20 Questions With Steve Wariner

Steve Wariner appears on Grand Ole Opry Live Saturday (Sept. 6) at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.

Poking fun at his own reputation, Steve Wariner chose No More Mr. Nice Guy as the name of his 1996 instrumental album. In the truest sense, it was an unbelievable title — simply because Wariner remains one of the most cordial, compassionate musicians in country music. In 2002, he received the prestigious Minnie Pearl Humanitarian Award for his work on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and numerous other charities, both large and small. Earlier this year, Wariner released Steal Another Day, the first album for his own label, Selectone Records. Recently embarking on his first tour in almost three years, Wariner will be on the road through November. As usual, Wariner was happy to take the time to field questions submitted by CMT.com readers.

1. What do you feel is the biggest accomplishment of your career to date?

I’d probably look to a couple of things. “Holes in the Floor of Heaven” being song of the year and single of the year at the CMA — and then also winning at the ACM — that was a huge deal, being the producer and writer. That whole thing is phenomenal for my career. I certainly would add that being asked to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry was huge. Between those two and winning the Grammys, it’s hard to pinpoint just one. But that’s a couple that would be up there.

2. Are you and Clint Black going to do another song together in the future?

I would love to. I still stay in touch with Clint. We talk occasionally but not nearly as much as we did. I’m off doing my things and he’s off doing his. But if the situation ever arose, I would definitely be interested. I love working with Clint. He’s such a talent — a great player and a great writer and artist. I would definitely be open to it.

3. What do you think about karaoke? Have you ever done any karaoke for fun at bars or at home?

You know what? I did karaoke recently. I was up in Indiana at my nephew’s house. He had just moved into a new home. And I went into his basement that’s he’s making into a sports bar kind of theme. He’s got a little bar in the corner and sports memorabilia on the wall. And then he’s got a little stage area set up down there. He actually has a karaoke machine and does a little karaoke DJ-ing on the side for fun. But that’s the first time I ever did it — with just a handful of friends at my nephew’s house. But I chickened out. He had a whole bank of my songs, so I said, “Put some of mine on. I know those songs.” So I actually sang along with my own songs. They weren’t the original tracks, but it was so funny. I had a great time. Then I think I put on a couple of oldies, like “Stand by Me.” But mainly I sang my own songs. I would never do it in front of anybody, probably.

4. Why do you think Dottie West has not been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame? In my opinion, she should have been in the Hall of Fame before Dolly Parton or Tammy Wynette because she opened the door for all female country entertainers that followed.

Let me just say that I totally agree. A lot of the female singers that are in the Hall of Fame wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for her. No question about it. She really paved the way. I think she should be there, but it does not surprise me that she’s not, because they are so behind [in inducting Hall of Fame members]. I think they’re making an effort to catch up, but they’re so far behind it’s going to be hard. I think Bob Luman and Dottie West both should be in the Hall of Fame, but it doesn’t surprise me that they’re not. Dottie definitely needs to be in there. I’m always lobbying and talking about her and Bob Luman being in there. Of course, I’m partial because I worked for them both. But they really are part of country music history, and neither one of them has gotten their just rewards yet.

5. What is it like to sit down with Bill Anderson and write? Do you sometimes go out to dinner afterwards with him? If so, who usually picks up the check?

The first time I wrote with him, I’ll have to admit, I was very intimidated. It was a long time ago, but he was really great about putting me at ease and making me comfortable. You have to be comfortable to co-write with someone. But that first time was a little trying. I was thinking, “I’m sitting here with Bill Anderson. I hope he doesn’t think I’m a nut with some of the stupid ideas I’m about to toss out.” It’s always a treat to write with Bill. A lot of times we’ll write in the morning, then eat lunch and then come back and finish up afterwards. So it’s more lunches than dinners. We usually fight over the check. We try to remember who picked up the last one. (laughs) But he’s always willing to pay.

6. What is your fondest memory of Chet Atkins?

I was lucky enough to have him in my life for many years. Occasionally, I’d just get a call and he’d say, “Wariner, get up here. I’m playing some music. I’ve got my boom box going. I’m out on the back porch.” He had a little veranda at his office. One time I went up there and Lenny Breau, the great guitar player, and Chet were just recording and laughing and having a great time. At Christmas time, Chet would do that, too. He’d invite friends over and play Christmas songs. Those intimate moments like that were just wonderful. I just loved Chet dearly for remembering me and including me in a lot of stuff he probably didn’t need to. But it was so nice of him.

