A Man and His Guitar: Clint Black’s Videos

Singer's 15-Year Career Includes Work Behind the Camera

Clint Black talks candidly about his personal and professional life in a new episode of CMT Inside Fame premiering Saturday (March 20) at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

When you’re a singer with a killer grin, twinkling eyes and cheekbones the height of Mount Rushmore, you’re pretty much a walking music video. That’s been Clint Black’s big advantage — he’s just so damn photogenic.

Unlike Reba McEntire, who uses her videos to demonstrate dramatic versatility, or Shania Twain, who seeks to convey the sensory overload of a live performance with many of hers, Black has relied on his videos to establish and solidify the image of a crisp, clean-cut, guitar slinger. You won’t find many special effects or gee-whiz camera angles in his catalog. Whether he’s frolicking on the beach (as in “Summer’s Comin'”) or leading a chorus line through a Los Angeles boutique (“Money or Love”), he is first and foremost Clint Black. The man is the message. Compare his first video with his latest, and you’ll be startled at how little he’s changed.

Between his debut clip, “A Better Man,” in 1989 and the current “Spend My Time,” Black has starred, co-starred or made cameo appearances in 27 videos. As early as “State of Mind” (1993), he began exercising directorial control over these projects, and since the release of “A Good Run of Bad Luck” the following year, he has been the director of record.

In “A Better Man,” our video introduction to Black, we watch him stride resolutely out the door of a house, guitar case in hand, and climb into a battered white pickup truck. It’s your classic leaving-town situation. While there are no flashbacks, the lyrics tell the story: “I’m leaving here a better man.” Most of the focus is on the singer’s face, which reflects neither anger nor sadness — just intensity. There are a few cutaway shots of him performing. And that’s about it. All very simple and straightforward. And you can almost hear the viewers gasping, “This guy looks exactly like Roy Rogers.” In the final scene, Black’s truck leaves the two-lane road and merges onto a teeming interstate highway, a symbol that his break with the past is complete.

“Killin’ Time” (1989) views like a continuation of “A Better Man.” From inside a bar, we see the white pickup drive up, and Black get out. He rushes in with his guitar, apologizes for being late (the first time he talks in a video) and goes onstage to join his band and start singing. It looks a bit artificial since it’s taking place in broad daylight. But, hey, this is Videoland. The main element we have here that we didn’t have in the first one is Black’s sly, endearing grin.

Black reverts to a somber mode in “Walkin’ Away” (1990). Wearing his trademark black cowboy hat and a black tuxedo, he stands beside a huge, ornate merry-go-round, bemoaning the pain of separation — as happy couples of all ages whirl by him. “Put Yourself in My Shoes” (1990) takes place in a barbershop and allows Black to do some emoting — but not much. Black sits against the wall, getting his boots polished and looking preoccupied. When the barber asks him what’s wrong, he says he’s thinking about this friend who’s lost his girl and wondering what advice he can offer him to help get her back. The barber, seeing through this sham, asks him what he’s going to say to his friend, whereupon Black borrows a harmonica from the shoeshine boy and plays the intro to the song. With that, he jumps out of his chair and begins performing with his band as the shop’s patrons look on approvingly. While this is the fanciest Black has gotten so far in his videos, he’s still the black-hatted guitar player we met at the outset.

At the beginning of “Loving Blind” (1991), Black makes his first video appearance without his hat. He sits in a dark room by a blazing fireplace, distracted and pensive. Subsequent scenes show him hatted and turning his horse out to pasture (a reference to the lyric “I’m a horse without a rider”) and hatted singing onstage. In a fuzzy fireside fantasy, he imagines the return of his lover and reaches out hesitantly to touch her face. This is Black at his blackest. He teams up with Roy Rogers for the delightful “Hold On Partner” (1991). All but the final scenes of this video are in black and white and alternate between archival clips from old-time western movies and close-ups of Black and Rogers riding and singing along the trail. Near the end of the video, the camera pulls back to reveal that the two buddies are seated on “phony ponies” instead of on real horses. As they walk off the set together, another hard day in the saddle over, Black amiably offers to buy Rogers “some grub.”

