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WHY CAN'T ALAN JACKSON WIN THE CMA'S?

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By all objective standards, Alan Jackson is one of Nashville’s miracles. In the last three years, the hard-core country singer, 34, has come out of nowhere to sell 6.6 million copies of his three albums and send 12 consecutive singles to No. 1. The video of his summer hit, ”Chattahoochee,” captured the No. 1 slot on The Nashville Network and Country Music Television. And last year, his tour grossed $12 million-second only to Garth Brooks. So why can’t he win the awards? On Wednesday night, Sept. 29, when CBS broadcasts the Country Music Association’s awards-Nashville’s equivalent of the Oscars-Jackson will be represented by seven nominations, one fewer than Vince Gill. That brings his total CMA nominations since 1990 to 21. But so far the organization has only tossed him a bone-last year’s Music Video of the Year award for ”Midnight in Montgomery.” He has also been up for two Grammys and three American Music awards and gone home empty-handed. What’s the problem? A big reason: He doesn’t kiss butt in a town where half the population walks bent over. ”People don’t always win because they’re the most deserving- not that Garth and Vince aren’t,” says Jackson, sitting in the den of his decidedly un-hillbilly-like home on a 15-acre spread in a development catty Nashvillians like to call ”Spendwood.” Things are a bit hectic in the house on this late-August morning. Jackson’s wife of 13 years, Denise, has just given birth to Alexandra Jane, new sister to Mattie, 3. ”The record company tries to make me politic, and I hate it,” he goes on. ”If I was friends of the people at the CMA, or whoever the voters are, if I hung out with ’em normally, that would be different.” It’s not as if Jackson’s music doesn’t deserve to win on its own. Like the songs on his latest double-platinum album, A Lot About Livin’ (And a Little ‘Bout Love), his stuff is the truest old-style country on the radio. Three- minute novels like ”Here in the Real World” and ”Chattahoochee” stand as paradigms of solid songwriting. He also scores high on the heartthrob index with 13-year-old girls, a previously untapped market Nashville both worships and snipes at. And parents insist their toddlers know the words to ”Don’t Rock the Jukebox.” ”I think the kids see that cowboy hat,” he says, ”and think of me as a cartoon character.” That’s the last way Jackson wants to be perceived by his peers. He feels as authentic as his ’57 Bel Air convertible and ’58 Harley-Davidson. And if Jackson is failing to sell his authenticity, say some Music City insiders, put the blame on Barry Coburn, his manager. Coburn’s strategy of turning down most TV invitations-everything from Donahue to hosting the Easter Seals telethon- makes Jackson seem aloof. ”I think Coburn makes dumb moves once in a while,” says a Nashville publicist. ”Sometimes he discourages Alan from mixing with other performers at events. It makes Alan look like he’s pulling a star trip, and it doesn’t endear him to anybody.” ”I never wanted to compromise Alan’s credibility,” Coburn says. ”We wanted a long, steady career. And with Alan, the emphasis was always on the music, rather than the stardom.” What’s curious is that Jackson’s background is casting-perfect country: born in tiny Newnan, Ga., the son of a mechanic and a dietitian. Worked as a grease monkey, sold new Fords, drove a forklift at the Kmart warehouse. His musical route was less typical: sang in a barbershop quartet as a teen and didn’t start writing songs until he was 24. Moving to Nashville at 25, it took him nearly five years to get a record deal-one label exec told him he didn’t have star quality. When he did sign in 1989, he made the risky choice of becoming the first country act for Arista, a label with no clout in Nashville at that time. ”On award shows, a lot of times, whichever label can pull in the most votes seems to win,” says Jackson. ”Your music ought to be able to stand for itself, without your having to feel cheap to get people to vote for you. But it doesn’t always happen. So I may never win. Last year, when I won the video award, I felt like Hank Williams Jr.-he won video before he ever won anything big. He said, ‘I make a little audio, too, you know.”’ On Sept. 29, Jackson gets another chance to prove he makes both.

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