Clint Black busted his ass to achieve fame: Over a 10-year period, the Grammy Award-winning country star performed solo at any backwoods honky tonk, raunchy bar or grimey club that would have him. By day, Black supported himself with gigs ranging from fishing guide to construction worker to bait cutter. His payoff finally came in 1989 when he received the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award – the first accolade of many throughout his career – which acknowledged the genre’s best newcomer.
“That’s where my career really took off, so I will always look back to that time in my career, and that honor, with extreme fondness,” Black says.
His debut album Killin’ Time took the country music scene by storm, reaching number one on the Billboard Country Album charts. Its single “A Better Man” made it to the top of the Billboard Hot Country Songs. The tune emits a cowboy swagger similar to the traditional stylings of country music’s holy trinity: Merle, Waylon and Willie.
“Nothing in my career would have happened without Killin’ Time,” Black says.
The record showcases the dealmaker that helped kickstart his career: Black’s voice, unforceful and mild-mannered yet garnished with ingratiating emotion. In the same way Elvis had bedroom eyes, Black has a bedroom voice – and that’s what helps him stand out among contemporary country music peers like Garth Brooks and Travis Tritt.
Killin’ Time’s title track reeks of booze like an old-time Hank Williams tune about those girls you just can’t seem to drink off your mind: “And if I did the things I oughta, you still would not be mine/ So I’ll keep a tight grip on the bottle, gettin’ loose and killin’ time.”
Black’s infectious vocals and dedication to his art helped propel his album sales to more than 20 million since his first taste of success. But performing isn’t Black’s only talent: He’s the owner/founder of Equity Music Group – whose always-expanding roster of musicians includes Laura Bryna and Kevin Fowler – and he’s made more than a dozen film and television appearances.
“At first I was hesitant to venture into film and television, but I’m glad I did,” he says. “To make things better, I was even able to act alongside my beautiful wife and daughter in the last Flicka movie. Acting is another way for me to challenge myself, and push my creativity but music is my real passion.”
There are two things, however, that sit higher up the totem pole than music: Black’s wife, actress Lisa Hartman, and daughter Lily. Becoming a father has not only changed his outlook on life – Black now checks out questionable lyrics on Google since Lily has started listening to pop music – it’s changed the way he approaches songwriting.
“I think about the world in a different way, like any father,” Black says. “But as a songwriter, I write from a new depth of feeling and with an eye on what other parents will feel if they listen with their own children.”
Losing his father last December has also affected the way Black looks at the grand scheme of things.
“I’ve always been aware of the limits of time, but those limits are more prevalent now than ever before,” Black says. “There’s no time to kill.”
Life as a bona fide country star comes with a hectic schedule attached to it so Black makes sure he takes advantage of every moment he gets to spend with his family.
“I’m a father first, musician/artist second,” he says. “We make every moment we have together count.”
The onrushing 2013 calendar year is looking like it may be the busiest of Black’s career: In addition to the acoustic tour he just kicked off, he has a new album dropping – some of the new record will be performed at his Monday show at the Sunset Center.
It’s been six years since his last studio album but says he’s been writing the songs for the new record for a while now.
“Now is the time for [the songs] to be heard,” Black says. “We’re still working on the details, but we plan on showcasing a few songs on this tour.”
Black was also brought in to write the score for a touring production called “Aussie Adventures,” which is a story about an American rancher and his daughter moving to the Australian Outback in 1901.
“It’s a really cool show with a large cast of singers and even 35 horses,” Black explains. “I won’t be able to be in the production but it has been a great experience.”
That’s not all: He’s also working on a Broadway play based on the life of Roy Rogers that will most likely go into production in 2014.
Even with all the awards and commercial success, Black considers the normal stuff, like fatherhood and marriage vows, to be the most rewarding. As for his musical legacy, he wants to be remembered “as a songwriter who hit it big as a singer.”
He simplifies further from there.
“Everything I’ve done has started with a song,” he says.
CLINT BLACK performs 7:30 Monday, Jan. 28, at Sunset Center, San Carlos Street at Ninth Avenue, Carmel. $69; $86; $99. 620-2048.