It’s almost impossible to predict with any accuracy which new acts will attract the attention of radio and country music fans. I’ve been famously wrong with some of my predictions. The first time I ever heard Tim McGraw and Billy Ray Cyrus I didn’t think I’d ever hear of them again. Conversely, there are some acts that seem destined for superstardom, but for some reason things just don’t “gel” for them. Or, if they reach the upper echelons of success, they don’t seem to have the staying power. Some stars that faded too soon include:
With the phenomenal (for the time) success of Storms of Life and Always & Forever, Randy Travis slayed the pop dragon that had taken over country music in the 1980s, and along with George Strait, Ricky Skaggs and Reba McEntire, returned country music to its roots, at least for a time. In terms of commercial success, he was head and shoulders over everyone else, not only winning over new fans to country music, but bringing back old ones who had long since given up on a genre that was being consumed by pop. It was pretty much taken for granted, in those days, that anyone who was that successful was guaranteed a 20-year run on radio.
Randy seemed like he’d have the type of longevity that George Strait and (later) Alan Jackson have enjoyed, but by the end of the 1980s, his star was fading. There seem to be a few contributing factors:
1. The class of ’89 ushered in a lot of the new “hat acts” as they were then called. Garth Brooks, Clint Black, and Alan Jackson all had their breakthroughs that year, which meant more competition.
2. There was resentment in Nashville that Randy was managed by his wife, Lib Hatcher, a Nashville outsider. When they’d arrived in Music City, they’d been told that they would not be successful without an “establishment” manager. When the naysayers were proven wrong, Lib apparently couldn’t resist saying “I told you so,” which ruffled a lot of feathers.
3. Randy became interested in acting and took time off from his music career. He toured less and bought a home in Hawaii, at a time when there was increased competition from newcomers
The first time I ever heard Suzy Bogguss sing “Cross My Broken Heart,” it seemed inevitable that she’d be a force to be reckoned with in due time. But there was a lot of upheaval at her label, Capitol Records, when Jimmy Bowen took over the helm in 1990. After a promising debut, she collaborated with Bowen as producer on her sophomore album, which was a commercial bomb. With 1991′s Aces, she finally got her mojo back and scored her first Top 10 hit, the Nanci Griffith-penned “Outbound Plane.” The album went platinum and her next two releases reached gold status. Suzy seemed to be finally on her way, albeit slowly. But there was more upheaval at Capitol. Jimmy Bowen left due to health reasons, and his successor was later ousted by Garth Brooks. Suzy took time off to have a baby, and by the time she returned, country music seemed to have forgotten her. She never again reached the level of success she’d enjoyed in 1991 – 1993.
I might be a little premature with this one, but Sara Evans is showing all the signs of suffering a similar fate to Bogguss’. In 1997, all of Nashville was abuzz about a new traditionalist female singer who had been signed to RCA and was being produced by Pete Anderson, who was famous for his work with Dwight Yoakam. When Evans’ RCA debut Three Chords and the Truth was finally released, it seemed like the pendulum was set to finally swing back toward a more traditional sound after a number of years in which country had shifted back towards pop. But although the album won the hearts of critics, it failed to catch on with radio and was a commercial failure.
No one was writing off Sara Evans yet, though. It was generally accepted that she had the talent; she just needed to find the right formula. She was persuaded by her label to switch to a more contemporary sound, and by the time the third single was released from her sophomore album, she’d struck gold — literally. No Place That Far reached gold status, propelled by the success of the #1 title track. After taking time off to have a baby, Evans returned and enjoyed even more success with 2000′s Born To Fly. She finally seemed to be on the verge of stardom, but in the first part of the first decade of the 21st century, country music was all about Faith and Shania. Though she received some female vocalist award nominations, she never brought a trophy home.
While she was overshadowed by Faith and Shania in the first part of this decade, the second half has seen her overshadowed by the success of Carrie Underwood. In addition, her very public and bitter divorce may have hurt her prospects with conservative-minded country radio programmers. None of the new singles from her 2007 Greatest Hits CD reached the Top 10, and her most recent single, “Low,” peaked at #59. Though I hate to say it, this may be the beginning of the end for Evans, who at 38 is getting close to the age where female artists are usually cast aside by country radio.
Who are some of the stars that you feel faded too soon or never quite reached the level of success they deserved?