Alan Jackson’s ‘Chattahoochee’: Story Behind the 90s Smash Hit

by Emily Morgan
(Photo by William Campbell/Getty Images)

Almost eight years ago, Alan Jackson fans everywhere would celebrate the release of Jackson’s summertime anthem known as “Chattahoochee.”

Even though we’re in the midst of the holidays, there’s always a reason to play the laid-back, beer-drinkin’ tune.

Written by Jackson and Jim McBride, “Chattahoochee” was released in 1993. It was released as the third single from A Lot About Livin’ (And a Little ‘Bout Love). If you’re of the older generation, you may remember the music video. It shows Jackson waterskiing while wearing jeans and a cowboy hat. A true icon of the culture. The video won the CMA Award for “Music Video of the Year.” The song would also become a fan favorite as it won “Best Single” and “Song of the Year.”

Don’t let the easy-going lyrics fool you: the song was a serious success for Jackson’s career. Almost immediately after the song hit the airwaves, it sold 500,000 copies. The album sold six million more copies, pushing it to the front of the country charts.

Alan Jackson Returns to his Roots

Ironically, the idea for the tune came to Jim McBride, co-writer of the song, in a simple, sincere way: his Alabama roots.

“I knew about the Chattahoochee River because I was raised in Alabama. Sydney Lanier was a poet who had written a poem called ‘Song of the Chattahoochee’ that was in high school literature books. I was sitting in my home office in Nashville one day, and I had just read a book about the Chattahoochee. I started playing a little melody, and then I got the first two lines of the song, ” said McBride.

It’s not uncommon, especially for songwriters, to find inspiration from their childhood as well as their hometown. For many people, little memories like casually hanging with friends down at the river end up being the ones they fondly look back on the most.

The song’s success would push Jackson to the front of the country music pack. However, in an interview, Jackson revealed he was merely looking for an up-tempo song to add to the album.

“Jim McBride and I were trying to write an uptempo song and Jim came in with the line ‘Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee,’” Jackson recalls in the liner notes to 1995’s The Greatest Hits Collection. “It kind of went from there. It’s a song about having fun, growing up and coming of age in a small town — which really applies to anyone across the country, not just by the Chattahoochee. We never thought it would be as big as it’s become.”

Jim McBride on Working with Jackson

In an interview with The Boot, co-writer Jim McBride also opened up about working with Jackson on the track.

“I went out on the road shortly after that with Alan, so I showed the song idea to him. I sang the first couple lines, and he was all over it. We started working on it in Tallahassee, Fla., and then we finished it the next afternoon in Thibodaux, La. We finished it before sound check, and he showed it to the band. They actually worked it up in sound check and performed it that night!”

He continued, saying, “When the song was released as a single, I had never experienced anything like it before. It was amazing what happened and is still happening. The truth is, if Alan’s had a bigger impact single than ‘Chattahoochee,’ I wish someone would tell me what it is.”