Black, Clint (1962—)

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Black, Clint (1962—)

Since the release of his first album in 1989, Clint Black has become one of country music's biggest stars. He is also one of the most prominent symbols of country's revival in the 1980s and 1990s. It was in the mid-1980s that country music had been written off as dead. In 1985, The New York Times reported that this once mighty genre had fallen off the edge of the American entertainment table and it would never regain such stature with its audience. A year later, the same newspaper reversed itself in an article hailing the new creative and commercial vitality of country music, as traditionalists like Randy Travis and young iconoclasts like Steve Earle brought new life into old forms. That, however, was nothing compared to what was just around the corner. Country was about to be taken over by a new generation of heartthrobs in cowboy hats who were going to capture the imagination of the American public to a degree hitherto unimagined.

Part of country music's revival was due to the creative groundwork that was laid for newcomers in the adventurous creativity of the mid-1980s. Angry song-writing geniuses like Earle, quirky originals like Lyle Lovett, and musical innovators like the O'Kanes all played a part in paving the way for young new artists. Interestingly, the aggressive urban anger of black music in the 1980s also influenced the country scene. Rap drove a lot of middle class whites to a music they could understand, and country radio was playing it. The audience for pop music was also growing older and, in the 1980s, for the first time, a generation over thirty-five continued to buy pop music. Although the children of these suburban middle-class consumers were buying rap, their parents were looking for the singer-songwriters of their youth—the new Dan Fogelbergs and James Taylors—and they found them wearing cowboy hats.

The country superheroes of the 1980s and 1990s were a new breed indeed. They did not have the down-home background of Lefty Frizzell, Porter Wagoner, or Johnny Cash, but they did have their own skills that would help them succeed in the music industry. Garth Brooks was a marketing major in college, and he knew how to market himself; Dwight Yoakam was a theater major, and he knew how to invent himself onstage; and Lyle Lovett's day job at the time he signed his first recording contract was helping his mother run high-level business management training seminars.

Clint Black, who arrived on the scene in 1989, was a "folkie" from the suburbs of Houston. His father advised him against going into country music precisely because he did not think he was country enough. "Stick to doing other folks' songs," he advised. "Real country songwriters, like Harlan Howard. Don't try to write your own. You haven't done enough living—shooting pool, drinking beer, getting into fights—to write a real country song." Black's "Nothing's News," which graced his first album, was an answer to his father and to all those other good old boys who "Spent a lifetime … Down at Ernie's icehouse liftin' longnecks to that good old country sound," only to discover ultimately that they had "worn out the same old lines, and now it seems that nothin's news …."

The 1980s were a time when the rock influence hit country with a vengeance. Rock acts like Exile and Sawyer Brown became country acts. Country radio adopted the tight playlists of pop radio. Record company executives from Los Angeles and New York started moving into the little frame houses that served as office buildings on Nash-ville's Music Row. And even among the neo-traditional acts, rock music management techniques became the norm. Clint Black's career blossomed under the managerial guidance of Bill Ham, who had made his reputation guiding ZZ Top's fortunes. Black's first album, Killin' Time, became the first debut album ever, in any genre, to place five singles at number one on the charts.

For many country artists, country superstardom seems to almost automatically raise the question, "Now what?" For Black, marriage was the answer to that question. He married Hollywood television star Lisa Hartman (Knots Landing) in 1991 and their marriage has lasted. It has also garnered him a certain amount of gossip column celebrity beyond the country circuit. Although Black also has a movie role in Maverick to his credit, his reputation rests solidly on what he does best: writing and singing country songs. Black seems to have settled in for the long haul.

—Tad Richards

Further Reading:

Brown, C. D. Clint Black: A Better Man. New York, Simon &Schuster, 1993.