Monday, May 25, 2009

Class of 89 - Clint Black

In honor of the 20th anniversary of debut of Country Music Class of 89, I am writing a series of posts on each of the artists. I am including those artists who debuted in 1989 – Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. I am also including artists – Vince Gill and Lorrie Morgan – who had their first true commercial impact in 1989.

I am doing two posts today. This one will be on Clint Black.

In 1992 I went to a music store called Musicland to buy Mary Chapin Carpenter’s brand new album “Come On Come”. The checkout clerk told me I should take a copy of music magazine Musicland was publishing for its customers. The magazine was free, and it had a country superstar Clint Black on the cover so I took a copy.

I found the lengthy article on Clint Black fascinating. The article spent time discussing Clint’s music, but it spent most its time discussing Clint suing his record label and his messy split with his manager Bill Ham.

The article was interesting, but in retrospect the article was detailing the turning point for the worse in Clint’s career.

Bill Ham was a manager of music artists. He had discovered and shaped the career of rock superstars ZZ Top. Bill Ham discovered Clint Black, and molded him into a star.

Clint’s debut album “Killin’ Time” was a masterpiece, and is one of the greatest country music albums of all-time. Clint wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the album. The first four singles from the album went to #1. The album sold 3 million copies. Clint Black had become the Class of 89’s first star.

In 1990 Clint was name CMA and ACM Male Vocalist of the Year. Clint debut single “Better Man” was the ACM for Single of the Year. “Killin Time” would win the ACM for Album of the Year.

Clint’s second album “Put Yourself in My Shoes” was released at the end of 1990 and would spawn more hits and sell 3 million copies. As 1991 unfolded Clint Black seemed destined to fight it out with Garth Brooks for title of biggest star in country music.

Then came Clint’s lawsuit with his record label (RCA Nashville), and his split and subsequent lawsuit with manager Bill Ham. The legal wrangling delayed Clint’s third album “The Hard Way”, and cost Clint the guidance of the man, Bill Ham, who had help make him a superstar.

As 1991 came and went Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, and Travis Tritt began to build momentum, while Clint’s seemed to be slowing. Garth Brooks meanwhile was having unheard of success. Clint suddenly looked like the odd man out.

“The Hard Way” would go on to sell over 1 million copies, but by then Garth, Alan, Vince, Travis, Reba McEntire, and a new act Brooks & Dunn were selling 2, 3 million or even more copies of their albums. Clint was expected to match them. He never did. The only other multi-million selling album Clint had was his 1996 Great Hits album which sold 2 million.

Clint’s time as superstar had past. Radio kept playing his songs, but his album did not sell very well and he stopped winning major awards. His last top 10 hit was in early 2000. By then he was about to leave his record label.

Clint Black started his own record label, but it failed. Clint Black had failed too, failed to become a superstar like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, or even Vince Gill. Was Clint’s separation from Bill Ham the reason? Not entirely. Clint’s seeming obsession with recording only songs he had written or co-written probably help too. Even the greatest singer – songwriters in country music history have recorded songs written by others. Clint could not or did not want to understand that.

I never saw Clint Black in concert. He came to the Minnesota State Fair in 1993 with Wynonna Judd on his Black and Wy Tour. He came again in roughly 1998, but by then I was uninterested in seeing him.

Don’t get me wrong I still love his “Killin Time” album and listen to it a good deal. I don’t mind “Put Yourself in My Shoes”, but the rest of his music is average at best. Radio still plays stuff from his first album and a few songs here and there from his other albums.

Clint Black will never be remembered as a legend. He is not Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, or even Vince Gill. He will be remember as an artist who for a brief time had a great run, but for most of his career was good not great.

Here is a video of a television appearance by Clint early in this career. He is performing his debut hit “Better Man”.