Jason Aldean took time out from his 41st birthday celebration on Feb. 28 to give a tribute performance to the man he credits with changing his life. His manager, Clarence Spalding, was honored with the Bob Kingsley Living Legend Award at a gala onstage at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, and there wasn’t a chance Jason was missing this event.

It all goes back to how vital Clarence has been in making Jason Aldean the household name he is today.

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Jason was having a string of hits, but he wasn’t selling out stadiums as a superstar act when the two men met. Clarence is the artist manager was responsible for guiding Brooks & Dunn’s career to massive heights in the 1990s, and Jason explained that Clarence is the guy that got his career on track to superstardom.

Jason said, “The early part of my career was kind of an up and down thing. I met Clarence Spalding, who not only changed my life, but changed the life of my family and has given me and my family something we’ve never had before, all the way down to my mom and my dad, and now my kids. If not for you, I don’t know what I’d be doing. Probably still be playing a bar in Macon, Georgia. I just want to say thank you. I love you.”

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Jason performed two songs for the audience, including his latest single, “You Make It Easy.” The other song he chose to perform served as an illustration of a big lesson Clarence taught Jason early on in his career. He wanted to release a song off his third album, “Wide Open,” as a single, but his record label wasn’t on board with the decision. Clarence is the one who told Jason it was up to him to fight for what he wanted with his career.

“This is back in the day when we were playing about 150 to 200 shows a year,” Jason recalled. “I actually finally had a day off, and I went into Clarence’s office. He goes, ‘Well, if you want that single, we’ve got to fly to Las Vegas and meet with the head of the label. You’ve got to talk him into putting this song out. Me and Clarence boarded a plane [and] flew out to Las Vegas on my day off. I went out there and talked him into putting this single out. That was one of the early things I learned. If you want something, sometimes you’ve got to go out and talk your way into it in this business.”

That song ended up being Jason’s No. 1 hit, “The Truth,” which was a real turning point for him artistically. His next album, “My Kinda Party,” would cement his superstardom with the hits “Dirt Road Anthem,” “My Kinda Party” and the Kelly Clarkson duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” among others.

Jason wasn’t the only one of Clarence Spalding’s acts that performed in his honor.

Brooks & Dunn kicked off the evening singing “My Maria” and welcomed Reba McEntire for a duet on “You’re Gonna Miss Me (When I’m Gone).” Reba then stuck around to sing “The Fear of Being Alone” before flying up to New York City to announce this year’s ACM Awards nominations.

Darius Rucker was on hand to sing “If I Told You” as well as his Hootie & The Blowfish hit “Let Her Cry.” Rascal Flatts cracked several jokes at their manager’s expense in between performances of “My Wish” and “Fast Cars and Freedom.”

The annual Bob Kingsley Living Legend Award event raises money for the Opry Trust Fund, which has helped those in need in the country music community for the past 50 years.

Jason Aldean looking down Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Hunter Kelly is a senior correspondent for Rare Country. Follow him on Twitter @Hunterkelly.
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