He didn't know how right he was.
"No Shoes...," the seventh release by the Tennessee-born Chesney, not only topped the Billboard country charts but also debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200, putting him in the rarefied territory of Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks. And there have certainly been "No Problems" since then.
The album has gone on to sell more than three million copies and has launched five hit singles -- "The Good Stuff," "A Lot of Things Different," "Young," "Big Star" and the title track. Chesney scooped up CMT's Flameworthy Male Video Artist of the Year award and took home three Academy of Country Music trophies, including Top Male Vocalist. CMT aired a primetime Chesney special this past weekend; Wednesday, he's teaming with John Mellencamp to tape an installment of CMT's "Crossroads" that will air Oct. 3.
It all seemed to hit him at once at the ACM Awards ceremony in May, when a teary-eyed Chesney stood at the podium for the male vocalist honor.
"Y'know, I've been doing this awhile, 12 years, been down a lot of roads, seen a lot of things," Chesney, 35, recalls from a tour stop in Phoenix. "I've seen a lot of guys that I looked up to who stood in that same spot, and a majority of those guys were on the front row, looking at me winning that award -- (George) Strait and Vince Gill and Alan Jackson.
"For me to be standing in that spot and them watching me, it was an emotional moment for me."
Having spent plenty of time promoting "No Shoes...," Chesney says he fully understands why the album's popularity has endured -- though he hastens to add that he never could have predicted this level of success. But, in the wake of a romantic break-up, he took a year off to hone the album with co-producers Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson, and the effort clearly paid off.
"I felt like it was the first time I've made a record where I could say there was my whole life in basically every song,'" Chesney explains. "You can listen to `No Shoes...' and see what I went through in the three years, personally, since I had my last studio album out. It felt like a lot of me, emotionally, in the record.
"When we got done mixing the record, me and my producers sat in the mastering studio and turned the lights out and cranked it up. Every song I went, `Well, I know why I recorded that.' There were different reasons, a different story, a different emotion for every song. That never happened on an album of mine before."
Now, however, Chesney has to figure out what comes next -- but he's not rushing to decide, either.
"We went in and recorded a few songs," he reports, "and I don't even know if those are gonna make the next record, to be honest with you. We're that early in the creative process. We're not going to have another studio album out, probably, until April of next year."
And even BNA, his record company -- which would surely like to cash in on "No Shoes..." sooner rather than later -- isn't pressuring him to start on his next project.
"They feel like it's a good idea if we take a deep breath before we put the next one out, too," Chesney says. "I'm glad. We've been pushing really hard for two years (on `No Shoes...'). Before we release the next one, we should collectively take a deep breath to re-focus and get ready."
One thing that will be coming out -- on Aug. 19 -- is a cover of the late Waylon Jennings' "Luckenbach, Texas," which Chesney and good pal Kid Rock teamed up on for the Jennings tribute album "I've Always Been Crazy." Chesney describes their rendition as "a little more edgy" than Jennings' original, "but still pretty straightforward."
He also hopes that he and Rock -- with whom Chesney recently vacationed in the Virgin Islands -- will have a chance to collaborate more in the future if the right opportunity came along.
"He's become a really good buddy of mine," Chesney says, "but I wouldn't do it just for the sake of doing it. If we had a song that made sense, then maybe one day we'll do it. I never say never."
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