He can pick it, and he can pick 'em

By Courtney Devores

Special to the Observer

Music CMA Awards Women

Coming this fall from Brad Paisley: an instrumental guitar record.

CMA Awards Show

Brad Paisley can lay claim to many impressive accomplishments.

He's a Grammy-winning performer, a guitar hero who has earned the Academy of Country Music Awards' top male vocalist honors two years running, and a witty songwriter/music-video maker who the Country Music Association Awards named male vocalist of the year in 2007.

Paisley spoke to the Observer on Saturday from Virginia about what to expect from his show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre tonight, his track record for picking future stars as opening acts, and what's on the horizon.

Q. Julianne Hough, of “Dancing With the Stars” fame, said you personally invited her to be on this tour. Are you heavily involved in putting the tour package together?

I'm fairly involved with it. Whoever is out there first, it's a big deal, because your crowd is going to be sitting through that. You want it to be fun for them. And (I try to give newer artists the same) opportunity … I had when I was new. … There's something fun about Julianne, who no one has seen before other than on television as a dancer. She's so good.

Q. Jewel, another one of your openers, is rather new to country. What's her stuff like?

(She bridges) the gap (between) styles. She's performing her new stuff, but she also does her really massive hits like “Foolish Games” and “You Were Meant for Me” – songs you'd hope she would sing. The beauty of that is, you can see how those songs would fit in with the climate of today's country.

You seem to have a knack for picking artists that are going to blow up (other former opening acts include Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift and Kellie Pickler). How do you do it?

I'm not Nostradamus. Anybody could've looked at them and known they were going to be great. I took them out 'cause I liked them. It's the same this time. We put this tour together the first part of the year. It's a bit of a gamble planning so far in advance, when you want to (feature new artists). Julianne didn't have a song out yet. Jewel's record, I hadn't heard yet. Chuck (Wicks) had one single.

Q. What can fans who saw last summer's tour expect this time?

We've redone almost every song with different arrangements, and changed the stuff that's going on behind me.

Q. When did you start infusing so much humor into your songs?

I guess it was in college. I started writing with a couple co-writers. We looked for something a little lighter. Even on serious songs or ballads, there was something about adding a line that made you grin. That evolved over time. I always look for little bits of truth that make you want to nudge the person sitting next to you.

Q. Are you heading back to the studio once the tour wraps in October?

Yep. We'll be in the studio all fall working on the next album. I just finished an album. It's an instrumental guitar record, with a couple songs I sing on. That's going to come out this fall. It's a fun side thing for me to have done called “Play.” It will surprise people. It's not all country. We do everything from jazz guitar to one that's very heavy metal.

Q. Do you think today's music is lacking guitar heroes?

I do. There was a time when every band had a great player. I was watching VH1's “I Love the '80s.” They've got the hair bands on there. They were talking about 1985. There was so much guitar. These days, it's different. There's a lack. I'm doing my part, trying to play as many solos as possible.

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