7. What discs are in your CD player right now?

I’ve got Jimmy Wayne’s new disc and I’ve got Brad Paisley’s. Otherwise, I’ve got a bluegrass collection of old music. I got a box set of Chet’s called Galloping Guitar. And speaking of Chet, there’s a new album out of unreleased stuff that really is a lost tapes situation. There are several things on this album I never heard him do, ever. They found some two-inch tapes at his studio. I had to buy that the minute it came out. I’ve got the Buddy Jewell disc, not only to check out Buddy’s work but also Clint’s producing. He did a great job. My friend, Adam Hampton, who’s a great player and producer, did an album on his wife, Rhonda Hampton. I just got that to check out what they’re doing. And it’s wonderful.

8. Are your sons involved in the music business?

The first thing Ryan recorded with me was nominated for a Grammy when he was 18. [The track, “Bloodlines,” is featured on Wariner’s Faith in You album.] That’s pretty hot stuff. I wish I could’ve gotten nominated my first time out of the chute. Ross is the youngest. He’s 16 now. He has a little digital recording setup in his room. He’s a computer guy. He’s more of my producer guy. He plays and produces, but he’s really into the recording process. Ryan, who just turned 20, is more just a player. He’s the rock ’n’ roll player — just a straight-on guitarist. He’s not interested in anything but the guitars and amps. But they both play and they’re both very passionate about music. I think they have a lot of natural ability.

9. What inspired you to write “Holes in the Floor Of Heaven”? That is such a pretty song it reminds me of my dad so much. It seems like he is watching over me and my kids.

I hear comments similar to that a lot. That song really has been incredible. Every week, I still get letters and e-mails about that song and how that song has touched people. I don’t take it lightly. I’m amazed that someone wants to take the time to tell me their story … about someone in their life that they’ve lost. I’m touched by it every time. Billy Kirsch and I wrote that song. Quite honestly, when we first started to write that day, the idea of writing a story song came up. We’d never written a song quite like that, so we were trying something new. A couple of years prior, Billy’s wife had heard someone say the phrase “holes in the floor of heaven.” When Billy said the phrase, I fell off my chair. I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s great. What a great concept.” He tossed the idea out and we just started writing it. I had just lost my grandmother not long before that. Billy and I were both drawing on the perspective of our grandparents for the first verse. … And then just kind of used our creative liberty to paint the picture. And that’s how it came.

10. I remember reading over the years that you have presented at least a few young artists with one of your signature model Takamine guitars. Do they actually ever play those guitars in concert? Or do they kind of hang on to them as priceless souvenirs?

I’ve given several away. I gave Keith Urban one. It’s my model — they call it the SW341C, I believe. Most recently, I gave one to Jimmy Wayne. Years ago, I gave Vince one. I gave them to Bryan White and buddies like that. I saw Jimmy Wayne playing it recently, and I think Bryan did some, too. But I never really pay attention to that. My point of view is that whatever they want to do with it is fine by me. I just wanted them to have it and enjoy it.

11. I purchased one of your watercolor paintings at my local radio station’s silent auction for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Have you had any training in painting, or is it something that comes naturally to you?

All through my high school years I had a wonderful art teacher named Gordon Morrison. I didn’t take any study halls for four years. We turned my study halls into an art class, so I had two periods of art for four years. He was one of those great mentors. I worked for him in the summer some. We were close friends. He taught by brothers, too. He was a great teacher. But other than that, I didn’t have any formal training. I just learned a lot watching him and being around him. He really was an inspiration. He was a great, great friend.

12. How do you feel when you walk onstage? Do you feel nervous?

I never feel nervous. Sometimes the butterflies and the adrenalin are going. I’m more excited than I am nervous. The only time I would be nervous is if I feel like I’m rushed and not prepared, which is not usually the case. I have a great bunch of people around me and I usually have my amps and guitars and all that taken care of. But I’m usually just so pumped up with the adrenalin, my heart’s racing because of the excitement.

13. Do you and other traditional country artists feel pressure to keep the original country sound out there for the millions of us who love it?

