Yes, the melodies are memorable. For if you love country music, they're virtually a soundtrack of the '90s. And when delivered by the unmistakable voice of Clint Black, they can, indeed change your "State of Mind." In the bleakest part of the winter of 1989, there was something fresh on the radio airwaves, a song called "A Better Man" that looked at a failed relationship through optimistic eyes. That summer, "Killin' Time" was a darker vision, a lyric loaded with metaphor and levels of meaning that took you to the scary edge of alcohol abuse. They were the opening salvos of an extraordinary career and the introduction to a troubadour so prolific he would fill six complete albums with original songs in as many years to come. The memories they bring back are impressively vivid, from Clint's bluesy harmonica passages in "Put Yourself in My Shoes" to the soaring vocals traded with Wynonna on the lushly melodic "A Bad Goodbye," from the machine-gun syllables and propulsive percussion of "A Good Run of Bad Luck" to the trenchant, keenly crafted lyrics of the waltz "Burn One Down. "The visual images are just as memorable -- the squinty-eyed grin of a kid winning his first Country Music Association Award, the brave smile of a volunteer going to entertain in Somalia, the quick jump through the tumble of his concert-stage "earthquake" arch, the bluejeans-and-tuxedo duds of a Texas country wedding, the happy glow on his face standing next to American icon Roy Rogers, the tireless good manners displayed during any of a thousand autograph sessions or the jaunty performances in Keebler TV ads. These are the memories of Clint Black, melodies and images that take us to a place and time that's really only the day before yesterday. The baby of Ann and G.A. Black's four boys came to the music business with boundless optimism and purity of intent. Clint's father is a passionate country fan who instilled the same fervor in his boys Mark, Brian, Kevin and Clint. But it was the youngest who shaped that passion into a truly individual vision. Clint stole one of Brian's harmonicas at age 13 and taught himself to play it. Two years later the teenager learned the rudiments of guitar. Almost overnight Clint was pursuing the muse of music with astonishing focus and devotion. In retrospect, only a fool or a truly dedicated musician would drop out of high school to play bass in his brother Kevin's band. It's a measure of Clint's passion that he did that in 1978 and a mark of his strikingly mature professionalism that he had his own solo gigs within three years. A 1981 booking in Houston's Barton Springs led to eight solid years of playing on the local club circuit. It was during this apprenticeship that Clint Black met guitarist Hayden Nicholas. The team would later co-create such classic moments as the airy bounce of "Summer's Comin'," the silvery sizzling crescendo of "We Tell Ourselves" and the rolling rumble of "No Time to Kill." Hayden had an eight-track home studio. Together, the novices began making tapes of the tunes that would bring them fame. Clint was 25 when a chain of events suddenly brought him to Nashville to play a tape in Joe Galante's RCA Records office. At the time, Nashville was just beginning to flex its "young country" muscles. George Strait and Randy Travis had demonstrated that there was a hunger for imaginatively produced records based on country traditions. Alabama and Sawyer Brown had alerted the industry to a potentially vast youth market. But most of the "new country" headliners had yet to emerge. In 1988, Alan Jackson was still in the mail room at The Nashville Network; songwriter Garth Brooks had been turned down by virtually every record label in town; Ronnie Dunn was still in Oklahoma; Billy Ray Cyrus was still in Kentucky; in Louisiana, young Tim McGraw had just bought his first guitar, and Lorrie Morgan, Vince Gill and Pam Tillis were still seeking breakthrough hits on Music Row. In this climate, Clint Black's arrival was splashy and spectacular. He raised eyebrows by incorporating his band members into his recording sessions, stunned everyone with his composing prowess and bowled Music Row over by scoring five No. 1 singles from his debut album, a feat then unprecedented in any field of music. "Clint Black. You'll be hearing his name a lot," opined USA Today. "There may never have been a country performer who has created a bigger stir right out of the box. Or one placed...in such a perfect position to become the next superstar." In 1989-90 Clint became a lightning rod for the electricity in a new jolt of country talent. He was in the vanguard of the "new-country" army that was then marching over the pop-music horizon. Roughly six months after Clint's emergence, Garth Brooks released the first of a series of chart-toppers. The following January Alan Jackson issued Here in the Real World to launch a multi-million selling career. In 1991, Brooks & Dunn began their trip to the top as country touring champions. There were many in the movement. But no one else had Clint Black's distinctive quality as a tunesmith, the ability to twist a melody into a serpentine delight, the talent to invest lyrics with multiple shadings and innuendo. Clint has the rare gift of being able to craft songs that are both artful and commercial, hits that can be taken either as audio candy or as insightful poetry. The first album went Triple Platinum and each successive release also became a million- seller. By the end of 1990 Clint was headlining his own concert tour and collecting CMA, ACM, ASCAP, TNN and AMA honors by the shelf-full. That December, he played a triumphant hometown show in Houston at The Summit. Backstage, he met Houston-bred actress Lisa Hartman. Clint was developing quite a reputation. Observers couldn't help noting his unflagging energy, professionalism, friendliness, magnetism and media cooperation. "I wanted to be the perfect artist," he recalls. "I'd do three hours of media interviews a day, going to every radio station I could squeeze in. I'd sign autographs after the show until everybody left." That dedication would practically exhaust him in years to come, but in 1991 Clint was still in the warm limelight of new stardom. That was the year he joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry and began collaborating with country legends like Merle Haggard and Roy Rogers. In September he and Lisa announced their engagement in Nashville at the glamorous, black-tie ASCAP awards banquet. When they wed on his farm outside Houston in October, magazine photos were circulated around the world. But fame and success carry a high price. In early 1992, a flurry of lawsuits with his ex-manager threatened to topple his career. RCA made a commitment to continue with him, but the mess of legal action delayed the release of The Hard Way and stalled his progress. This was particularly disheartening since the collection was the first he'd co-produced himself. But Clint dug in his heels, issued "We Tell Ourselves" as his comeback single in June and launched a touring extravaganza that put him in front of 1.5 million people during the next six months. The show utilized 54 crew members, six buses and five tractor-trailers and featured his famed "earthquake" arch effect. In 1993 Playboy named his "Black and Wy" national tour with Wynonna its Concert of the Year. Their summer duet "A Bad Goodbye" became an omnipresent radio hit and paved the way for the back-to-back successes of "No Time to Kill" and "State of Mind." Clint and Lisa became the first entertainers to visit U.S. troops stationed in war-and-famine ravaged Somalia. He rounded out the year by singing the theme song for TV's "Harts of the West" and contributing "Desperado" to the Common Threads Eagles tribute, named Album of the Year by the CMA. Billboard magazine named Clint Black the Most-Played Country Radio Artist of 1994. That was the year he staged his acting debut in TV's "Wings" and the movie Maverick. "A Good Run of Bad Luck," performed for the Maverick soundtrack, became Clint's first directing job on a music video. He made history with his next two by creating them as the first clips shot on large-format, 65mm film. He sang for a TV audience of 50 million at the National Memorial Day Celebration in Washington, then for a viewership of one billion at Superbowl XXVIII. But instead of following the industry trend of bigger and more spectacular concerts, he stripped things down to an "Up Close" series of performances that put him in intimate theater settings for intensely personal two-hour showcases. If a man who has carved out such a special and individualistic body of hits isn't "the perfect artist," he's pretty damn close to it.
Cost: $39.50, 49.50, $59.50
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