My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

The ones that got away

Bobbie CrynerHave you ever thought an artist was just so good they were destined for stardom, especiallly when they seemed to have a major label behind them, but then watched as … nothing actually happened? They had the voice, sometimes their own songwriting ability or musicianship, great material, a label which seemed supportive, and yet it just didn’t work out. Over the years I’ve been listening to country music that’s often happened to me. Here are a few of my favorite ‘stars in the making’ whose careers never really got going over the past 20 years, organised chronologically. I’ve limited it to artists who were signed to a major label which invested at least enough time, money and effort to release an album, but who never achieved more than one top 30 hit single.

Donna Ulisse had a beautiful alto voice and released a fine neotraditional album, Trouble At The Door, on Atlantic in 1991. None of the singles reached the top 60 on Billboard. After she lost her deal, Donna moved into bluegrass, and I reviewed her recently released second bluegrass album here earlier this year.

Joy WhiteOne of the best albums of 1992 was Between Midnight And Hindsight by Joy White on Epic – Joy’s strong, distinctive voice and intense approach was matched to some great material, but the singles (which included ‘Cold Day In July’, subsequently covered by the Dixie Chicks) all flopped. She moved to Columbia and rebranded herself as Joy Lynn White for 1994’s Wild Love, another strong set which failed to produce anything approaching a hit. She has recorded sporadically since for independent labels, but her later music is less commercial and less immediately appealing. I think she may have been a little ahead of her time, as her style would have appealed to Dixie Chicks fans.

Rhonda Vincent may seem like a strange choice for this list, but technically she qualifies. After a string of bluegrass albums for Rebel in the very early 90s, Rhonda spent several years trying to make it as a mainstream country artist. She released two excellent albums, Written In The Stars on Giant Records in 1993, and Trouble Free on Warner Bros in 1996. The singles made no impact whatsoever, and in 2000 Rhonda returned to her first love, bluegrass. She has gone from strength to strength since.

I have always been surprised that Bobbie Cryner‘s career never took off. She had a beautiful voice and wrote and picked some fine material to record, but two different labels tried and failed to make her into a star. Both her self-titled debut on Epic in 1993 and Girl Of Your Dreams on MCA in 1996 are well worth seeking out, even though none of the singles reached the top 50. She continued to write for other artists through the 90s.

Neotraditionalist Ken Mellons, had a promising start when his ‘Jukebox Junkie’ (one of the poorer songs on his self-titled debut album) was a top 10 hit in 1994. His hopes of stardom were dashed when none of the other singles from his two Epic albums hit the top 30, and he then made the serious mistake of signing to Curb. Six years later, after a handful of singles and one further album, the good but misleadingly titled The Best Of (it was actually all new material apart from a horrendous dance mix of ‘Jukebox Junkie’), he escaped. He released an independent album in 2004.

Keith PerryAnother of the 90s hat acts who I really liked was Wesley Dennis, who released a very good Keith Stegall-produced record on Mercury in 1995, which was spurned by radio. That was the last we heard of him. Keith Whitley soundalike Keith Perry had a very nice record on Curb in 1999 whose singles yet again failed to make an impact; I understand he also recorded an inspirational album for the same label a few years later, but I haven’t heard that.

Elizabeth Cook Hey Y'allElizabeth Cook‘s distinctive voice was probably too country for country radio, as she had no hit singles from her excellent Warner Bros album Hey Y’all in 2002. She has gone on to garner critical esteem from her independent releases, most recently Balls, making her another artist to do better without a major label.

Two of my favorite singles in 2004 came from artists on this list. After I heard Australian Catherine Britt‘s top 40 hit ‘The Upside Of Being Down’ I waited anxiously for her RCA debut album. And I waited. And waited. It was eventually released in 2006, I believe in Australia only, and she is now based back home in Australia. Julie Roberts‘ debut single ‘Break Down Here’ is still her only top 30 hit, although her label Mercury released two good albums, the first of which has been certified gold. She is still on the label roster, but as no new material has been released since 2006 one doubts she will stay there much longer.

Bobby Pinson Man Like MeThe last name on my list is Bobby Pinson, who had a top 20 hit with ‘Don’t Ask Me How I Know’ in 2005. Sadly, none of the other singles from his excellent Man Like Me on RCA did as well, and he was soon cut loose. I suspect his problem was that he was too similar to Eric Church, another new artist at the time, although I preferred Bobby’s work. He subsequently released an independent album, and seems to be doing well as a songwriter, co-writing extensively Toby Keith and the members of Sugarland.

