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The Paisley Patterns

Brad Paisley Is at the Top of the Country Music World, writing songs and smoking cigars
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Brad Paisley, March/April 2012

(continued from page 1)

“He asked me about cartoons—about how they do the animation on ‘South Park,’ ” recalls Scott Scovil, owner of Moo TV, which handles Paisley’s video production on tour. “I said, ‘Well, there’s software called Toon Boom, but it takes some training,’ and he says, ‘Toon Boom. Got it,’ and hangs up. And a few days later, I show up at rehearsal and he says, ‘Hey, you’ve got to see what I did. I made this little cartoon about me and the band.’ And he’d made an animated four-minute cartoon—except it went from one screen to the other, so he’d actually made TWO four-minute cartoons that fit together.”

“The first time I tried a cartoon, it looked bad, but it was campy and cool—and the audience just erupted,” Paisley says. “It turned the audience into a bunch of kids on Saturday morning. Since then, every tour I’ve done something new like that.”
He has his finger on every facet of the concert presentation, using rehearsals to tweak the visuals and spitball new ideas. He’s hands-on about the in-concert video—and about the band’s music videos, getting intricately involved with the conception, execution and editing.

“I like the process of controlling what’s going on behind me,” Paisley says. “Editing is a big part of the touring process. Some of the clips we show I might have edited myself on Final Cut Pro. With the music videos, I tend to go in with the editors and have a big hand in what we end up with. It’s as much of a creative outlet as anything else. I like it when somebody shows up for one of my shows and sees something new. You want them to be blown away because there’s so much more to the show than they expected.”

“People would be surprised at what an amazing editor this dude is,” says Bill Simmons, Paisley’s manager. “There have been two or three videos where I thought, ‘This is awful,’ until Brad got into the editing room. He’s a true renaissance man.”

Ask Paisley to describe himself, however, and he says, “I think of myself as a guitar player, first and foremost. My job description is songwriter. That’s why I’m hired to do what I do. I happen to sing—and I get to play guitar. But I was hired by the fans to write and sing those songs.

“I’ve had 25 or 30 singles. You take those and replace them with another 30 songs and I’m a failure. So it’s not about me—being me isn’t my job. My job is to write songs. If you start thinking that the people are there to see you wear your jeans tight onstage, well, they’re not there to see that. If I hadn’t had a hit with my records, I’d still be a songwriter and a guitar player. I think I could have made a living playing, whether it was in the studio or in someone else’s band.”

In his best-selling memoir, Diary of a Player: How My Musical Heroes Made a Guitar Man Out of Me (Howard Books/Simon & Schuster, 2011), Paisley reminisces affectionately about his first guitar—a Sears Silvertone, with the amplifier built into the case, given to him for Christmas 1980 by his grandfather, whose instrument it had been. That guitar currently sits next to one of his signature paisley-decorated electric models in a display case in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.

“Truth be told, this may not have been the best first guitar choice for an eight-year-old kid,” Paisley writes. “At the time, that made no difference whatsoever—I quickly plugged it in and tried my little hands at playing it, thrilled to make some kind of noise of my own…From my perspective, a guitar is the most life-changing machine there is and offers the greatest return on investment you can get.”

Paisley grew up in Glen Dale, West Virginia, near Wheeling, where his father worked for the state’s Department of Transportation and his mother was a teacher. After getting that first guitar, he began taking lessons—and wrote his first song when he was 12, “Born on Christmas Day” (which was included on his 2006 album, “Brad Paisley Christmas,” in a mix that included samples from a recording made when he was 13).

The young Brad began performing at local Rotary lunches and church functions, leading a band, Brad Paisley and the C-Notes, that included his guitar teacher, Hank Goddard, and several other players—all his grandfather’s age. The host of a Wheeling radio show, “Jamboree USA,” heard him play and invited him to play on the program—and he became a regular fixture on the regional broadcast, playing with the big names in country music on a weekly basis as a teen.

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