June 6, 2016
Monday afternoon, Blake Shelton loped onto the CMA Theater stage at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, as a packed house of fans shouted cheers and welcomes.
“I don’t know how this thing’s gonna go,” said Shelton, who has notched seventeen consecutive top-charting country radio hits and who is known to millions as a judge on NBC television show The Voice. This is my very first exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame.”
It went just fine, as Museum Editor Michael McCall moderated a conversation that spanned Shelton’s life in music, punctuated by acoustic performances of hits “Austin,” “Ol’ Red,” “Sangria,” and new single “She’s Got a Way With Words.”
The conversation and performance were an unofficial kick-off to this week’s CMA Music Festival, and a punctuation to the museum’s new exhibit, Blake Shelton: Based on a True Story.
Shelton talked about his arrival in Nashville at age 17, and how a painting job led to a meeting with singer-songwriter Hoyt Axton, who played him “Ol’ Red,” a prison-break ballad that became one of the singer’s most notable early hits. That song was one of three that Shelton recorded on a demo produced by Bobby Braddock, and the demo garnered Shelton a contract with Giant Records.
“I was writing a lot with a guy named Michael Kosser,” Shelton told McCall. “I didn’t know that Michael was good friends with Bobby Braddock. One day, Michael called and said, ‘You know who Bobby Braddock is?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘He wants to have a meeting with you.’”
Braddock, who by then had penned enduring country hits including “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” was trying to find an artist to produce. Kosser had played him recordings of the songs he’d written with Shelton.
“Bobby said, ‘Man, I didn’t like the songs at all, but I loved your voice,’” Shelton recalled.
Throughout the conversation, Shelton was affable, quick-witted, and self-effacing. He joked about his fellow coaches on The Voice, and he admitted that when his longtime friend Trace Adkins heard Shelton’s 2015 hit “Sangria,” he told Shelton it was a terrible song.
“Trace, you sang ‘Brown Chicken Brown Cow,’” Shelton said, referring to Adkins’s 2011 single, for which the burly singer caught some heat from country traditionalists.
Shelton devoted his acoustic version of “Sangria” to Adkins. At the song’s end, he acknowledged the crowd’s applause and said, “Thank you. That’s better than ‘Brown Chicken Brown Cow.’”
Shelton also touched on the process of making current album If I’m Honest, which was created as Shelton moved on from a broken marriage.
“I don’t ever, ever, ever want to go through what I went through to make that album again,” he said. “But looking at the product, what we were able to come up with musically, it got me going again as a writer. I’m so proud that something positive came out of a mess … to end up making what I feel like is my best record.”
Blake Shelton: Based on a True Story includes artifacts such as the memo pad on which Shelton wrote his first song, his first royalty check (for $2.73), and his chair from The Voice. The exhibit runs through November 6, 2016.