Alan Jackson is always ready for a creative thunderbolt to strike. "I write wherever I happen to be," says the 49-year-old singer. "A lot of times I think of ideas when my mind is still, just laying in bed or walking or driving a car." For "Small Town Southern Man," the first single from Jackson's upcoming, yet-untitled album, inspiration hit while he was sitting in the study of his home in Williamson County, Tenn., and he started jotting words down on an old e-mail from his mechanic. "Every year I get this leather-bound notebook and I'll be like, 'I'm gonna write everything in this book,'" he says. "Next thing I know, I don't know where it's at and I just take whatever's there." Jackson started with the title words as his hook, and 30 minutes later he'd fleshed out the entire song, which turned out to be a tribute of sorts to his father, who died in 2000. "Some of it does mirror his life," says Jackson. "He was a hardworking man and he gave all his time to his family. I knew right off that it was a good song—I loved it."

Jackson rewrote the second line of the chorus from "he proudly served Uncle Sam" to "he stood for Uncle Sam." "'Stood for' has two different meanings: You stand up for a flag and you stand up as a soldier in war too," he says.

"The first verse is the hardest thing to write," says Jackson. "It's hard to find the right way to open a song. The other verses go a little better."

The last verse is based on Jackson's final moments with his dad, Eugene. "He was on his deathbed and we were all there singing hymns and my sister finally told him, 'Daddy, Mama's all right. We're going to take care of her. Just go home.' And a minute later, he went home. It was sad but sweet."

SMALL TOWN SOUTHERN MAN

Born the middle son of a farmer and A small town southern man Like his daddy's daddy before him brought up workin' on the land Fell in love with a small town woman and they married up and settled down Natural way of life if you're lucky for A small town southern man

First there came four pretty daughters for this small town southern man. Then a few years later came another, little boy he wasn't planned Seven people livin' all together in a house built with his own hands Little words with love and understanding from a small town southern man

CHORUS

And he bowed his head to Jesus And he stood for Uncle Sam And he only loved one woman Was always proud of what he had He said his greatest contribution is the ones he'll leave behind Raised on the ways and gentle kindness of a small town southern man

Calloused hands told the story for this small town southern man He gave it all to keep it all together and keep his family on his land Like his daddy, years wore out his body made it hard just to walk or stand. You can break the back but you can't break the spirit of a small town southern man

Finally death came calling for The small town southern man He said it's alright 'cause I see angels and they got me by the hand don't you cry, and don't you worry I'm blessed and I know I am 'cause God has a place in heaven for a small town southern man