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At the bar and grill, Blake Shelton dishes it out

By Jeffrey B. Remz, January 2005

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The list contained other people's hits and "songs I wish I could have recorded. What we saw was a lot of songs that could have been in a bar or about drinking, things like 'It's Been a Great Afternoon' by Merle Haggard or the 'King is Gone (So Are You)' by George Jones. There's a bigger picture in all of them. There's a reason that they've been driven to do that."

There is no doubt "The Bartender" adheres to the drinking theme. In the sad sounding song written by Harley Allen, the bartender identifies patrons by the drink they have.

Shelton also incorporates drinking into "On a Good Day," which he wrote with Tony Martin and Tom Shapiro about three years ago.

"I had loved the song," says Shelton. "I just didn't know what to do with it. As we were picking songs, I came across that. It kind of lit me up. That's right down the middle of what we're trying to do. It was even more of a situation that I was the writer on it. It just fit with the attitude (of the CD)."

And if listeners haven't quite gotten the beer joint thing down pat, the album closes with "I Drink" by singer Mary Gauthier and Crit Harmon.

"I still think there's something in her version that we weren't able to capture," says Shelton of Gauthier, who put out several of her own albums in recent years and now is on Lost Highway. "You can tell that's her life. It's about herself, and it's hard to replace that attitude. It's hard to hear that song for me and be sad because the hook is so funny, the way she lays out - this is just a matter of fact, the way she put it 'fish swim, birds fly...' I've never heard anyone put it in words like that. She really nailed the hook. Yet it's so simple at the same time."

Shelton turns in a strong, piano-driven ballad "Goodbye Time," a 1988 hit for Conway Twitty. "The first time I heard that I was watching 'Life and Times' on TNN when TNN used to be the Nashville Network. At the end of the show, they were running the credits, and they showed Conway singing the song live. It just fascinated me. I'd never heard him sing with at much emotion before. I found a copy of the song and kept it for six or seven years and not sure why."

Until now.

"We all knew it was something we needed to do," he says.

Shelton, 28, grew up in Ada, a small town in south central Oklahoma, but he can't blame his family for getting him into music. "Nobody in my family was really into music," he says. "I had an uncle by marriage that plays guitar, and he's the one who taught me some chords, and he kind of started with guitar. I was always really fascinated by it. When I had an album, I'd read who the musicians were and the writers."

Shelton started singing when he was a wee lad of about seven. His mother entered him in singing contest. "I did some country songs or Bob Seger. That was way before karaoke tapes. I sang whatever we had around he house."

By 15, Shelton tried writing his own songs. "By then, I knew the music was more than who I was and what I wanted to do. I was writing some country songs, and they were real traditional too. Being 15, they were three-chord songs with real traditional melodies. That's naturally what I was coming up with. No doubt that was what I was meant to be doing."

"All I knew was that I loved to hunt and fish and listen to my records and figure them out on my guitar. That was about the only thing I would have been interested in."

Shelton self-admittedly wasn't much of a student.

By 15, he already had played the local version of the Opry, the McSwain Theatre with capacity 600.

At 17, Shelton was off to Nashville. "They supported my move because they knew I wasn't going to go to college,' says Shelton of his parents. "It was the only thing I was serious about. I think they figured they'd better support whatever else I was interested in or what was I going to do with my life. They knew I was serious. They knew I wasn't just goofing around."

Shelton hooked up with Braddock (he wrote "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E") through a Nashville songwriter friend. Braddock apparently was looking for someone to produce, but it took about a year to get the ball rolling.

Soon enough Shelton had a deal with Giant Records and a big hit with his first single.

One would think that Shelton would be on top of the world. But a funny thing happened on the way to the top - Giant Records folded.

Warner Brothers, which had been under the same musical umbrella, picked up Shelton's debut.

"I was very concerned about it. The only reason they picked up the album was because 'Austin' had been shipped to radio. They had nothing to lose at that point and put a little promotion behind it."

And a little bit apparently went a very very long way. "I don't think anybody saw that coming including myself," says Shelton of the big hit. "It was just a matter of a song created enough buzz out there that it became it's own animal and just kind of took over."

Shelton has been developing, searching for his own musical identity to an extent with "Bar & Grill" being his most country sounding album, perhaps not quite as glossy as its two predecessors.

"I just now feel I know musically what I'm wanting to do. That's basically being a country artist that sings about real life. In the first album, the first two, had a little more of a pop flair to it. I've always been pretty pretty country. This album, I let myself be who I am musically. That's what ended up coming through, a real hard core country album."

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