowboy Rides Away," Hank Williams Jr.'s "The Blues Man" and, of course, Alabama's "My Home's in Alabama." Both parents encouraged young Jason as he progressed musically.
"One day I was sitting at home watching the country-music awards on TV. I was just watching the show. Then I suddenly got up and told my mom, 'I think I'm ready to get on stage and just see what happens, see how it goes.' She knew a guy who played in a band in a VFW hall in Macon. She called him and said, 'Hey, can my boy come in and sing a few songs?' He said, 'Sure.' So I went in there and sang, I think, John Anderson's song 'Seminole Wind' and 'Sticks and Stones' by Tracy Lawrence.
"Well, all 10 people who were there applauded. You know how it is: You don't want to get up there, but once you do, people have to drag you off the stage." At age 14, Jason Aldean was hooked.
He began performing at area talent contests and local fairs. At 15, he joined the "house band" at the Macon nightspot Nashville South. A year later, he bought his first car with money he'd earned singing, a 1985 Toyota pick-up with a rusted-out tailgate. By the time of his high-school graduation, his future was set. He was a pro.
"Once I graduated, I wanted to get out and start playing and traveling around. I just couldn't see going to school for four more years. It was hard enough to get out of high school. I went to school basically because I had to and because I wanted to play baseball. That was about it. So it was a decision whether to go to college on a baseball scholarship or play clubs, make money and meet girls. It wasn't a hard decision for me to make."
His father booked Jason and his band into college towns in Florida, Alabama and Georgia, then further up the eastern seaboard. One of the bandmembers was Justin Weaver, with whom Jason began writing songs.
Jason Aldean's sterling singing voice, original songs and distinctive looks attracted attention at once. Although he doesn't rope and ride, he proudly describes himself as "a hat act." Albeit one with pierced ears.
"I used to get some flack for that in the redneck clubs," he admits. "I'd gone to a private school in Macon where you had to have your hair cut short and all that. So the day after I graduated, I went and got an ear pierced. Then one day I decided to even things out and got the other one done. My dad really freaked out. Then I came home with a tattoo, and he really just had to bite his tongue.
"But he was still always telling me how good my singing was. We came up here to Nashville in 1996 and made a little eight-song album to sell at our shows.
"When I got started, I had no idea how to get into the music business at all. My dad said, 'The way people do it is you just play clubs and if you're good enough, somebody will find you.' So that is all I knew, too. I didn't know anything different."
Actually, that's pretty much how it happened. In 1998 he performed his original songs at a showcase staged by the famed Atlanta nightclub The Buckboard. None of the record company talent scouts who were there approached him, but Michael Knox, then of the Warner-Chappell song-publishing company did. Jason didn't even know what a song publisher was.
Nevertheless, signed to write songs for the company, Jason Aldean moved to Music City on Nov. 1, 1998 at age 21. A month later, he was offered a recording contract. When that didn't pan out, he signed with another label immediately afterward.
"I thought it was so easy when I got here. I was here a month, and I got offered a deal. I thought, 'This is great. I should have moved up here five years ago.' And then I got a reality check. Guess what: it's not that easy." After postponing his recording sessions repeatedly, the second label dropped him in 2000. Three long years dragged by.
In the meantime, he married his high-school sweetheart, Jessica, on Aug. 4,, 2001. And on Valentine's Day, 2003 they became the parents of daughter Keeley.
Jessica took a job at a Nashville bank and urged Jason to press on. So did Michael Knox, who has remained by his side throughout his ordeal. Still, showcases for various executives led nowhere. The last straw was an attempt at the Wildhorse Saloon where the promised label talent scouts never even showed up. But someone else did. "I got off stage and this guy walked up to me. He's like this ball of energy. His name was Lawrence Mathis, a manager. He said, 'I like what you're doing, and I'd like to talk to you. What are your plans? What are you doing?' I said, 'You caught me at a bad time, because I'm probably moving home in a couple of months.' But I met with him that next Monday and told him what was going on. He said, 'Give me a year to work with you.' I said, 'I don't have a year. I've got six months, at best.' He said, 'All right. Six months.' Five weeks later we got offered a deal from Broken Bow.
"Now I'm at the most exciting time of my life. Recording my first album has been such a thrill. For a change, I'm with a label that believes in what I am doing. I have waited a long time to make a record like this, and all I can say is this album is real, it's true and it's me. I hope you like it."
--- from the official Jason Aldean website