With five platinum albums, 12 No. 1 hits and two Country Music Association awards to his name, it’s hard to imagine any record label would drop Jason Aldean.
Yet that’s exactly what happened 13 years ago.
Now the 36-year-old country rock superstar is on tour for his fifth record, “Night Train,” and he stops at Wheatland’s Sleep Train Amphitheatre tonight.
Aldean’s tale of success is one of perseverance. He moved to Nashville at age 21 and got signed to a major label, but he sat idly for a couple of years. Then he got dropped, depleted his bank account, and just weeks before he was ready to give up, he signed with independent label Broken Bow. He released his eponymous named debut album in 2005, his career took off and it has yet to settle down.
It’s been a good year for Aldean so far. He nailed his third consecutive Country Music Association Award nomination for Entertainer of the Year, and his current single “Night Train” climbed to the top of the charts. His spring show at Madison Square Garden sold out in less than 10 minutes, and his two summer concerts at Boston’s Fenway Park broke records for attendance (and beer sales).
But how much do you really know about Aldean? In honor of tonight’s concert, here are 12 essential facts:
• He grew up on the outskirts of Macon, Ga. Accordingly, he’s a huge Georgia Bulldogs and Atlanta Braves fan.
• Aldean played baseball in high school, and he was good – good enough for a college baseball scholarship. But school just wasn’t Aldean’s thing. “I just couldn’t see going to school for four more years,” he has said. “It was hard enough to get out of high school.”
• Aldean’s real name is not Aldean. It’s Jason Aldine Williams, but he decided “Jason Williams” sounded too common. And it was pretty common. At least in the NBA. At the start of Aldean’s music career, three professional basketball players shared the name (including the Kings’ beloved former point guard – Go 55!).
• Aldean pushes boundaries on a genre that reveres tradition. His song “Dirt Road Anthem” notably bridged country and rap into a Southern mash-up style recognized for its uniqueness. Another track, “Black Tears,” an empathetic look into the troubled life of a stripper, also lands outside usual pop-country conventions.
• Speaking of conventions, Aldean’s first car was a 1985 Toyota pickup, which he purchased when he was 16 years old. Picture the vehicle next time the nostalgic “Dirt Road Anthem” is playing: “Back in the day Potts farm was the place to go / Load the truck up, hit the dirt road.”
• Aldean loves hunting deer. The sport is important enough to him that he schedules his tours around hunting season. He’s also part owner of Buck Commander, a company that produces hunting videos and gear. And what gear does Aldean favor? Here’s a giveaway: He bought little pink hunting bows for his two young daughters.
• He’s been known to collaborate. His hit “Don’t You Wanna Stay Here” features Kelly Clarkson, “The Only Way I Know” includes Eric Church and Luke Bryan, and at the 2011 CMT Awards he performed “Dirt Road Anthem” alongside rapper Ludacris.
• Aldean says he doesn’t dance, but he will karaoke.
• His first major celebrity crush was Alyssa Milano from ’80s sitcom “Who’s the Boss?”
• He’s a fan of the silver screen and seems to favor the sentimental. He admits to enjoying “The Notebook,” though it can’t compare to his favorite “Field of Dreams.” Aldean is also an actor, making his big-screen debut in “Sweetwater,” a Western revenge tale starring January Jones (“Mad Men”), Ed Harris (“Pollock”) and Jason Isaacs (the “Harry Potter” series). The film, which played at January’s Sundance Film Festival, arrives in select theaters today and already is available On Demand.
• No Levis for this guy. Aldean wears classic Wrangler blue jeans.
• On Tuesday, Aldean releases “Night Train to Georgia,” a live concert film shot in April at the University of Georgia’s football stadium packed with a crowd of 66,000. For Sacramento fans who can’t make it to Sleep Train tonight, consider it the next best alternative.