It’s quite a different emotional partnership in “A Bad Goodbye” (1993), which co-stars Wynonna Judd. The two artists never appear together — Judd’s scenes are superimposed on Black’s — but this technique is perfect for the goodbye theme. The video opens with Black, dressed in black, seated at a black grand piano on what appears to be the stage of a huge auditorium. The house is empty. After speaking briefly to a stagehand, Black gets up from the piano, picks up a black guitar and begins his lament. Judd’s image — a bright red contrast to Black’s ebony hues — floats in for her lyrics and harmonies. This would be a tad excessive for a lesser song, but for one this operatic, the lofty treatment works.

“State of Mind” (1993) unfolds with scenes of Black walking down a hot summer road, carrying his guitar. As cars zoom by his outstretched thumb, you can see the heat waves rising from the asphalt. This discomfort sets Black to thinking about how a song can “completely change your state of mind” and transports him back to a simpler (and cooler) time. It’s a night scene of a country band (Black’s own) dressed in cowboy hats, suits and string ties and playing on a minimally-lighted outdoor stage. Something like Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. The back and forth between the hot road and the cool night give this video its power. “A Good Run of Bad Luck” (1994) is basically a series of scenes from the movie Maverick, in which Black has a small comic role.

Of all Black’s videos, “Untanglin’ My Mind” (1994) is the most artistically whole. Filmed in sepia, the story plays out in a hilltop farmhouse between a middle-aged couple that is breaking up. Black stands outside in a field and sings the chronicle of their lives — from the man’s point of view. In the end, the man picks up his suitcase and walks away down the long, narrow dirt road. Although the action parallels that of “A Better Man,” the video’s tone is one of profound defeat, not deliverance.

“Summer’s Comin'” (1995) is a pure romp. It’s what we’d all do if we had an unlimited video budget and lots of famous friends with an afternoon to waste. Again, Black is the commentator rather than the central actor. That role falls to comedian Howie Mandel. Dressed in a black tank top and Speedos, Black stands on a hot beach and wails away on his guitar about the joys of summer. Mandel plays the uptight businessman who goes to the beach to unwind and check out the better bods. Trouble is, each time he spies a shapely form and moves in for the kill, he discovers that “her” face is a real clock-stopper. That’s because the faces under the curls are those of such bow-wows as Jay Leno, George Kennedy, Charlie Chase and Dick Clark. When Mandel finally does see a beautiful blonde waving and running toward him, he can’t believe his luck. Alas, as she gallops on by, he sees that it’s Lisa Hartman-Black. With a protective arm around her shoulder, Black turns and hisses to Mandel, “Don’t even think about it.” End of summer.

“Money or Love” (2002) is Black’s sexiest video. In the opening scene, he’s in a library surrounded by lovelies, with his shirt flung open and his chest bared. Next, he pops up in a boutique, clad in form-fitting black, hair artfully tousled and leading a sinuous chorus line. Let the record show that he vamps and wiggles with the best of them. We’re sure it’s mere coincidence, but there’s a sign on the boutique wall that reads “Elisabetta Rogieri,” who, we understand, just happens to be one of Mrs. Black’s preferred designers. If music fails him, Mr. B clearly has a future on the Chippendale circuit.

Although Black looks about the same in both videos, there’s a world of difference between the torment depicted in “A Better Man” and that of “Spend My Time” (2003). In the latter, Black is besieged by the demands of the road. Instead of bouncing along in a seedy pickup truck, he now knifes through the landscape in a caravan of sleek tour buses. But life ain’t easy. There are soundchecks, photo sessions, interviews, clamoring fans, bad food and the boredom and loneliness of endless miles. Constructed of candid backstage and performance shots, this video has a tired, summing up quality to it. It ends with Black taking his little daughter for a quiet walk.

Whatever the storyline or setting, Clint Black’s videos all boil down to a man facing the world with his guitar — and looking so good doing it.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.