Singer and songwriter Clint Black hits Salem Civic Center on Friday, in a co-bill with Trace Adkins called "Hits.Hats.History." Terri Clark opens the show. Read more about it in Wednesday's Extra or music.roanoke.com.
We reached out to Black, whose career took off three decades ago with the "Killin' Time" album. Following is an e-mail Q&A, lightly edited.
The Roanoke Times: You’re celebrating 30 years since “Killin’ Time” came out, and the four No. 1 hits it spawned. Congratulations. When you and your band were making the album, did you envision the success to come? Or were you more focused on just making a strong record?
Clint Black: Thanks! It was actually five No. 1s, but one of them was in R&R [the erstwhile trade publication, Radio & Records], so Billboard doesn’t like to count that one. I believed country fans would like the songs but I didn’t have a vision for what success would look like. I was careful, conscientiously to leave that open in my mind and to accept whatever came my way.
It was easy to focus on the work and let others worry about the commercial aspects.
TRT: You are famously part of country music’s “class of ’89.” It led to a decade that very recently has seen a renaissance, with young fans proclaiming their love for “90s country” and Luke Combs clearly mining that decade’s musical styles for new hits. What is your take on that legacy?
CB: For me it was personal, as my life and career. In hindsight — objectively — I think very highly of our generation and the quality of music we made. It was a very lucrative time for record companies and that enabled a lot of artists to do some of their best work without executives micromanaging them. I believe that has changed. There are execs who want to do everyone’s jobs for them, including the artists.
TRT: To me, “Killin’ Time,” the single, is a definitive song of that era, and of country music, like an archetypal kind of song. Talk a bit about the process of writing that one, and how fun was it to see it become such a smash?
CB: Thanks. It was an inspired moment. Talking about how slowly things were moving toward the release of my first album, I said, “I hope it starts moving soon, ‘cause this killin’ time is killing me.” [Co-writer] Hayden Nicholas and I knew instantly that would be a strong hook for a song. The rest came quickly and easily as inspired ideas do. But the last line of the chorus was elusive. We finally nailed it and knew it was a strong song. Hearing it on the radio cemented that for us. It sounded like it belonged on the radio.
TRT: You wrote or co-wrote so much of the material from that run. What influenced you as a songwriter? I understand that your father turned you on to a ton of country music. Was his influence a big part of it?
CB: The biggest influences on me were the singer/songwriters. Haggard, Willie, Waylon, James Taylor, Jimmy Buffett, Loggins and Messina; they made me want to write the songs I sing.
I wrote or co-wrote every song I released until one experimental song in 2007 or so: “The Strong One.” RCA fought me every step of the way to record other people’s songs, but I refused. It put a strain on the relationship and the head of the label labeled me a “problem child”. We sold over 20 million recordings of those songs I wrote, but that was never good enough for them. It was for me and I stood my ground.
TRT: You took several years off after you and your wife had your first child. That is a really gutsy decision, but on the other hand, not too many people in your line of work get that much quality time with their children in such formative years. What went into the decision.
CB: I knew I had one chance to be there for my daughter. I wouldn’t have passed that up for all the record sales in the world. It was only a three-year break, but according to what I read, those are the years that form the unbreakable bonds, and my daughter and I have that today because I stayed off the road in those early years.
TRT: You’ve done a fair amount of movies and TV, including “Celebrity Apprentice.” Any stories about that show, or thoughts about it now that the chief judge of it is president?
CB: I had a fairly good experience with Trump on that show. Not so good with some of the other cast members. It was a brutal display of character, or the lack thereof. As for the president, I try to stay out of politics. It’s a hate-filled arena and no good can come from expressing my opinion. I can change only one mind and it’s the one between my ears.
TRT: “Hits. Hats. History.” is a lot of dates. You guys did quite a few dates already in May, with Terri Clark coming on with you and Trace Adkins after the first few shows. How has it been going so far? What are these two like to tour with?
CB: Terri is joining us for the first time this week. It’s going to be great. Trace and I have had a great run of shows already and we’re both looking forward to resuming on Thursday. I’ve been almost strictly “evening-with” for quite a while, so it’s great to share the stage with people I enjoy being around and enjoy hearing every night. And the crowds, they are the ones who make it great!
TRT: Finally, since the we’ve talked a bit about the hits and the history. What about the hats? What’s your brand? Do you go through quite a few of them, given all your time on stage? And what were your thoughts about the old term “hat acts?”
CB: I wear a Larry Mahan hat from Milano Hat Co. I do go through them but they all go to charity auctions when I’m done with them. Great people are always working hard to raise money around the country and we save them up for auction requests. Right now, I’m breaking in new ones, so the auctions will have to wait for a little more wear and tear!
“Hat acts” has been a mixed blessing as some people don’t mean it kindly. For those of us who wear them, we wear them proudly. And besides, the black hat makes my head look thinner! HA!