After getting his first guitar from his grandfather at 8 and writing his first song by 12, Paisley, 14, is a regular on "Jamboree USA," a country radio show in Wheeling, W.Va. "Doing the Jamboree is the thing that made me who I am," Paisley tells the AP in 1999. "It gave me a sense of entertainment value for a show as opposed to just wanting to sing and trying to imitate people." It also helped boost the self-esteem of a painfully shy Paisley, who later tells the Washington Post that he looked "semi-mulleted and malnourished" as a teenager.
Paisley spends two years at West Liberty State College before transferring to Nashville's Belmont University, where he lands internships at ASCAP and Atlantic Records. A week after graduating from Belmont in 1995, Paisley lands a songwriting deal with EMI Publishing. He quickly scores a hit – and royalties – from David Kersch's recording of Paisley's song, "Another You."
"He knew who he was and what kind of artist he wanted to be, how he would look, what his music would sound like," Mike Dungan, who signs Paisley to Arista Records, tells the Los Angeles Times. In 1999, his debut album, Who Needs Pictures, is released. In 2000, he picks up the Academy of Country Music's award for best new male vocalist and Country Music Association's Horizon Award. "I'm tickled to get to do this," Paisley tells PEOPLE. "To tell people's stories for them. That's what country music is all about."
Wearing Buck Owens's legendary canary-yellow rhinestone Nudie jacket, Paisley, 28, is the youngest member inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. "I love Buck dearly. He's become like a second father practically," Paisley tells CNN. "When I was asked to join the Opry, I wore the exact same jacket he wore when he taped 'Live at Carnegie Hall' in the '60s." In a letter read at the induction ceremony, George Jones says to Paisley: "I'm counting on you to carry the tradition and make folks sit up and listen to what country music should sound like."
Paisley calls his second album, Part II, a nod to movie sequels. Within 10 days of its release, Part II rises to No. 3 on Billboard's country album charts. By August, it's certified platinum. The song, "Too Country," with vocals by George Jones and Buck Owens, is named Vocal Event of the Year by the Country Music Association.
The video for Paisley's No. 1 country single, "I'm Gonna Miss Her," features actress Kimberly Williams (right). "I'd liked her in Father of the Bride and had written a song about the movie, 'Part II,' and when we were talking about making a video for 'I'm Gonna Miss Her,' I naturally asked her to be in it," Paisley tells the Washington Post. "When I called, I definitely had other motives." In 2003, Paisley, 30, marries Williams, 31, in a surprise ceremony in L.A.
Paisley releases his third album, Mud on the Tires, which includes the single "Celebrity." The song pokes fun at fame and reality TV. "I have a really good time taking country music and making a real-life, almost sitcom out of some of the songs," Paisley tells CNN. But the surprise hit is "Whiskey Lullaby," Paisley's duet with Alison Krauss, which nets Paisley two Academy of Country Music Awards for best vocal event and best video.
After releasing his fourth album, Time Well Wasted, Paisley arrives at the Country Music Association gala with six nominations. But leaves with zero. He calls the experience "very humbling." In 2006, though, he wins three Academy of Country Music Awards, including album of the year, and two video awards for his No.1 hit, "When I Get Where I'm Going," with Dolly Parton. He also picks up two Country Music Association Awards for album of the year and musical event of the year for his collaboration with Parton.
Paisley, 34, and wife Kimberly, 35, welcome their first child, William Huckleberry Paisley. To add to their joy, Paisley receives the Academy of Country Music Award for top male vocalist (which he also wins in 2008 and 2009) and the Country Music Association awards for male vocalist of the year and music video of the year for "Online," from his sixth album, 5th Gear. "It's a fun time to be me," Paisley tells Billboard.
Paisley cohosts the 2008 Country Music Awards with Carrie Underwood and takes home Male Vocalist of the Year and Music Video of the Year honors. After his best male vocalist win, Paisley plants a kiss on wife Kimberly's belly. "Kimberly and I were both talking about how special that will be for our child to grow up someday and see that tape when I kissed her belly," says Paisley. In February, Paisley wins a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for "Letter to Me."
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