Which artists can you think of who you expected to be stars, who never made it?

35 responses to “The ones that got away

  1. Paul W Dennis August 26, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Karen Tobin, Mandy Barnett, Marsha Thornton, Lane Turner and Wade Hayes all deserved better fates

  2. plain_jo August 26, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Bobby Pinson is a favorite of mine. I was disappointed that he as well as Catherine Britt couldn’t make it in the mainstream. At least now there are other avenues to get your music out there. Saw Ken Mellons at The Stage in Nashville a couple of years ago, he put on a very good show. It was a taping for some show on GAC, or CMT that of course never aired.

  3. Michael August 26, 2009 at 9:32 am

    I loved Bobbie Cryner’s Girl of Your Dreams so I’ll have to seek out her debut and I’m surprised that there’s more to Ken Mellons than “Jukebox Junkie”. Other examples I can think of that are worth mentioning are Emily Proctor, Sherrie Austin, Mila Mason, BR-549, and uber producer Keith Stegall. I loved the singles from his 1996 release Passages.

  4. Razor X August 26, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Another vote for Mandy Barnett. Also Dawn Sears and Ronna Reeves.

  5. Paul W Dennis August 26, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Agree on Dawn Sears

    Also should have mentioned Marty Brown

  6. J.R. Journey August 26, 2009 at 11:08 am

    I remember Ronna Reeves, Razor. She hit the scene with a song called ‘The More I Learn’ around the same time Shania Twain’s debut was released. Beautiful, beautiful woman, okay song.

    I always thought The Warren Brothers would hit, and Julie Roberts too.

  7. Pingback: Brad Paisley & Carrie Underwood To Host CMA Awards A Second Time; Opry Revives Country Classics Series | The 9513

  8. Steve from Boston August 26, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Lori McKenna is a very worthwhile artist and singer/songwriter who shoud be getting more attention.

    After some great critically acclaimed albums on minor label, she was signed to Warner Brothers, and Tim McGraw produced her first effort there, “Unglamorous” which is fantastic, by the way.

    Several cuts from Unglamorous would make great singles, including the title cut, which had it;s own video, Witness to Your Life, and I Know You.

    She has been featured on either GAC or CMT’s acoustic program(s)..and I believe is on both their websites artists lists.

    Lori performed at the Opry, and introduced that particular Opry Live show on GAC. SHe has written songs that were used by Sara Evans (Bible song from Real Fine Place) and Faith Hill, including Fireflies.

    She appeared on Oprah with Faith Hill and got a standing ovation from her audience, and made Oprah cry..(the audience too)

    She’s opened for Tim and Faith, and Trisha Yearwood as well.

    I guess she’s doing OK, but has not taken off quite as dramatically as one might expect after all this support. She deserves better, and though she is really on the edge of what can be considered Country, having a more earthy acoustic folk type sound, So I cannot really say she is “too country for country radio and tv”, but her music may actually be too good for what passes for country nowadays…

    She’s a New Englander, and does not have a Southern accent, but she has a country timbre to her voice nonetheless, and more so than several major superstars that are now dominating the charts. Yup, there is a slight “northern twang” to her soulful voice..

    Hopefully, this is not a musical obituary I’m writing here, but just a reminder to anyone concerned to give her another listen..

  9. Chris August 26, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I hope it’s too early to say Ashton Shepherd…

  10. Adam August 26, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    I am a huge fan of Julie Roberts. She is supposed to have a movie about her life coming out in 2010, as well as a long overdue 3rd CD. She is such a sweetheart; I really hope radio will play her new stuff. She previewed several of her new songs at her show at the Sommet Center and her Fan Appreciation Party, and all of the songs were outstanding!

    I think Jeff Bates should also be a more well-known artist.

  11. Razor X August 26, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    I didn’t see any information on that link that was worthy of making into a film. Very nice photo, though. 🙂

  12. Rick August 26, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    I agree heartily with those who have mentioned Mandy Barnett and I would also like to add Kim Richey and Jann Browne to that list. Mandy’s and Kim’s mid 1990’s self-titled debut albums and Jann’s “Count Me In” are three of my favorite female country artist albums from that decade.

    For male artists Lane Turner tops my “should have made it” list and I wish Jeff Bates and Daryle Singletary would have done better.

    I really liked both The Jenkins and Amber Dotson but Capitol Nashville went nowhere with these acts back around 2005 and never released albums. Other recent artists I was disappointed to see fail in the Top 40 mainstream market: Ashley Monroe, Susan Haynes, Amy Dalley, Jypsi, and Megan Mullins (although all except Susan keep trying).

