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Singer Mark Chesnutt keeps things traditional on his latest album (Includes interview)

Mark Chesnutt was born in Beaumont, Texas in 1963. His traditional leanings saw him rack up hit after hit on the country charts in the early 1990s – stone cold classics like “Too Cold At Home,” “Brother Jukebox,” “Your Love Is a Miracle” and “Bubba Shot the Jukebox.”

A dedicated performer who remains a popular live draw (he plays up to 175 dates a year), Chesnutt also earned one Gold album, four Platinum albums and various award nominations while at his commercial peak.

Tradition Lives, the artist’s 15th studio album, hit the shelves on July 8 and is his first LP of new material since 2008’s Rollin’ with the Flow (Outlaw from 2010 was a covers album).

One of a number of positive reviews came from Matt Bjorke, editor of Roughstock, who wrote: “The album is probably the best, or at least on par with his debut Too Cold At Home and mid-career Savin’ the Honky Tonk, in his long career.”

Hi Mark, I understand you recently appeared on Tracy Lawrence’s radio show, Honky Tonkin’ with Tracy Lawrence?

“Yeah well that was a lot fun – it was good to see my old touring buddy. We’ve been friends for 26 years. He does a great job and we could talk for hours and hours.”

Please could you tell me about Tradition Lives. Where did the title come from? Was it a statement of intent?

“The title ‘Tradition Lives’ is basically just what the album is all about. It’s traditional country music. We wanted to make sure we let everybody know we are still making the same kind of music we’ve made for 25 years.

“I’m not chasing radio or following trends – I am doing what I do best. The title came before the album was ever recorded. I’ve never been a bro-country singer. I’ve always been a traditionalist and wanted to make a point that this was traditional music.”

Do you think traditional country is making a bit of a comeback?

“I don’t know if it’s making a comeback or not, but I know there’s still a lot of people who love that kind of music and I’m going to give it to them.”

It’s been six years since your last album and eight years since your last CD of original material. Why has it taken so long to release a new record?

“I didn’t have an outlet for it – I didn’t have a record deal. When my producer, Jimmy Ritchey, started this new label, Row Entertainment, it was what I’d been waiting on. Jimmy started this label because he wanted us to do a new album, and he came to town to record real country music.

“He had produced several of my albums for independent labels and he knew the only way to make a good album was to make his own label and make the calls. I was able to record without pressure from executives. I picked all the songs myself without any influence in any direction.

“With my touring schedule being so busy, it was hard to find time to get in the studio. We wanted to take time to make it the best album I’ve ever done, and I think we did that.”

“Oughta Miss Me by Now” is the first single. Which of the other tracks might be released as singles? Which of the tunes on the album particularly stand out for you?

“I picked every one of those songs because they meant something to me. We weren’t necessarily looking for single potential or airplay. I recorded this album for the fans who have been asking for it for so many years. If any of these songs get picked up by radio, then great.

“I hope they do get played on radio. Any of them would be fine with me as singles – that’s the beauty of being able to pick your own songs.”

You mention Merle Haggard on “Neither Did I” and the bonus track, “There Won’t Be Another Now,” is also about him. What are your fondest memories of the Hag?

“The best memory of Hag for me was when he invited us out to his ranch in Redding, California. Tracy Lawrence, Joe Diffie and me were on the Rockin’ Roadhouse Tour and had come in a day early. He invited us out since we had a day off. He and his band were rehearsing to go back out on the road. We rented a van and I drove out there. We visited and they rehearsed in the studio.

“We got a free up close and personal Merle Haggard concert, which I still can’t believe happened. It is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced. We would listen to them play, drink beer and talk, then take breaks and go outside and talk more about music, fishing and hunting. We had the best time.

“He had an ATV and said later we could take a ride around and he would show us the ranch. We didn’t get to do that because they were playing so late. He looked like he was getting tired and I didn’t want to wear out my welcome. If I had had a few more beers, I would have maybe stuck around longer. His place was beautiful.”

You have a new series on YouTube entitled Mark Chesnutt’s Honky Tonk Monday. How did that come about? What can we expect from upcoming episodes?

“The guy that runs my website and is in charge of my social media came up with that. He came over and we recorded some things. I’ve been so busy since the album came out and have been doing so many shows, we haven’t had much time to film anymore. I don’t know how long it will last, but it’s been fun.”

In it, you talk about your memories of certain singers. Which artists have had the biggest influence on you and your career?

“There are several. There’s a whole lot of singers, and not just country. Elvis Presley, Hank Williams Sr., Hank Williams Jr., Merle Haggard and of course George Jones. Waylon and Willie too. It’s a tight race between George Jones and Merle Haggard.

“Merle was the backbone of country music and George was the soul. We had to have those two guys or country music wouldn’t have been what it was. George Jones is so influential because I think country singers are basically blues singers and soul singers.

“He was more of that than a poet. Merle was a poet and George was an interpreter. Since I’m not a songwriter like Merle, I’d have to say it was George Jones that influenced my singing style.”

What are your plans for the rest of 2016 and beyond? Do you have any ambitions still left to fulfill?

“I’m just gonna keep touring and doing what I’m doing. I haven’t stopped in 26 years and I’m gonna keep going and hopefully in a few more years have another new album out.”

Tradition Lives is out now.

For more information on Mark Chesnutt, visit his official website.

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