With his Van Halen-caliber guitar skills, Brad Paisley — up for five trophies at Wednesday's 41st Annual CMA Awards (airing at 8 pm/ET on ABC) — could easily have forged a career as a rock star. Fortunately for fans of his down-home, heartfelt and often humorous songs, the 35-year-old West Virginia native chose the country road. Or, as he admits, it chose him. "Country is a very big form of music where I'm from," he says. "If you want to play live music in that area, you play country." And Paisley really wanted to play.
But now that he's a full-fledged cowboy-hatted star, does he ever feel the urge to spend some of that fame capital by rocking out? Maybe adopt an alter ego like Garth Brooks' infamously eyelinered goth rocker Chris Gaines? "That's all right," Paisley says, laughing. "I know that was a huge success for Garth, but it's a lot of fun being me right now."
Who could argue with that? With his hit CD 5th Gear riding the charts, a successful tour under way and a new baby with his wife, According to Jim costar Kimberly Williams-Paisley, the country prince is having a banner year. The CMA nominations might very well continue the streak.
But even a shutout on Wednesday (unlikely as that is) couldn't sully Paisley's year. In February, he and Kimberly welcomed son Will. It's the first child for the Nashville singer and the Hollywood actress, who work around Kimberly's taping schedule and Brad's touring by splitting their time between homes in Tennessee and California.
"Brad and I make sure we're not apart for long," Kimberly says. "It's a juggling act, but once the schedules are in place, it's kind of a fun ride. This way of life has always worked for us."
And it turns out Paisley's grueling road-warrior lifestyle has some unintended benefits for a new dad. "I catch up on sleep," Paisley says. "Will likes to get up at six in the morning. So those days when I can get on that tour bus and let it go down the road are almost like being on a yacht."
Joking aside, it must be difficult to leave home when a new baby's sleeping there. "It certainly is harder," Paisley concedes. "But at the same time, I usually only work three days a week out on the road. I see my kid more than people with day jobs."
When he's home, a typical day for father and son often includes rides around their Tennessee estate on Paisley's Kawasaki Mule (picture a rugged golf cart). "I'll strap him onto me and we'll go down to the other house on the property or drive up to the horses and feed them some apples," he says. "It's the greatest thing in the world to be up early and have a little boy."
This sensitive side of Paisley is hardly unknown to fans, but more casual listeners might be better acquainted with the wry humor of a singer-songwriter who's had hits about a man who chooses fishing over his wife ("I'm Gonna Miss Her") and the pleasures of inspecting a lover for blood-sucking parasites ("Ticks"). "If it weren't for that hook, ‘Ticks' would be just another song about a guy trying to pick up a girl," he says.
Paisley's videos are some of the funniest in country. His latest, for the 5th Gear single "Online," topped the iTunes sales chart in its first week of release (the first country video ever to do so) and scored a 2007 CMA Music Video of the Year nomination for director Jason Alexander, who also stars as a nerdy guy living a fantasy life on the Internet. Alexander struck up a friendship with the country singer when the Seinfeld alum appeared in Paisley's Hollywood-skewering video "Celebrity," which cast William Shatner as an abusive reality-contest judge. Shatner appears in "Online" along with Patrick Warburton, Estelle Harris and Maureen McCormick.
"It was a very painful experience," Shatner jokes. "Everybody around me was sucking up — to Brad." Adds Alexander, "We're sorta like the Brad Paisley rep company at this point."
Paisley may be calling on other famous friends for his next record, an instrumental CD due next year. "I may sing a song on it, maybe a duet with one of my guitar heroes. I've always wanted to work with Eric Clapton, but I'm sure he doesn't even know who I am."
Paisley must be joking.
Check out more on country superstar Brad Paisley in our Online Video Guide.
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