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Kenny Chesney
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Kenny Chesney was born March 26, 1968, in Knoxville, Tenn., and raised in nearby Luttrell. He attended college at East Tennessee State in Johnson City and became a fixture in the area’s venues, including Chuckie’s Trading Post and Quarterback’s Barbecue. “The scene up there then was mostly blues, rock and folk,” he recalls. “I was about the only one doing George Jones and Hank Jr. I got to where I had a pretty good following.”
An awakening of sorts came when he went into the Classic Recording Studio in Bristol, Va. Backed by several musicians he knew from college (who later became the core of Alison Krauss’ band), he recorded an album’s worth of songs he’d written. When he pressed up a thousand copies, sold them all at his shows and made enough to buy a new Martin guitar, he realized he was onto something. A month after graduating from college with a degree in advertising, he headed down I-40 west to Nashville in early 1991.
The going was slow the first couple of years. He made the rounds of the publishing companies without much success. He went to see the only person he knew in the business, producer Kyle Lehning, who told him, “You’ve definitely got something, but it ain’t there yet.” The only steady gig he could find playing music was in a down and dirty honky-tonk called the Turf. This was on Nashville’s storied Lower Broadway before the area was gentrified. In 1992, the head of publisher/writer relations at BMI set up an audition with Opryland Music Group. Chesney came out of the audition with a songwriter’s contract.
A year or so later, an appearance at a songwriter’s showcase led to a contract with Capricorn Records, which had recently started a country division. He’d had only a couple of modest chart singles when the label closed its Nashville office. But one of his 1994 singles, a song he wrote called “The Tin Man,” stirred considerable interest up and down the Row, despite making it only to No. 70 on Billboard’s country singles chart.
RCA’s Joe Galante put in a call and not only offered Chesney a contract but also to buy the masters of his Capricorn album. Galante signed Chesney to RCA’s affiliated label, BNA Records. His Capricorn album sold only about 100,000 units, but All I Need to Know (1995), his debut BNA disc, more than tripled that figure. Me And You (1996) was certified gold, I Will Stand (1997) was certified platinum and Everywhere We Go (1999) was certified double platinum.
Chesney also made headlines in 2000, when he hopped on a police officer’s horse at a fair in New York state. Chesney said he had permission, but when the officer tried to pull him off, touring pal Tim McGraw blocked the policeman’s efforts. Both men were acquitted for their alleged crimes — Chesney for disorderly conduct, McGraw for obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. The publicity was priceless, as Chesney found himself with his highest media exposure to date.
His Greatest Hits (2001) reminded listeners of Chesney’s consistent track record at country radio, selling more than 3 million copies. No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems (2002) catapulted him into the big leagues and played up his fascination with the islands. “The Good Stuff” and “Young” were massive country hits, and he continues to sell out arenas across the country. Along with a hugely successful tour in 2003, Chesney headlined a concert at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, filmed a behind-the-scenes DVD, and released the holiday album All I Want For Christmas Is A Real Good Tan.
At the end of 2003, he rested atop the Billboard country singles chart with the hit “There Goes My Life,” months before his latest studio album was released. In 2004, that album When the Sun Goes Down won a CMA Award, and Chesney captured the CMA entertainer of the year trophy. He offered Be As You Are: Songs From An Old Blue Chair, an introspective singer-songwriter album inspired by his love for the islands, in early 2005.
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