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Published: Saturday, 2/23/2008

All indicators put Carroll on road to top

Jason Michael Carroll can use industry standards to show he's off to a good start in his career. His first two singles, "Alyssa Lies" and "Livin' Our Love Song" have been top five hits, and he was the most-played new country artist of 2007.

Or he can use nontraditional indicators - like his children's classmates.

"I'll pick my kids up from school, and they'll usually have a list of people who want autographs. My daughter will say, 'Daddy, Jerome wants your autograph,'" Carroll says with a chuckle aboard his bus before opening a concert last week for Trace Adkins in SeaGate Centre. "I was on Good Morning America and mentioned the school, and the kids and teachers went crazy."

The bus is another source of pride for the Franklinton, N.C, native. He stands in the middle of an aisle lined with couches pushed back to create a living room of sorts - not exactly a typical bus.

Next month, he'll pick up his permanent tour bus. He got to pick the colors and amenities and even the bus' name - Brittany, his good friend's 19-year-old daughter who died of cancer at the end of 2006.

When he's not on the bus or on stage, Carroll, 29, keeps himself entertained as he tours the country, hitting many cities for the first time in his life. In Toledo, he walked eight or nine blocks around SeaGate Centre, then the novice bow hunter and his bandmates pulled out his archery set to practice near his bus.

"The security guards in the parking lot were just looking at us," says Carroll, grinning mischievously.

Since releasing his debut album, "Waitin' in the Country," his career has taken off. Besides the two hit singles, he's been on tour with Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, and now, Adkins. Single No. 3, "I Can Sleep When I'm Dead," has just hit radio. It's a party song about burning the candle at both ends, but it has a different meaning for Carroll, who co-wrote the song with Rivers Rutherford and Jim Collins.

The divorced father of four used to play all night on Saturdays, then drive home, often more than eight hours, to pick up his children for visitation on Sundays. Telling Rutherford that, he asked, 'When do you sleep?' I said, 'I can sleep when I'm dead.' His eyes lit up and my eyes lit up, and he said, 'That's what we're writing today.'•"

His children, obviously, are a big part of Carroll's life. He beams with pride when talking about taking his son, Gavin Michael, on his first plane ride. He admits touring is the toughest part of his job. "I'm faced with those phone calls, 'Daddy, when are you coming home?' That's really hard, especially at the end of a long run."

Ultimately, Carroll hopes his success will carve out a better life for his children and allow him to spend a lot more time with them. He's on his way. Despite existing in an industry that is struggling with record sales, he's closing in on a gold album.

"I was talking to somebody the other day, he was saying five years ago if you had a top five hit, you were guaranteed to have a gold album, a second top five would be a platinum. But with the whole digital age, people can just download singles. For the market being down, we're doing well. I'm proud of that."

Brian Dugger's column on country music appears in The Blade the last Saturday of every month.



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