Thursday, August 13, 2009

'Spare Time Is Our Major Export'

Mac McAnallyMac McAnally via

A few months ago in what was my second post on this then newly created blog, I wrote of Mac McAnally's impending return via Toby Keith's Show Dog Nashville. Now Mac's album, "Down By The River," a wonderful set worthy of your attention, is finally out.

I recently talked to Mac for a story that runs in Billboard this week and found him as funny and self-deprecating as I had remembered him to be. “I’m going against my nature,” he said right off the bat. “I’m talking about myself today and I’m in New York City.

“I’ve actually gotten to where I like New York, but it took me a few decades,” he quickly added. “As cities go it’s a great city, but as a small town boy it just scared me to death for the first 25 years or so.”

The 52-year-old Mississippian was in New York to do press for the album and to produce some tracks with his longtime employer and friend Jimmy Buffett, who apparently has a home in New York. Who knew?

When I asked him about his first No. 1 single as an artist, which came earlier this year via his collaboration with Kenny Chesney on "Down The Road," he was typically humble. “Kenny drug me up the charts like an ankle weight," he said with a laugh. "That’s how big a star he is. He’s able to get there with me riding his back."

Mac's best individual chart performance as an artist was 1990’s “Back Where I Come From,” which reached No. 14 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs that year. Chesney also cut that song on 1996's "Me And You" and it became a concert favorite.

The album that both those songs came from was 1990's "Simple Life" on Warner Bros. Ten of the 11 songs on that collection have been cut by other artists, Mac told me.

While it's a shame that Mac hasn't had more hits as an artist, he has scored six No. 1s as a writer, no thanks to his lack of ability as a pitchman. "A couple of my buddies say that the only way they’re going to get one of my songs is to break into my car and steal them," he says. "I’m not good at pitching."

My favorite Mac story is how he told his family that he writes songs in his sleep, so it's best not to wake him during his afternoon naps for fear of interrupting the creation of a potential hit.

He swears it's true. "I’m such a stickler for telling the truth that I did write some songs in my sleep so that it wouldn’t be a made up story," he says. "For a Mississippian, where spare time is our major export and laziness is appreciated as an art form—I’ve actually written a few chart songs in my sleep—the fact that I’ve done so has lent enough validity to buy off all the rest of the naps I’ve needed to take between then and now and justify them as work."

I'm a fan of his work and I believe him. And henceforth I'll do my best to follow his foot, er, nap steps. Read quietly, I may be creating a masterpiece.

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