Clint Black has been making hit records for more than 10 years. Last fall, his eighth studio record, D’Lectrified, electrified audiences by presenting a newer, more stylistically diverse Clint.
He presented blues, Dixieland, jazz-flavored pop and the straight-ahead country he’s known for, joined by a cast of friends ranging from Monty Python’s Eric Idle to Kenny Loggins, Bruce Hornsby, Marty Stuart, Steve Wariner and his wife, Lisa Hartman Black.
While D’Lectrified includes many collaborators, working with other writers and artists on songs is hardly a new direction for Black, who is CMT’s February Showcase Artist. Since his 1989 debut, Black has recorded duets with the likes of Roy Rogers, Martina McBride, Wynonna, Waylon Jennings and even The Pointer Sisters.
February will prove a busy month for the RCA recording artist. He turns 38 on February 4, headlines a Valentine’s Day show in Los Angeles, appears on both the long-running PBS series Austin City Limits on Feb. 19 and the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show on Feb. 28.
The Grammys — airing on CBS Feb. 23 at 8 p.m. ET/PT — will likely be an especially electricity-charged night, since he and Hartman Black are nominated for the Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for their hit duet, “When I Said I Do.” (View a videoclip of the song.) Despite its success with video, radio and the fans, the song almost never happened.
“Yes, (the song was) easy to write, hard to find a duet partner,” Black says of his reluctant wife in a recent interview with CMT Showcase from their L.A. home. “’When I Said I Do’ was really a product of what was happening with the concept of the album, which was about influences. I had chosen cover songs to exhibit my influences, and I also asked guests to be on the album who could come in and directly influence the outcome of the record. Of course, my wife is the biggest influence on me and my life, and it didn’t seem right that Lisa wasn’t on there.”
Hartman Black still wasn’t convinced, however. “I said, ’Get a real singer, honey, I’m a stunt singer,'” she chuckles. Although she recorded four pop albums of her own in the late ’70s and early ’80s, she felt unprepared to participate on her husband’s project. Turning serious, she says, “I’ve always hoped in my heart of hearts that someday we would do something together. When this came up, it was a very serious thing. Making a record and singing with Clint Black is a very serious thing. I wanted to be able to do a great job, and I just didn’t feel that I had the chops. I hadn’t been singing in so long.”
Finally, of course, even though she admits, “I was a chicken,” Black was able to convince his wife to lend her talents to the song.
Black’s other experiences with recording duets have not always been so difficult. In 1991 he teamed up with singing cowboy legend Roy Rogers for a light-hearted outing called “Hold On Partner” for the BMG Roy Rogers Tribute project. It was a success for the then still-rising Texas star and sparked a flurry of publicity as well as some confusion, as fans noticed that Rogers and Black actually looked alike, leading some to believe that they were related. (They are not, as Black laughingly recently told visitors to the country.com Chat Auditorium. “I’ve known my dad all my life. I trust him; he’s my father. Roy said he wasn’t my father! You be the judge.” Read the entire Clint Black chat transcript.)
In 1993 Black’s duet with Wynonna was even better received. “A Bad Goodbye,” written by Black, was a hit single and staple of the 100-city “Black and Wy” tour that year.
“I was nearly finished recording the No Time to Kill album,” he remembers. “I thought if there was something on this album we could sing together, it would be perfect every night on the tour to be able to do it. It ended up being ’A Bad Goodbye.’ One night at some CMA event I grabbed her and said ’Listen to this. I sing here, you sing here, blah, blah, blah. We have a song to sing on stage every night. What do you think?’ And that was that.”
On the 1994 Universal/MCA release Rhythm, Country and Blues, Black surprised some listeners when he joined The Pointer Sisters to sing Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.” The lively groove captures Black at his vocal best, delivering a falsetto that can still raise eyebrows.
He admits, “Singing with The Pointer Sisters was a jam. We went to the studio, and (veteran producer) Don Was was producing. We just got in there and it came together as a romp. It was very different.”
Working with Martina McBride on “Still Holding On” was yet another experience. With the hectic schedules artists keep, along with the technological conveniences of modern recording, Black and McBride recorded their individual parts separately, which later were mixed into the duet.
“The duet with Martina came together as a planned idea. I wanted a song to sing about two people who are torn apart, not because they don’t love each other, but because of other circumstances. I got together with Matraca Berg, and she wrote the chorus. She wanted to distance herself from it for a while and let it sink in, but I was rarin’ to go. She didn’t care if I called in a third writer, so I went over to Marty Stuart’s house at 10:30 at night and we put on some coffee and worked until 3:30 a.m. to finish the song. When I recorded it, Martina couldn’t be there, so she put on her tracks at her own space and time. We’ve sung it together a couple of times, which has always been fun.”
On D’Lectrified, Black continued his streak of duets not only with his wife, but also Waylon Jennings and Steve Wariner. Jennings adds his vocals to “Are You Sure Waylon Done It This Way,” a re-working of Jennings’ own “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” his 1975 tribute to Hank Williams Sr. Black was thrilled when the legendary outlaw agreed to record the song for D’Lectrified.
“(Kris) Kristofferson was hanging out with Waylon in Vegas, and in stark contrast to what I know of the old days, they were there early!” he laughs outright, remembering the recording session. “The neat thing about that is that Waylon had tipped his hat to Hank in this song, then I take it, generationally, and tip my hat to Waylon, who had tipped his hat to Hank. It just seemed perfect.”
On the heels of the success of “When I Said I Do,” the current single from D’Lectrified is the Steve Wariner duet, “Been There.” Already climbing the charts, the video will air on CMT in the coming weeks. After becoming close friends with Wariner over the last several years, they first collaborated on the popular title cut from Black’s 1998 Nothin’ but the Taillights record. Now with “Been There,” Wariner adds not only his vocals but also his guitar virtuosity. So natural is their partnership that the two men are planning to tour together this spring, adding a new element to their shows.
“We’re going to try to put together a show with a hybrid of his and my bands, do a show that involves both of us together the whole time,” Blacks explains. “We’ll swap out the front man position and try to make something musically eventful out of it by combining the two bands to see what happens.”
Whatever happens, it seems certain that Black and Wariner are determined to push themselves out of the box, to move their live performances into new directions. It’s a risk, but neither man minds; when you have made music as long as Black and Wariner have, you thrive on adding a new spark.
“I’ve always said that if you don’t throw yourself any curveballs, you won’t move in any interesting directions,” asserts Black. “Doing something like this show with Steve is a curveball to us, ’cause we don’t know what we’re gonna do and how we’re going to do it. But it’s something different, and more fun will come out of it. And I’m looking forward to that.”