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Remember When Kenny Chesney Signed His First Record Deal?

kenny chesney first record deal capricorn records
Chris Weeks, Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Kenny Chesney has become one of the biggest superstars in the history of country music, but it was actually fairly slow going for the aspiring country star when he signed his first record deal with Capricorn Records in 1993.

Chesney was already a three-year Nashville veteran by the time he signed his first recording contract. He had self-released an album of demos while playing the bar circuit in college, and after moving to Nashville in 1990 he established himself as a frequent performer in Music City honky tonks.

In 1992 Chesney signed a publishing deal as a songwriter with Opryland Music Group after an in-person audition, and on June 30, 1993, he signed a recording contract with Capricorn after the label saw him at a songwriters showcase. Capricorn was best known for launching the careers of Southern rock bands including the Allman Brothers Band and the Marshall Tucker Band, but had recently started a country division.

Capricorn released Chesney’s debut album, In My Wildest Dreams, on April 19, 1994. The album stiffed, peaking at No. 37 on Billboard‘s Top Heatseekers chart, while three singles — “Whatever It Takes,” “The Tin Man” and “Somebody’s Callin'” — charted poorly or not at all. The album sold a total of 31,000 units according to Billboard, and within the year Capricorn’s ill-fated country division closed, leaving Chesney without a deal again.

It’s an era he looks back on without rancor.

“The people at Capricorn were wonderful, and they worked very hard for me,” he told Billboard in 1994. “The problem was that they weren’t as well networked or tuned into the country side of things as a major country label.”

Chesney signed a new deal with BNA and released a new album, All I Need to Know, in 1995. That album scored solid hits with “Fall in Love” (No. 6), “All I Need to Know” (No. 8) and “Grandpa Told Me So,” which reached No. 23. He built even more success with Me and You in 1996, but it was really Chesney’s fourth album, 1997’s I Will Stand, that gave him his breakthrough when he scored his first No. 1 hit with “She’s Got It All.”

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