5 Questions With “Forever Country” Producer Shane McAnally, Who Reveals What Other Songs Were in Contention for the Mashup

By now you’ve probably seen and heard that 30 of country music’s biggest stars—both past and present—have come together to record a new song and video, “Forever Country,” for the CMA Awards’ 50-year anniversary.

The star-studded mashup features a fresh take on three of country’s most classic songs: John Denver’s “Take Me Home,” Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” The new tune, which was produced by Shane McAnally, features vocals from Willie, Dolly, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert and many more.

“Forever Country” producer Shane McAnally, who also co-arranged the song, sat down with Nash Country Daily this morning (Sept. 21) to answer five questions about the new mashup. Shane has won multiple Grammys, CMAs and ACMs as a producer and songwriter, and he has penned multiple No. 1 hits, including “American Kids” (Kenny Chesney), “Say You Do” (Dierks Bentley) and “Take Your Time” (Sam Hunt), among others.

NCD: What was your role in selecting the three songs that made the final mashup?

A big role. Luckily the CMA board had an idea of a group of songs that would be in contention. There were about 40 songs on the list, most of which were previous CMA Song of the Year winners. Ultimately, they respected the fact that melodically and quarterly speaking, not every song can be mashed up with every other song. Josh Osborne, who I arranged the song with, had messed with some different versions. There were some other songs that we tried in different forms before we settled on the three. In fact, I envisioned one song being the focus, it was director Joseph Kahn who suggested the mashup.

Can you mention a couple of the songs that were in contention and what ultimately led you to selecting “Take Me Home,” “On the Road Again” and “I Will Always Love You?”

We had Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind” with “On the Road Again” at one point. We also tried Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.” Ultimately, everyone felt like “I Will Always Love You” was the centerpiece that we needed. I was having a hard time figuring out how that song could sing with any other song because it’s such a personal song. It’s a song to one person. When it’s sung over “Take Me Home,” it takes on a new life. It feels like you’re singing to the music. That was just insight others had that I couldn’t see because I was too in the middle of it. They kept saying just try “I Will Always Love You,” and I’m glad I did, clearly, because being able to end on Dolly singing “I Will Always Love You” feels like you are looking back over the history of country music. I was literally laying in bed thinking about these songs and how to make it work and got up and sang the idea into my phone one night.

There were 30 artists involved. How did you get so many stars to commit to the project?

It started with previous CMA winners, which helped to at least narrow it down. We said we’re going to do a mashup like “We Are the World,” and people were like “What?” After Dolly and George Strait agreed to do it, it felt like everyone took a step back and were like, ‘Wait, what is this?” Then we were able to put all of those asks out to the stars. You had to be available twice. One to sing. One to shoot the video. And it was in the summertime when they are all touring heavily. So I think we got very lucky. It was an act of God. They shot the video during CMA Fest so the artists were just running through. I think we were very lucky. There were just a handful of people who we just couldn’t get their schedules to work.

You must like huge projects. After co-writing Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical with Brandy Clark last year, you jumped right into this.

Weirdly, I’ve recently discovered about myself that I am a person who thrives in chaos, and I think that a lot of times we don’t think that about ourselves, but for different people, I’m much calmer moving around that way. Maybe it’s a creative ADD. I like to be a part of as many things as I can because I feel like I’m striking while the iron is hot. I want to do as much as I can while I can, and right now people are listening. So I just want to say “Yes.”

Did “Forever Country” sound like too big of an undertaking?

I certainly thought that “Forever Country” was [too big]. When we presented it to the board with a demo and a budget, it was a lot of money to make this video. Joseph Kahn, the director, is a world-renowned Grammy-winning director, and it was going to be a lot of money. The way he does things is expensive. When they first heard the demo version of the mashup as it is now, they approved it. And I was sitting there half elated and the other half was “Oh sh*t, what have I gotten myself into?” I don’t know that any of us know what we are capable of until we try. Looking back over this project, it seems near impossible. It just came together with such an amazing group of people. The CMA is just the greatest group of people and everyone helped. Everyone got their artists involved and made this a big deal. I’m really proud of it.

Check out the “Forever Country” video below.


photo courtesy Kelly Christine Musgraves/EB Media