Tales of heartache, financial ruin and running from the law may make country music hits, but Brad Paisley says the secret to his success is something far more straight-laced: landing the right college internship.
"That was my trick. I interned a lot. I interned at ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers)," said Paisley, a three-time Grammy winner who snagged three Country Music Awards as best male vocalist.
Paisley talked about his route to the top -- he has 16 No. 1 singles -- during a visit by Robin Roberts and ABC News cameras to his family's 85-acre estate just outside Nashville. There he seeks sanctuary with his wife, actress Kimberly Williams, and their sons, Huck and Jasper.
Paisley's journey to country music stardom started back in rural Glen Dale, W. Va., just outside Wheeling. He was eight years old and his grandfather gave him a guitar.
"His dream was for me to enjoy that instrument. He wanted me to have what he had in that, which was simply a refuge, a muse. He wanted me to love it," Paisley, now 38, told ABC News.
But Paisley disliked the instrument at first, playing it only out of love for his grandfather. He stuck with it for two years when, suddenly, it clicked. He was able to master such '80s 'tween essentials as the theme song to "The Dukes of Hazard" and Eric Clapton guitar licks.
"I could play the Waylon Jennings song that all the kids wanted me to play. I was finally able to say, 'How about this? Am I cool now?'" Paisley said.
He became so good that he was signed as a regular at age 13 on "Jamboree USA," the nation's second longest running country music radio show after the "Grand Ole Opry."
"I learned more there than I ever did in school," said Paisley. He said he was warmly accepted by the adult headliners and their band members, whom he peppered with questions about their equipment. Still, his parents valued formal education and encouraged him to enroll in Belmont University in Nashville, where he earned a bachelor's degree in music business.
"The most surefire way to wind up working in this town is to go (to Belmont)," Paisley said. "It's the best shot because it's right on Music Row. You intern. That was my trick."
College internships were valuable because the music business, like any business, is about developing relationships, said Paisley. "It's knowing people and them liking you. If they don't, your days are numbered."
Today, Paisley is well liked in the music business and adored by his fans. It took less than an hour to sell out his concert in August at the huge Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
Supporters describe Paisley as hot yet humble. He connects with the melting pot of American pride through songs like his smash hit "American Saturday Night," singing, "It's a French kiss, Italian ice, Spanish moss in the moonlight / Just another American Saturday night."
His career accelerated early, but his personal life was faltering. After a failed relationship, he said he valued the heartache as a source of songwriting material but was ready for happiness.
Watching the movie "Father of the Bride," he saw the girl of his dreams appear before him on the silver screen. She was a new actress named Kimberly Williams, playing the daughter whose father, Steve Martin, has a hard time letting her go.