LOS ANGELES — Alan Jackson topped the country charts in 1994 with a song that poked gentle fun at all the urban types who, caught up in the country music explosion of that time, had Gone Country.
On April 16, the other boot dropped as Jackson went Hollywood, getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a personal milestone that he celebrated immediately after with a small-scale performance for several dozen fans at the Hotel Café.
Jackson said he could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times in recent years he'd played a club as intimate as the Hotel Café, which at times has fewer people in the audience than Jackson had onstage with him in the form of his eight-piece band.
But bar gigs being a big part of his dues-paying years, he seemed to light up before the small but boisterous crowd, consisting primarily of country radio station contest winners. Many had been flown in by Jackson's record company from as far as Washington state, Arizona, West Virginia and his native Georgia.
Jackson peppered the freewheeling 80-minute set with references to Hollywood and California but never let go of the engaging small-town honesty that has helped to endear him to fans.
Jackson, who plays Rupp Arena on May 23, has kept his 20-years-and-counting hit streak alive and well by tapping an old-school approach to songwriting: drawing subject matter from a real human being's life experience — mostly his own — in contrast to the invented scenarios that inhabit so much of the material emanating from Nashville's songwriting factories.
"Yeah, a lot of it does sound a little contrived," Jackson, 51, had said a day earlier, relaxing on his tour bus shortly before he was scheduled to tape another of several TV appearances.
"A lot of times," he said, "when songwriters get together and write a song ... somebody will come in with a hook, and a lot of times they come out with something that sounds a little crafty. Not that you can't write a great song together with other writers, but sometimes you end up with a song that's not as honest as if you wrote it from your own perspective and experience. ...
"I hear songs now that I thought were really cool when I was young. Then I listen to them now and I think, 'You know what? That really doesn't work.' I guess you outgrow it or something. You get more educated about it."