    I also agree about Catherine Britt, but I was a fan of hers long before she released anything from RCA. Catherine did not write “The Upside of Being Down” but she did co-write “What I Did Last Night” with Bobby Pinson.

    Ashton Shepherd sadly appears to be done at country radio and Crystal Shawanda has fallen off the map. Oh well….

    • Steve from Boston August 27, 2009 at 12:41 am

      If that’s the case about Ashton Shepherd, I am surprised, and I’d chalk it up to another case of someone’s music being TGTC (too good and too Country) for country radio and TV.

      Seems she was just getting started…Oh well, at least we still have Joey + Rory…

  13. James S. August 26, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    Great topic. Thanks to the used cd store I usually shop, I own music by many of the artists mentioned here, including Joy Lynn White, Ken Mellons, Wesley Dennis, and Marty Brown. I’d also like to cast my vote for Mandy Barnett. I love that woman’s voice.

    I’d like to give a mention to others like Stacy Dean Campbell, George Ducas, and James House. They all had that retro sound that I really like but only The Mavericks managed to get a little commercial success with that sort of style.

    A more recent example for me is Brad Martin. I really liked the single “Before I Knew Better,” and I got his album, Wings Of A Honky Tonk Angel, on the strength of it. I liked every song except for the last track, but unfortunately, the next single “Rub Me The Right Way,” flopped, and the best songs on the album went unheard. He tried to bounce back with a single, “One Of Those Days,” from a supposedly new album, but that also flopped and he was gone from Sony.

  14. Todd August 26, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    I have no idea how Kevin Denney didn’t hit it big after “That’s Just Jessie. I will never understand why he isn’t a huge star!

  15. Aunt Pam August 31, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    I saw Ashton Shepherd in Sullivan, Mo., in late June. She told me during a M&G that she would be heading to the studio to start work on her second CD soon. She doesn’t have many more concert dates on her schedule after another month, so maybe that’s when she’ll be cutting new songs.

  16. Rodney Quarles October 21, 2009 at 2:00 am

    Keith Perry is an incredible singer and picker. The inspirational project referenced above is also on Curb and it is wonderful. County music really needs his voice right now.

    Rodney Q

    • T. M. Culbreath September 20, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      If ever there is a time for us to hear Keith Perry, it is NOW!! His album, Inspirational Favorites, is AWESOME…………… His voice draws you in and near, takes you on the ride with him, side by side, and you can’t help but feel the passion he exudes forth in each generational song we grew up with. I would love to hear him sing today in the many different genres that are out there!!! I am left to only imagine how he would wake up an industry that can tire easily. Keith Perry is in your back door Nashville and Wrinkle Records, where are you?????? Check out Keith Perry’s sultry, come hither voice on his inspirational songs that make you want to stand up in church and sing, even if you can’t hold a tune……..You’ll have to agree, he has what it takes to expand and explode lyrical and musical talent in a way that we have never heard before. His is an exceptional, heartfelt, melodic voice that would rock the genres today in many different and exciting areas.

  17. COLDHANDS August 26, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    The road to stardom is litered with musical wannabes that didn’t quite make it in spite of their talents. One name not mentioned above is that of jJessica Andrews. The music business is first and formost a business and many times things like record company mergers or down sizing leaves bodies scattered in many directions. That is what happened to Miss Andrews. A lot of times it’s simply musical politics and it goes without saying too hat sex probabLy plays a role in who makes it and who does not—-that goes all the way back to the Jeannie C. Rilley days if you recall but few since her have been willing to say much about it since then. Another thing is the competition is so fierce if you do not hit big right out of the gate they simply move on to the next kid who just got off the greyhound with a guitar in his or her hand. .One good thing happening today though is the Internet and other related technogoly that lets an artist go forward and build a fan base without radio play. One very exciting thing coming into focus as I speak is the return of THE NASHVILLE NETWORK this October which should benefit the more tradional country singers. Hopefully Jim Owen and his gorgorus wife Lorianne Crook as the new owners of TNN will be kind to the more independant artists. Maybe they will bring back Tereva Henderson who was another very talented young lady whom Nashville producers would not give the time of day. I think it goes without saying TNN will be welcomed back in a verry big way.

    • Paul W Dennis September 20, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      I have Tareva’s 1998 album LOOKS LIKE A JOB FOR A WOMAN – the material could have been better but she clearly is a major talent who deserved better

  18. Pingback: Brad Paisley & Carrie Underwood To Host CMA Awards A Second Time; Opry Revives Country Classics Series - Engine 145

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: