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Blake Shelton Taps The Conway Twitty Songbook For A Hit
By Lorie Hollabaugh

Three albums into his career, Warner Bros. Nashville artist Blake Shelton has already topped the charts three times, twice with songs that tug at the heartstrings ("Austin" and "The Baby") and a comical change of pace with "Some Beach."

His bid for No. 4 starts with "Goodbye Time," a soulful gem from the catalog of the late great Conway Twitty and written by James Dean Hicks and Roger Murrah.  The song broke into the Top 10 on the R&R Country Airplay Chart and is No. 11 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles Chart.

Shelton heard the song on a television show about Twitty's life. He knew immediately he'd stumbled on to a winner. 

"While they were rolling the credits," recalled Shelton, "they were showing live footage of Conway singing it and I had never heard the song before. He was doing that deal where he had his knees bent and when he was hitting that high note, veins were popping out on his head.  He was sweating and it was awesome. So we decided to make our own version of it. I certainly didn't want to try and copy Conway."

Twitty likely would have appreciated Shelton's nose for a hit and his determination to make that song his own. The lanky Oklahoman started out in Nashville as a teenager doing odd jobs for "Heartbreak Hotel" songwriter Mae Axton, and was offered a record deal by the time he turned 21.

"I was stupid," Shelton said. "I could sing well enough - I guess - and I made a lot of friends around Nashville. It's not because I was this guy who had amazing songs people were talking about."

Though green, Shelton quickly proved he had chops. Renowned songwriter Bobby Braddock became his mentor, producing the first Gold album with the No. 1 hit "Austin."

"Blake is a producer's dream come true because he has a total sense of self - he knows who he is and what works for him," Braddock said. "His sense of humor makes studio work less grueling, and he's a consistently good singer with good pitch."

Shelton said working with Braddock was a privilege. 

"Bobby is as important to what I do as me showing up and being there," Shelton said. "He's got totally different ideas, and he's never afraid to try something new.  His influences are a lot different than people realize.  Bobby's heroes were The Beatles, Ray Charles, Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, people like that. And he pulls from all of that when he's writing a song or producing."

Success with his debut, self-titled album and his second album The Dreamer, helped Braddock and Shelton relax for the recording of new album Blake Shelton's Barn & Grill, for which Shelton received a Gold certification plaque on stage at The Coliseum during the 2005 CMA Music Festival. They went for story songs about average folks, in the model of two of Shelton's heroes, Earl Thomas Conley and John Anderson.

"To me, the whole album is just conversations people are having, like you're just sitting in a bar and if you listen to what people are saying around you you'll hear all this stuff," Shelton said. "There's a couple breaking up, old timers telling stories, a guy hitting on a girl - just one night in any bar around the country."

In conceiving this place Shelton envisioned, he and Braddock enlisted a team of Nashville songsmiths including Harley Allen, who wrote "The Bartender," and teamed with Jimmy Melton to pen "When Somebody Knows You That Well," and Paul Overstreet, who with Even Stevens, created the playfully naughty "Cotton Pickin' Time."

Overstreet, another of Shelton's favorites, teamed with Rory Lee Frank to write "Some Beach," another No. 1 hit.

"Growing up, I had all of Paul's albums and was completely obsessed with him," Shelton said. "I used to go to his shows, and stand around the bus."

"Some Beach" is "just a good feeling song," Shelton said. "When I started out, I tried to stay as reserved as I could and didn't really know how to act. But now I've gotten comfortable with what I do, and think people are starting to get me a little bit, so I'm starting to work in more humor because that's a big part of who I am. I love to joke around and laugh, so I'm trying to keep that in the music, too."

Shelton is a country boy at heart, and he retreats regularly to his 800-acre getaway outside of Nashville. An avid hunter, he and his wife enjoy the solitude of the woods. All that is on hold for now while Shelton tours with Rascal Flatts.

Combining Shelton's music with the pop-Country of Rascal Flatts doesn't make sense on paper, but it works, Shelton said.

"When we talked about touring together I told them, 'Man, I'm 180 degrees from you guys,'" Shelton said. "Their point was, that's exactly why we should do it. So now I'm in front of people who probably wouldn't have come out if it had been just me playing, and I'm able to showcase what I'm doing, and maybe win some of those people over. And the fact that we are so different is why this tour is working so well I think."

Occasionally the realization that he's performing in front of more than 10,000 screaming fans a night is a bit startling, Shelton said.

"I haven't been a real consistent artist chart-wise," Shelton said. "I've learned not to count my chickens before they're hatched. But sometimes you just see stuff happening, and that's exciting."   

Good thing Shelton has plenty of room for chickens on that farm.
                     
On the Web: www.blakeshelton.com

2005 CMA Close Up News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.

 

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