Brad Paisley is a witty guy. His fans expected him to show off his humorous side in 2008 when the singing star, well known for his tongue-in-cheek chart-toppers such as “I’m Gonna Miss Her “The Fishin’ Song),” about choosing fishing lures over love, and “Ticks,” an ode to getting frisky in the woods, was selected as the co-host of the annual CMA Awards telecast.
But back then, some questioned Paisley’s pairing with “American Idol” winner and then-rising country star Carrie Underwood. They knew he was funny, but was she?
“People think that a beautiful woman isn’t supposed to be funny,” says Paisley, 41, who’ll take the stage with Underwood for the sixth consecutive time to co-host “The 47th Annual CMA Awards” Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. Central on ABC. “It’s not fair, but it’s true. And Carrie isn’t really known for funny songs. But she’s hilarious. It didn’t take long for people to see that.”
According to Kix Brooks, who hosted the CMA Awards with former partner Ronnie Dunn from 2004 to 2006, “Brad and Carrie’s chemistry is awesome. You can’t buy that. They both have that dry humor. When they do something outrageous, it’s really a surprise.”
An early start
Paisley grew up in Glen Dale, West Virginia, the only child of Doug, a Department of Transportation worker, and Sandy Paisley, a teacher. His grandfather, Warren Jarvis, bought him his first Sears guitar when he was eight. At age 12, he’d written his first song, and by 14, he’d formed a band, The C-notes, and was a regular performer on “Jamboree USA,” the Wheeling, West Virginia-based country radio show, where he opened for the Judds, Ricky Skaggs, and his hero, George Jones.
After high school, Paisley spent two years at West Virginia’s West Liberty State College, before transferring to Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue his dream of a music career. After graduation, he signed a songwriting contract with a Music Row publishing company and made his mark when a young singer, David Kersh, hit the Top 5 with one of his songs, “Another You.”
In 1999, Arista Records released his first album, “Who Needs Pictures,” and Paisley scored his first of 14 (and counting) No.1 hits with “He Didn’t Have to Be.”
Fourteen years later, he’s brought home 14 CMA Awards, including an Entertainer of the Year Award trophy. Besides being touted as one of the best guitar players ever, Paisley is known for being one of contemporary country music’s foremost bearers of the torch for traditional country, and for his numerous collaborations.
He collected CMA Musical Event of the Year trophies for “Whiskey Lullaby” (with Allison Krauss, 2004), “When I Get Where I’m Going” (with Dolly Parton, 2006), and “Start a Band” (with Keith Urban, 2009). He also claimed the 2001 Vocal Event of the Year prize for another team effort, “Too Country,” with Bill Anderson, George Jones and Buck Owens. And he won the CMA’s Music Video of the Year three times, partly due to the recruiting of surprise guest stars including TV icon Andy Griffith, who appeared in 2008’s winner, “Waitin’ on a Woman.”
How does Paisley get all these accomplished folks to join him for his projects?
“He asks,” says his longtime friend and frequent songwriting partner Kelley Lovelace. “There’s nothing Brad has gone after that he hasn’t been able to make happen.”
Coming up: a movie
Paisley’s latest and biggest challenge to date is making a movie inspired by his new single, “I Can’t Change the World.”
“That’s the goal,” he says. “Not a video, not a TV movie, but a two-hour feature. We’ll be filming into next year. This is the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done.”
Paisley describes the film project, which he is writing and directing, as the story of people who have to figure out how to make the world a better place.
“It involves some real life situations,” he says. “In September, we went to Haiti to film a group from Live Beyond, a Nashville-based charity, installing water systems. They’re doing great things in an area where there is a lot of need.”
Paisley has a small role in the film, which is still being cast.
“I’m the brother of the main character,” he says. “My lines will be easy. ‘Hey, bro,’ or ‘Whatever you say, bro.’”
A bigger role is planned for Paisley’s wife, actress Kimberly Williams, 42, who has made her name in movies such as “Father of the Bride,” and TV shows including “According to Jim” and “Nashville.”
“Well, she sleeps with the director,” he says with a laugh. “How could I not give her a part?”
‘His mind never stops’
Making movies, touring, writing songs, recording, and hosting award shows would be too much for most people.
“He is not a lazy guy,” Lovelace says. “He is always working, always thinking. His mind never stops.”
Lovelace, who lives in Franklin, Tennessee, on a five-acre parcel of the 85-acre farm Paisley shares with Williams and their two sons, William Huckleberry (“Huck”), 6, and Jasper Warren, 4, says he’ll often look outside late at night and see Paisley burning the midnight oil in his home studio, where he produced and recorded his recent album, “Wheelhouse.”
“He’s a tinkerer,” says Lovelace. “Work—music—is his hobby. He just loves working on stuff. No one can outwork him.”
As focused as he is, Paisley often allows his kids to play nearby when he’s fine-tuning songs in the studio. It’s also not unusual to see him driving a four-wheeler on the roads lining his property, with his young sons and fishing rods in tow.
“We try to make them feel as normal as possible,” Paisley says. “That’s why we mostly stay in Nashville. It’s a great place to raise kids.”
To be sure, Huck and Jasper be watching Dad on awards night—for a while, anyway.
“It’s fun to know they’re home watching,” Paisley says. “At least they’ll watch the first hour—then they’ll go to bed.”