Trick Pony has carved out a niche as a hard-driving and raucous country trio whose roots are planted firmly in the honky-tonk tradition of such top-selling 1970s country acts as Moe Bandy and Mel McDaniel, as well as such outlaw country acts of the same decade as Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The band’s songs often prescribe heavy drinking as an antidote for broken relationships or as a tonic to celebrate the joys of life. Others rely on worldly-wise voice of lead singer Heidi Newfield, whose sound has been compared to that of country siren Tanya Tucker as well as the blues, pop, and rock vocals of Bonnie Raitt. The trio’s varied appearance has also been noted by critics, who have compared Ira Dean’s appearance to Kid Rock; Keith Burns’s appearance to such country “hat” acts as George Strait, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, and Garth Brooks; and Newfield to the archetypal country music femme fatale with a heart of glass.
Newfield was born in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California. Dean was raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, and studied jazz performance at Southern Illinois University. Burns was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and had been playing guitar since he was 14 years old. Trick Pony formed when guitarist Burns and bassist Dean joined forces with Newfield. Burns and Dean had
Members include Keith Burns (born on November 16, c. 1970, in Atlanta, GA), guitar, vocals; Ira Dean (born on August 23, c. 1970, in Raleigh, NC), bass, vocals; Heidi Newfield (born on October 4, c. 1970, in Healdsburg, CA), vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica.
Heidi Newfield and Ira Dean met, c. 1991; Keith Burns and Dean decide to form band, c. 1995; Burns received demonstration tape from Heidi Newfield, c. 1995; group formed as Trick Pony, c. 1996; released self-titled debut album, 2001; released second album, On a Mission, 2002.
Awards: American Music Award, Favorite New Artist, Academy of Country Music Award, Best New Artist, both 2002.
Addresses: Record company—Warner Bros. Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA, 91505; 20 Music Square East, Nashville, TN, 37203-4344. Website— Trick Pony Official Website: http://www.trickpony.com.
met in the early 1990s. Burns had been playing guitar in Joe Diffie’s band and was looking for a way to front his own group. Dean was playing bass in Tanya Tucker’s band, and had known Newfield previously. “We had been friends since about 1991,” Newfield said about Dean in an interview with Jeffrey B. Remz on Country Standard Time online. “I had not seen him in a long time, and I had worked in Nashville doing demos, waiting tables, basically doing anything I could do to make ends meet. I was doing my solo thing, but when Keith approached me about putting the group together, we hit it off.”
After hearing one of Newfield’s demonstration tapes, Burns and Dean asked her to join their new outfit. “Keith and I hit it off immediately,” she said in a Sing365.com interview. “We had a lot of the same influences. We were both big fans of Waylon [Jennings] and the outlaw country stuff. When he told me about wanting to have a trio of rotating lead vocals with one female and two male voices, I loved the idea. It sounded fresh and no one had done anything like it yet.”
In addition, the group decided to write their own material. “All three of us are writers and wanted to have our own sound and our own material,” Newfield continued in the Sing365.com interview. “Our favorite artists were those who wrote their own material and we fully intended to do that. When I was young, I’d flip over a band like Van Halen. Their albums would all say ‘All songs written by Van Halen.’” Burns added that Van Halen “were a group…. They wrote together, they lived together, they played together, and I think that commitment is what brings the sound together.”
The group honed its sound while playing more than 200 dates a year for more than five years before landing a recording contract. “I had a couple of big producers in town that were interested,” Newfield told Remz. “We’d go in and record. I had a lot of bites, but did never really [get] the big one. The timing wasn’t right or whatever. I think that it wasn’t because this is what the good Lord meant to be.” At one such performance at the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville, veteran Nashville producer Chuck Howard introduced the band to a senior vice president at Warner Bros. The group’s self-titled album was produced by Howard, and featured guest vocal appearances by Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings on the song “Big River.” According Remz, “Trick Pony managed to get Cash because Dean had befriended Cash’s son and lived for a time with Johnny. He asked him at the time about recording vocals for ‘Big River’ should Dean ever make an album, and Cash kept his word.”
The group’s first single, “Pour Me,” plays raucously off the title’s pun about drinking to drown one’s sorrows. The band’s video captured their individual images: Dean as a country-rock outlaw playing his chrome-plated upright bass with flashing headlights; Burns as a stoic, guitar-slinging, country hero; and Newfield as a woman drenched in the blues but still capable of masking her pain in alcohol-fueled sexual bravado. Los Angeles Times critic Randy Lewis praised the song as “a honky-tonk boogie that explodes with sassy attitude and bright wordplay.” “Pour Me” earned the group significant radio and country music television airplay, but was eclipsed in popularity by the up-tempo follow-up single, “On a Night Like This.” The group’s debut earned them an Academy of Country Music Best New Artist Award and an American Music Award as Favorite New Artist in 2002. Critics also admired the trio for their successful adherence to country-music honky-tonk and outlaw country traditions.
For their second album, On a Mission, the group once again recruited veteran Nashville producer Chuck Howard. This time Willie Nelson added his prominent vocal talents to the song “Whiskey River.” “We had decided what we were going to do [on] every album that we are fortunate enough to put out is to find an artist who has influenced us and listened to and find a song of theirs if we can,” Newfield told Remz. “We want to find a song that we can do justice on and ask them to come in. It’s our way of paying tribute to those people. In the second album, it was sort of a given. All three of us were talking about who we would want—Willie Nelson—without a doubt, no question.” Following the release of On a Mission, Trick Pony took a brief sabbatical while Newfield recuperated from vocal chord surgery.
Trick Pony, Warner Bros., 2001.
On a Mission, Warner Bros., 2002.
Entertainment Weekly, April 6, 2001, p. 120.
Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2002, p. E-5.
People, December 23, 2002, p. 39.
“Trick Pony,” About Country Music, http://countrymusic.about.com/library/bltrickponybio.htm (January 15, 2003).
“Trick Pony,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusicguide.com (January 15, 2003).
“Trick Pony,” Sing365.com, http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/SingerUnid/D1F341F4BDBF6FA048256B74001B3298 (January 15, 2003).
“Trick Pony Is on a Mission,” Country Standard Time,http://www.countrystandardtime.com/trickpony2FEATURE.html (January 15, 2003).
Trick Pony Official Website, http://www.trickpony.com (January 15, 2003).
“Trick Pony: Trick Pony,” About Country Music, http://www.countrymusic.about.com/library/bltrickponyrev.htm (January 15, 2003).
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