A country music traditionalist from Texas, Clint Black was one of the first artists to kick-start the mass-market popularity of country in the '90s. Black is also one of the first artists of a generation that was equally inspired by rock-oriented pop -- like '70s singer/songwriters and '60s rock & roll -- as well as country artists like Merle Haggard, Bob Wills, and George Jones. He offered a shiny, marketable version of traditional country and in the process paved the way for a new generation of country artists, particularly Garth Brooks. After Brooks broke through into the pop mainstream, Black's career began to fade somewhat, but he remained one of the most popular and acclaimed vocalists of the '90s.
Black was born in New Jersey but raised in Katy, Texas, a suburb of Houston. As a child, he listened to both country and rock & roll, but he didn't begin playing guitar until the age of 13, when he started playing harmonica. Two years later, he began writing songs, as well as performing in his brother Kevin's band, where he played bass and sang. In the early '80s, he began busking on the streets of Katy, eventually working his way into coffeehouses, bars, and nightclubs.
In 1987, Clint met Hayden Nicholas, a guitarist and songwriter who had a home studio. Nicholas and Black began collaborating together, writing songs and recording demos; Nicholas would become the bandleader for Black, playing lead guitar and co-writing a large majority of his hit singles. A tape of their songs made its way to Bill Ham, the manager of ZZ Top. Impressed with the tape, Ham became Black's manager; the singer had a contract with RCA Nashville by the end of 1988.
"A Better Man," Black's first single, was released early in 1989 and it went to number one -- he was the first new male country artist to have a number one hit with his debut single in 15 years. Black was an immediate sensation throughout country music and he played the Grand Ole Opry in April, one month before his debut album, Killin' Time, was released. Killin' Time was an immediate hit, going gold within six months and spawning four other hit singles, including the number ones "Killin' Time," "Nobody's Home," and "Walkin' Away." At the end of 1989, he won the Country Music Association's Horizon Award, as well that organization's Best Male Vocalist Award. He also won Best Album, Best Single, Best Male Vocalist, and Best New Male Vocalist awards from the Academy of Country Music and the NSAI Songwriter/Artist of the Year Award. By the end of 1990, Killin' Time sold over two million copies in America.
Black released his second album, Put Yourself in My Shoes, in 1990. Like the debut, Put Yourself in My Shoes was a major success, spawning four Top Ten hits ("Put Yourself in My Shoes," "One More Payment," and the number ones "Loving Blind" and "Where Are You Now"), selling over two million copies, and peaking at number 18 on the pop charts. Even though it sold well, it didn't receive the same critical acclaim as the debut. Nevertheless, Black was named Best Male Vocalist that same year. Throughout 1990, Black was on tour with Alabama and appearing on television shows across the country. In 1991, several singles from Put Yourself in My Shoes charted and he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. On New Year's Eve of 1991, he married the television actress Lisa Hartman.
Black began 1992 in a lawsuit with his manager. Black claimed that his original contract gave Ham too large of a percentage of the singer's royalties and publishing rights. For seven months he was embroiled in the lawsuit, during which he was recording his third album. By the summer, the suit was settled and his new album, The Hard Way, finally was released. The Hard Way received positive reviews and became an immediate hit, peaking at number two on the country charts and crossing over into the pop Top Ten. The first single from the album, "We Tell Ourselves," reached number one that summer. Black began a lengthy world tour in June of 1992 to support The Hard Way.
Although it was a success, The Hard Way wasn't as popular as Black's first two records, selling no more than a million copies. Released in 1993, No Time to Kill, his fourth album, continued the stagnation in his record sales, even though its sales were more than respectable -- the album went platinum and spawned the hit single "When My Ship Comes In." During the fall of 1994, Black released his fifth album, One Emotion, followed a year later by the seasonal effort Looking for Christmas. Nothin' But the Taillights appeared after a two-year hiatus, and in 1999 Black celebrated a decade of recording with D'Lectrified. Several hits collections followed into the new millennium.
In 2001 he created his own label, Equity Music Group, and co-founded the publishing company Blacktop Music Group Inc. with business manager Charlie Sussman and music publisher Mike Sebastian. Over the next nine years Blacktop amassed a catalogue of over 4,000 songs by some of Nashville's biggest hitmakers Black returned recording in with Spend My Time, his first batch of new material in over six years, closely followed by Drinkin' Songs & Other Logic in 2005. Black continued to tour occasionally but stayed away from the studio. In 2010, he and his partners sold their publishing concern to the conglomerate Ole, one of the world’s largest independent music publishers.
Black continued writing songs on his own and in collaboration with a host of others including Steve Wariner, Frank Nicholas and Bill Anderson. He formed his own label Blacktop Records (no relation to his former company) and entered into a partnership with Thirty Tigers. In early 2015, he began working on a new project at his home studio in Nashville and at various others in California. The finished product was entitled On Purpose. It featured guest spots from Big & Rich and wife Lisa Hartmann Black and was released in September. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi