Headline performer at Salinas Country Music Festival wears different hats.
Thursday, September 17, 1998
As Clint Black was becoming one of the most successful artists in country music during the early 1990s, he frequently stressed in interviews that it was important for him to protect the authentic country sound in his music.
Take this quote in the April 1993 issue of Country America magazine. "If people are wondering where I''m going--listen to my music. It''s what it''s all about. I use fiddles and guitars. I don''t have any synthesizers. I''m intent on staying with country music. It''s what''s drawn me all my life. I won''t forsake my audience."
So people might have been surprised when Black''s newest CD, Nothin'' But The Taillights, found him expanding from the traditional country sound of such early CDs as Killin'' Time and The Hard Way. On the new CD, for instance, Black tackles blues on "Bitter Side Of Sweet," a lush, pop-accented ballad with a full string arrangement called "You Don''t Need Me Now" and a bit of charged-up rocking twang on "Loosen Up My Strings."
Black, while noting that the new CD has its pure country songs, recognizes he may be changing his tune about the scope of his music.
"I''ve done several 180s," Black responded when asked if the new CD represented a 180-degree shift from his devotion to traditional country. "One thing I''m sure of, and I think people should be allowed in any walk of life and on any issue, is that what you believe when you''re 20 years old or 30 years old isn''t necessarily what you believe when you''re 40. I mean, it''s really evident in the political arena, because so many people head right or left as they grow older. And it''s the same with music. And also I saw the audience changing and I said, ''why not bring in these other influences and enjoy everything that I am musically?'' I have so many styles in me. I play the drums, and when I play the drums, I''m playing R&B and Steve Winwood and Steely Dan, that''s what I practice to. I mean, I learned harmonica from (bluesman) James Cotton and some Johnny Winter records and the J. Geils Band. I love that stuff, and I can write that stuff. I was also encouraged by my producer and the head of the record company.
"There''s been a little touch of that (other musical styles) on previous albums, but not predominant," Black said. "And this album is predominantly stepping closer to the edge, and sometimes over. What I decided is I think I know who my audience is and I think my audience is me. I love Merle Haggard and George Jones and Buck Owens. I love that stuff...But at the same time, I think me and my audience are alike, we like our Bob Seger. We like our Eagles."
"Nothin'' But The Taillights" also represents a departure in Black''s approach to recording. In addition to working with his long-time guitarist and songwriting collaborator Hayden Nicholas, Black teamed up with some high-profile stars on several songs.
He and Steve Wariner co-wrote two songs, "You Know It All" and the title song. Matraca Berg and Marty Stuart helped Black write "Still Holding On." The song "Ode to Chet" serves as a breezy all-star tribute to legendary guitarist Chet Atkins. Guitarists Wariner, Mark Knopfler, Larry Carlton, Dann Huff and Nicholas join Black and Atkins to trade licks on the tune.
Such collaborations also help bring a fresh shine to Nothin'' But The Taillights, which is Black''s first new studio CD since 1994, when he released his fifth CD, One Emotion.
In the time between, he has released a greatest hits CD which contained three new studio tracks, and a Christmas album, Looking For Christmas. But Black was clearly gearing down the album-tour-album-tour pace of his career.
Black had good reason to believe he wouldn''t lose his audience if he scaled back his activity. Each of his studio CDs--Killin'' Time, Put Yourself In My Shoes (1990), The Hard Way (1992), No Time To Kill (1993) and One Emotion--had gone platinum and produced a string of hit singles. In fact One Emotion made Black the most played country artist of 1994, according to Billboard magazine. Those successes, which followed 10 years of dues-paying club gigs around the Houston, Texas area, established Black as a key architect of country''s new traditionalist style and turned him into one the most popular artists in music.
"Whenever I came off the road, I really said that I believe I know how to do this again," Black said. "I think I know good music when I hear it. And that applies to my music, and I can write a song and say, ''That''s OK, but it''s not the strongest thing I have.'' And if I just write enough songs, then I''ll have enough things that are. So I came off the road determined to turn down any offers to tour and not make and finish my record until it was as good as it could be. I knew if I did that, then I also know how to go back out and re-establish, or re-connect, with the people who have supported me in the past."
Black''s instincts so far have been proven right. Nothin'' But The Taillights is on its third single, the title track. It follows the Grammy-nominated, chart-topping hit "Something That We Do" and the number three hit, "Still Holding On"--a duet with Martina McBride that has earned a Grammy nomination for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. Another project that has given Black exposure was the recently aired CBS movie, "Still Holding On: The Legend of Cadillac Jack." Black played the title character, Jack Favor, a star on the rodeo circuit who gets framed for murder by two hitchhikers he meets while driving one day.
Black''s wife, Lisa Hartman-Black, played Favor''s wife, who is determined to find a way to clear her husband''s name.
Black promises this won''t be the only time fans see him in front of movie cameras.
"I had a great time," he said. "I want to do it again. It won''t take over my life or my music, but I''m going to do it again. I loved it."
As the project suggests, Black and Hartman, who married in October 1991, are still happy together--despite pesky reports in the tabloids over the years of an impending split.
Black said he and his wife have had little trouble dealing with the attention of their high-profile marriage or the media coverage they have received.
"Well, those things are out there. And our marriage is a sacred thing that we protect," Black said. "Nobody can touch that. It doesn''t matter what anybody says or does. It doesn''t matter what we say and do. It doesn''t matter what we''re going through. Our marriage is in a capsule that we both guard with everything we have.
"We don''t create things in our lives that take us apart from each other. We''re growing together. And we laugh now the same as we did when we were dating." cw
Salinas Country Music Festival
1pm Special Guest, TBA
3pm Blackhawk, a group that went double platinum with debut recording, Blackhawk.
6:15pm Hal Ketchum, a regular at the Grand Ole Opry, probably best known for his hit "Small Town Saturday."
8pm, Wynonna, has had 13 singles in the Top 10, and three albums Tell Me Why, I Saw the Light, The Other Side go platinum. Local songstress Lory Lynn opens for Wynonna.
Noon, Patty Kistner Band,a local band gets a chance to take mainstage.
2pm, Lila McCann, one of country music''s young--16-years-old--crop of musical sensations; biggest hit so far: "I Wanna Fall in Love."
4pm, Clint Black, see article this page.
Festival at the Salinas Sports Complex (site of the rodeo), gates open at 11am both days. Advance tickets: $29.95/both days; $17.50/Saturday only; $16/Sunday only. Tickets at gate: $21/day. 1-800-SALINAS.