I don’t really feel pressure, but I do feel a passion for it. I want that. I want to hear twin fiddles on the radio again, real country and the real thing. I think there’s room for all of it, but I certainly want to hear that, as well. I don’t feel any pressure because I’m not sure that we would be allowed to have that with the [music business] structure the way it is now. But I yearn for it, and I think that’s why you have a lot of people who are turning to other ways to get the music. They listen to what they want to on discs or on XM [satellite radio] or whatever avenue. I’m hoping that it goes back to more of the real country music art that’s been lost.

14. Do have any advice for someone who’s just starting to play the guitar?

There’s three words — and people don’t want to hear them. It’s practice, practice, practice. I know when your fingers are sore, it’s hard to hear that. My advice to any parent is that if they have to stand over their child and make them practice, then you’re wasting your time. If someone wants to play, they’re going to do it because they want to do it. My mom had to make me quit practicing guitar to go to school. I’d come home from school and go straight to the guitar. When you’re passionate, you want to do it. But practice is the key. No question about it.

15. What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career in the music business? How do you avoid people who want to take advantage of you?

That’s a touchy situation. The problem is that you don’t really know. The best thing you can do is check someone out before you spend money. I’m speaking to the local person who may be talking to someone about recording. Some people are from out of town, going to the big city to record. Check them out with the Better Business Bureau or whatever avenue to make sure it’s the proper way to do it. But in a lot of cases, it’s hard to pick up on it. Always surround yourself with reputable, good folks. I think that’s the only way you can do it. Know who you’re dealing with.

16. What was it like preparing the band for CMT’s concert of the 100 greatest country songs? If you could get any musicians — living or dead — who would you pick for your dream band?

It was a dream come true, getting to play with players like that and knowing that you’re going to be playing some of the greatest songs of all time. It was a labor of love. It was a treat to play with the artists. I felt like one of the lucky guys to get to do that. I thought it was a neat show.

As far as a dream band, I would probably go back to people like Floyd Cramer on piano. I mean, I’d have to use Chet, of course. But, gosh, wouldn’t you want to have maybe Johnny Gimble or Buddy Spicher or Tommy Jackson on fiddle? Maybe Grady Martin on another guitar. The possibilities are endless. I used to sit around and dream about these kind of things as a young kid in Indiana. I would actually write out names of players — like Lightnin’ Chance or Bob Moore on bass and Buddy Emmons or Hal Rugg on steel — and draw those charts as the band I’d put together.

17. What is your all-time favorite country song? And what is your all-time favorite non-country song?

As far as my favorite non-country song, there’s just something about “Amazing Grace.” Every time I hear it, it just moves me in some way. Even if it’s just the melody, it just kills me. What an incredible melody.

As far as country goes, it might be “Faded Love” or maybe a Hank Williams song — “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” or one of those classics. There are so many, it’s hard to put your finger on it.

18. Is there any female singer that you want to sing or perform with?

I’m so lucky. I recorded a duet years ago with Barbara Mandrell. I’ve recorded with Nicolette Larson. I toured with Reba for a year. Reba is one that I’d love to record with. I’ve played with her many times and done shows together. We’ve sung live but not on record. I always loved Reba. She’s one of my dear friends. And Trisha Yearwood — what an instrument. I’ve sang with her a lot live. Anytime I could record with her, I would — in a heartbeat. She’s tremendous. But there are so many, like Martina McBride. I’ve sung with Patty [Loveless] live a lot. I’m telling you, I’m one of the luckiest guys. I get to sing with these people and record.

19. I heard you’re in the process of recording an instrumental album of Christmas songs.

I recorded about four or five songs last year just to give to my family and some friends. Through the year, I thought I’d add a few songs. That’s what I did all throughout this year. I’d arrange another song and put it on there. The whole concept is that there’s no click track, no auto-tune, no manipulation and no accompaniment of any kind. It’s just a guitar — one track and that’s it. It’s really different. It’s all standard Christmas songs, but it’s just me. I’m really excited about doing it. I think it’s going to be about 13 or 14 songs, and I’m even doing the artwork for the cover. We’re probably going to do a limited pressing this year. [The CD, Guitar Christmas, will be available at Wariner’s official Web site.] It probably won’t be in stores until next year. The working title is Steve Wariner’s Guitar Christmas. And for me, it’s an excuse to drag out a whole bunch of guitars.

20. Do you stay in touch with Garth Brooks?

I saw him about a month ago. We had dinner together. He and Trisha invited us to dinner. I see him occasionally. Every now and then, we talk. He just sounds great. He was doing great the last time I saw him. He seems so happy. And he deserves it.