If anyone might know the secret to writing a hit country song, it would be Alan Jackson.
The veteran singer-songwriter, who will play Tampa's Amphitheatre on Sunday, has scored a whopping 35 No. 1 singles on the Billboard country chart over his career. But pinpointing the source of all that material still isn't easy for him.
"I have no idea," Jackson says, laughing over the phone when asked where he keeps finding inspiration for new albums, such as his latest release, "30 Miles West." "Stuff just comes to me — it just comes. You'll wake up and there it is; or you'll be driving down the road and it just pops into your head."
One thing he does know: Sad is easier than happy.
"You know, it's really hard to write a happy song, or a love song, that doesn't sound corny," Jackson said. "But I've always found it easy to write about something sad or emotional. Whether it comes out of me, or a story from someone else, the emotion seems to just make me want to write."
Perhaps that's why "30 Miles West" is so full of emotion, from "When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey)," a tribute to Jackson's wife during her cancer treatment, to "So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore," a tearful ballad of a relationship gone rotten.
But it's not all tear-jerkers. There still are fun Southern-life romps, such as Jackson's collaboration with Zac Brown on the song "Dixie Highway." Jackson says that balance of salty and sweet is what he'll try to achieve at his concert.
When you have a catalog of more than 60 songs that have been in radio rotation, though, coming up with a set list can be a challenge.
"That's a tough one. I feel so bad some nights, knowing I can't do them all. I just know I'm leaving somebody's favorite song out," Jackson said. "But I'll mix it up. For all the tender love songs, you'll hear some fun drinking songs, too."
With: Rodney Adkins, David Nail and Jana Kramer
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Amphitheatre, Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. Hwy 301 N., Tampa
Tickets: $59.95 and $80.35; livenation.com