They call it “paying your dues,” but most country stars have made most of their payments by the time their debut album sells 4 million copies. That wasn’t the case for Deana Carter after her 1996 album, Did I Shave My Legs for This, made her one of the hottest stars of the mid-‘90s.
With her new album, I’m Just a Girl, set for March 18 release, Carter is entering a new phase of her career at her new label home, Arista Records. Although she released a holiday album in 2001, I’m Just a Girl is Carter’s first mainstream album since 1998’s Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.
Carter talks candidly about her life and music on a new episode of CMT Inside Fame premiering Saturday (Feb. 1) at 9 p.m. ET/PT. During the show, the singer-songwriter addresses her problems at Capitol Records where she dealt with no less than four label presidents before asking to be released from her recording contract.
Signed by veteran label executive Jimmy Bowen, Carter’s career ignited after record producer Scott Hendricks assumed the reigns of Capitol’s country division in 1995. Carter had already released an album in Europe, but Hendricks had been given a corporate edict to reduce the size of Capitol’s country roster. On Inside Fame, Hendricks explains, “One of my first tasks at hand was to go through all those artists and figure out which ones to keep and which ones to let go, which is not a fun thing to do.” Even Carter admits, “I thought for sure I was going to get the pink slip.”
Describing Carter’s European album, Hendricks says, “I loved her voice. I just didn’t love the songs. I didn’t think that particular record would be successful if we were to have released it here in the United States.” After asking Carter to record material from other songwriters, Hendricks recalls, “There were probably two months in there that was kind of a standoff between the new regime at Capitol and Deana because she just didn’t want to make that change.”
With the assistance of producer Chris Farren, Carter relented and recorded Did I Shave My Legs for This?, which included the breakthrough single, “Strawberry Wine.” After subsequent hits pushed the album’s sales past the 4-million mark, Carter was anxious to display the full extent of her artistry on Everything’s Gonna Be Alright. But by then, Hendricks had left Capitol, and his replacement was Pat Quigley, a brash marketing strategist who was entering the music business after creating successful sales campaigns for major beer and watches companies.
When she first played the album for Quigley, Carter says, “He just didn’t get it. He knew how to take something tangible and put it in a pretty package and sell it. He was great at that. I’m not cutting him at all. But as far as music, it’s not plastic. It’s not supposed to be … and he didn’t care.”
With a wide range of musical styles, the album sold 400,000 copies, a relative disappointment when compared to sales of Did I Shave My Legs for This? Industry insiders claim that Carter and other Capitol acts suffered while Quigley centered his attention on the label’s flagship act — Garth Brooks . Carter says, “I don’t really want to go into it because I don’t want to appear to be mean spirited. It’s a part of my life I’m trying to put behind me because it was very painful.”
After Quigley, too, exited the label, Carter found herself delivering another album to new Capitol president Mike Dungan in 2001. While Dungan was anxious to work with Carter, he was searching for a major radio hit that would fuel album sales. Carter says, “He was telling me he didn’t hear it. And I can’t even tell you how many songs I went through like that.”
“I asked her to please work with me,” Dungan says during the Inside Fame interview, “to develop some other stuff. The bulk of the record would be anything Deana wanted it to be, but we needed something for the radio.” After 10 years of frustrations, Carter asked to leave Capitol.
“We really wanted to work with Deana and we really believed in Deana,” Dungan notes. “But for whatever reason, largely because of the past problems she had with past regimes, she had a problem with Capitol Records and she wanted off. She called me and said, ‘I just want out. This is not about you. It’s about years and years and years of problems with Capitol.’ I absolutely tried to talk her out of it. But it got to the point where it was very obvious that … it was a broken marriage.”
Now living in Los Angeles, Carter awaits next month’s release of I’m Just a Girl. The album’s debut single, “There’s No Limit,” climbs to No. 24 on this week’s Billboard country chart.