When country music crooner Clint Black appears at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Sept. 23, the singer-songwriter will unpack a catalog that produced 22 no. 1 singles, along with a reputation for rollicking and crowd-pleasing live performances. Before the show, Black spoke with Long Island Weekly about his career, country and playing live.
Question: Tell me about your latest album On Purpose. I know you released it through Thirty Tigers. How long did it take to record, did your approach differ at all versus prior efforts and what’s it like working with an indie distributor versus being on a major label?
Clint Black: I actually couldn’t tell you how long it took to record On Purpose. It was a tremendous effort, though. I played almost all of the electric guitar and slide guitar parts, along with writing and producing all of the songs. It took a lot of work and I wasn’t sure at the end, what I had. I got away from the tracks for months after delivering it to the record company. When I returned to it to have a listen, I felt it held up very well. Working with Thirty Tigers was great. I had turned down offers from 3 major companies because they wanted to “find me songs” and have them produced to sound the way they wanted them to sound. I’ve always pushed back against “committee” records and found Thirty Tigers to be very friendly to those of us make our own music. I’m very turned off by the idea that some executive is going to decide what my record will be. I didn’t take that from RCA and I wasn’t about to take from a new label.
Q: Big & Rich is on the latest record. How did they get involved and when did you first meet them?
CB: I first met John when we were both on RCA Records. We remained friends and I participated in many charity efforts with John and Kenny. As I was producing “Beer,” I thought, “This song needs a circus atmosphere.” Enter, Big and Rich! They really helped to bring out the lighthearted intent of the lyric.
Q: What’s the biggest difference in the music industry today versus when you started out?
CB: There are so many differences; the lyric standards in mainstream country are more pop now, the music is aimed at the youth without concern for longtime listeners, and people get their music in many different ways now, leading to a decline in sales.
Q: What’s your earliest musical memory and what inspired you to pick up a guitar in the first place?
CB: Hearing Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” on the radio. My brother, Kevin was playing guitar and my brother, Brian was playing harmonica. That really got me started. But, seeing Merle singing songs he had written really pushed toward a reverence for the singer/songwriter. That’s what I most wanted to be.
Q: You’ve done some acting. Any plans to do more of that or to work with your wife Lisa Hartman-Black? (on the acting side of the slate. I know she is on your latest record).
CB: I am in talks to do some acting but nothing confirmed yet. I would love a project that brings my wife and me to work together again. It could happen with some of the stuff we’re talking about but nothing firm yet.
Q: You came up at a time in country music alongside other Music Row mavericks including Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Randy Travis, k.d. Lang and Lyle Lovett. What do you remember most about those times? Also heard you toured as an opening act for Earle and Yoakam. Is that true and what was that like?
CB: I toured with Dwight for a month in 1989, and it was pretty crazy. My head was spinning from the schedule and adjusting to fame. Our schedules didn’t allow for a lot of “hang time” though. Those times were blurry even back then. But I don’t recall a big “maverick” element. It wasn’t until my third album that I started getting pressure from RCA to “not insist” on writing my own songs. After the success of the self-written albums I had released, I was shocked at the idea that I shouldn’t write my own songs. I suppose that could’ve been going on with the other artists you mentioned but I wasn’t privy to their situations.
Q: Who are your three favorite country music artists and why?
CB: 1. Merle Haggard. Great voice, great songwriter.
2. Alison Krauss. Great voice, great artistry.
3. Steve Wariner. Great voice, songwriting, guitar playing.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
CB: “Don’t ever go to bed angry.” —Roy Rogers
Clint Black will be appearing on Sept. 23 at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, 71 E. Main St., Patchogue. For more information, visit www.patchoguetheatre.com or call 631-207-1313.