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Clint Black on writing his own hits

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Clint Black courtesy photo

Country star Clint Black, one of the genre's most successful singer-songwriters, performs Friday at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota. COURTESY PHOTO

Nashville’s stables of tunesmiths have been cranking out songs for about as long as country music has been around. Many stars rely solely on these huge caches of demo recordings while Music City’s greatest singer-songwriters often turn to outside material, too. It’s understandable. The demands of fame cut into the creative process and the artist no longer has the time, or is in the right state of mind, to sit down and write enough songs to fill an album; or compose a song that sounds like a potential hit.

Not everybody, though, subscribes to the idea of recording music created by someone else. An integral member of the late 1980s New Traditionalist movement, Texan Clint Black has spent the past quarter century keeping the honky tonk spirit alive with original material that has resulted in a dozen No. 1 hits. Black, who performs Friday at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, says Merle Haggard inspired him to write his own songs.

(Images by Design photo/Wade Payne)

Clint Black performs during the CMA Fan Festival Saturday, June 11, 2011 in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

“My dad would take the time to point out on 45 records who was the songwriter, artist, and producer,” Black says by phone. “I saw that many of my favorite records said ‘Merle Haggard also wrote’ on them; and while I tended to love great music when I heard it I became more interested in singer-songwriters like Merle Haggard and Willie (Nelson) and Waylon (Jennings). I respected the songwriters more. I wanted to be a songwriter for that reason.”

Black’s debut disc, “Killin’ Time,” was the top country album of 1989. “A Better Man,” “Nothing’s News,” “Walking Away,” “Nobody’s Home” and “Killin’ Time” were all huge hit songs. In fact, all of them went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Singles chart except “Nothing’s News,” which reached No. 3. Black wrote or co-wrote each of the album’s 10 tracks, a rarity in country music then as it is now.

“When I was just about to get my break I saw an interview with Reba McEntire and she was talking about the process and how she would listen to 1,000 records to find 10 for an album,” Black says. “I thought that sounds really hard and I don’t ever want to do that. So when I got my break I was writing two and three albums while still working on my first. I always had 20 songs written every time it came time to record and by the end of the session about 30.”

Clint Black AP 2009

Clint Black attends the 40th annual Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony in New York, on Thursday, June 18, 2009. (AP Photo/Peter Kramer)

From 1989 to 1999, Black had a spectacular run of hit singles and outstanding albums. In that first year alone, The Academy of Country Music honored him with Album of the Year for “Killin’ Time,” Top Male Vocalist, Top New Male Vocalist and Single of the Year for “A Better Man.” A decade later, the same esteemed organization named “When I Said I Do,” a duet with wife Lisa Hartman Black, as Vocal Event of the Year.

Black rerecorded that song, with his wife, of course, as the title track for his latest release, which came out in August. A Cracker Barrel Old Country Store exclusive, “When I Said I Do” can also be purchased on the chain restaurant and gift store’s website. The CD includes three new songs that fit seamlessly with 11 re-recordings of Black’s biggest hits.

Throughout his career, not only has Black insisted on creating his own music, but he has refused to follow trends. In his entire catalog, you won’t find any of the silly novelty songs that might result in hits but age about as well as a jug of milk left out in the Texas summer sun. What you will find the, though, is timeless material such “Untanglin’ My Mind,” a mid-1990s hit Black co-wrote with none other than his hero, Merle Haggard.

“Whenever I write a song I think what if someone like Haggard heard it,” Black says. “How would I feel then?”

CLINT BLACK
8 p.m. Friday; Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; $40-$60; 953-3368; vanwezel.org.

CLINT BLACK
8 p.m. Friday; Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; $40-$60; 953-3368; vanwezel.org.

Wade_Tatangelo_by_Mike_Lang_HT_06212013 Wade Tatangelo has been an entertainment reporter, columnist and reviewer for more than a decade at publications nationwide. He is a Hershey, Pa., native who grew up in Tampa and graduated from the University of South Florida. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune in 2013. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: November 25, 2013
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