Country Rewind: The Legend of Alan Jackson Grows With Phantom Drum Performance During ‘Gone Country’ at 1994 ACM Awards

by Jim Casey
(Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Alan Jackson was only five years into his career when he flexed at the 1994 ACM Awards with a rendition of “Gone Country” that included a phantom drum performance.

Taking place more than 28 years ago at the 29th ACM Awards in May 1994, Alan’s performance should be nothing more than a footnote in ACM record books. Instead, it’s a footnote to Alan’s authentic nature, even though his performance was anything but.

Setting the Stage

Of course, Alan Jackson was a member of the much-heralded Class of ’89. His classmates included Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, and Clint Black.

By May 1994, Alan’s career was on fire. He had already released three studio albums and scored a string of No. 1 hits, including “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” “Love’s Got a Hold On You,” “Chattahoochee,” and more. Alan was also taking home plenty of hardware at the CMA Awards and ACM Awards in 1991, 1992, and 1993.

When Alan, 35, and Reba McEntire were announced as the co-hosts for the 29th ACM Awards on May 3, 1994, at Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, it made sense. Reba and Alan were each nominated for seven awards, including going head-to-head for Entertainer, Single, Song, and Video of the Year.

Alan even wore a tuxedo for the ceremony (at least initially).

When he picked up the first of his two trophies for Single of the Year for “Chattahoochee,” he told the cheering audience, “Well, it sure does take the edge off that hosting job right off the bat, I’ll tell you that.”

With the edge gone, Alan could be Alan.

Alan Jackson the Legend

“Great writing, fine singing, hard-working, sexy, friendly superstar, and now awards show host, ladies and gentlemen, here he is, Alan Jackson,” said Reba as she introduced AJ for his performance of “Gone Country,” which had not been released yet.

Now, here’s where things got really interesting.

After a quick wardrobe change, Alan took the stage donning stonewashed jeans and a sleeveless t-shirt with Hank Williams on it. Nowadays, viewers wouldn’t bat an eye at a sleeveless t-shirt at an awards show, but this was 28 years ago. Alan’s ensemble was a bit out of the black-tie norm.

Now, here’s where things got really, really interesting.

As the stories goes, Alan was asked by the show’s producers (Dick Clark was the executive producer) to perform his new tune to a pre-recorded track. Of course, this was akin to blasphemy in Alan’s eyes, especially for a song like “Gone Country.”

But what could Alan do? Glad you asked.

Alan’s silent protest to the masquerade was instructing his drummer Bruce Rutherford to “play” the drums without sticks. Bruce obliged by swinging like Animal from The Muppet Show—sans sticks, of course. Bruce’s stickless performance, which went largely unnoticed at the time, is now a part of Alan’s folkloric escapades. Of course, Alan was smiling like the Cheshire Cat as the entire charade capped.

Alan would strike again at the 1999 CMA Awards, but that story is for another day. After his performance of “Gone Country,” Alan picked up more ACM hardware. He won Album of the Year for A Lot About Livin’ (And A Little ’Bout Love).

P.S. Alan never hosted the ACM Awards again.