“A champion is simply someone who did not give up when they wanted to.” Tom Landry

1989 – Nashville, Tennessee: Alan came home from his gig at the bar later than usual. Denise had waited up for him. He was discouraged. Despite his efforts to have family and friends call radio stations across the country to request his song, Blue-Blooded Woman, it wasn’t the chart-topper he had hoped for.

Alan felt like he had paid his dues in the Music City. He had spent four long years chasing his dream to be a country singer. “Denise, I’m not sure it is meant to be,” Alan shook his head. “Maybe it’s time to go home to Georgia. I’ll get a job working with Daddy as a mechanic.” Denise tried to encourage him,” No, Alan, we said we would give it five years.” Then Denise shared her news, “We’re pregnant.”

Alan Jackson grew up in Newnan, Georgia, in a small house with four older sisters. His father was an auto mechanic. As a child, Alan’s only exposure to music was occasionally singing in the church choir. He wasn’t interested in music until after high school when a friend introduced him to the music of country star Hank Williams. Country music and playing the guitar became his passion. While driving a forklift for K-Mart, he started playing in a small country band.

Alan met Denise at a Dairy Queen after church in 1976. They were married three years later. While he worked at K-Mart, Denise earned a degree in elementary education. She taught school for two years before quitting to become a flight attendant.

In 1985, they borrowed money from his father, loaded their stuff in a U-Haul trailer and moved to Nashville. Alan planned to pursue a full-time country music career. They agreed to move back home if Alan had not made it big in five years. Denise worked as a flight attendant for Piedmont Airlines while Alan played Nashville nightclubs and worked in the mailroom at the Nashville Network to help pay the bills.

Record producers weren’t interested in Alan’s demo tapes. Several turned him down twice and a few others quit returning his calls. One prominent recording studio suggested that he go back to Georgia. In 1989, Alan was close to giving up on his dream when he got his big break.

Denise bumped into country music star Glen Campbell in the Atlanta Airport. Usually shy, she told Campbell about Alan and asked if he could send him a music demo. Campbell gave her the phone number of his agent, Barry Coburn. A few days later, Jackson was in Coburn’s office at Arista Records. Alan sang several songs of other country singers. Coburn wasn’t impressed.

“Do you have any songs of your own?” Coburn inquired. Alan went to his old truck and brought in a couple of his cassette tapes. He sang Here in the Real World and a song that Coburn really liked, Chasing that Neon Rainbow. Coburn had found a star in the tall, guitar-playing young man with a country twang.

In February 1990, Alan Jackson’s first album, Here in the Real World, was released. It included four hit singles, including Chasing that Neon Rainbow, which went to No. 2 on the country charts. The song chronicles Alan’s music struggles in Nashville. The album sold two million copies and launched the singer’s career.

In his 40-year career, Alan Jackson has sold more than 80 million albums and had 35 number one hits. He is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Song Writers Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry.

Alan and Denise never moved back to Newnan, but their hometown didn’t forget about them. In 2004, a five-mile stretch of Interstate 85 through Newnan was renamed the ‘Alan Jackson Highway’ in the singer’s honor. After learning of the honor, Jackson quipped, “Newnan was a great place to grow up. I’m not sure I’m quite qualified for an interstate – an old dirt road might have been more appropriate.”

“I was too ignorant to know just how difficult it was to break into the music business,” Alan says of his career. “The more I got rejected, the more determined it made me to prove them wrong. The negative things gave me time to grow and figure things out. It worked out for the better.”