My Kind of Country

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

Spotlight Artist: Steve Wariner

This month’s Spotlight Artist is a multi-talented performer who has been neglected in recent years. Armed with a fine tenor voice, impressive guitar skills lauded by his peers, and no mean songwriting chops, Steve Wariner was one of the few artists to move successfully from mid 80s pop-country to the neo-traditional period, and across several major label deals.

Steve was born in Indiana on Christmas Day, 1954 (hence his seasonal middle name, Noel), and paid his dues playing in his father’s band. By the time he was 17 was working as Dottie West’s bass guitarist, and made his first appearance on record playing on her 1973 hit ‘Country Sunshine’. After three years with Dottie, Steve then worked with rockabilly-turned-country performer Bob Luman. Both sideman jobs helped him develop his performance skills and at just 21 he signed to RCA on a singles basis. The label was patient developing him, and it was another five years before he began to break through, during which time he also played bass guitar for guitar maestro Chet Atkins in the latter’s personal band. Atkins was later to name him one of a mere handful of musicians worthy of his own nickname CGP (Certified Guitar Picker).

The early 80s saw Steve’s first #1 hit single and a couple of modestly selling albums, before he moved to MCA in 1984. This was a canny move, as with MCA’s support, Steve became a mainstay of country radio, scoring a series of hits, many of them hitting the top of the chart. He won his first Grammy nomination at the same time for his hit duet with Glen Campbell, ‘The Hand That Rocks The Cradle’. In 1991, he made another decisive move when he signed to Arista and released his first platinum-selling record, I Am Ready, perhaps his finest artistic achievement, which bridged the shift from 80s pop-country to more traditional sounds.

For some years Steve’s public persona had concentrated on his vocal prowess and, to a lesser extent, his songwriting, but during the Arista years, his instrumental gifts came once more to the fore. He was one of the artists selected to guest on fiddler extraordinaire Mark O’Connor’s New Nashville Cats album, which celebrated the instrumentalists of Nashville, and this earned him a shared Grammy for ‘Restless’, where he, Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs shared vocals as well as playing on the track. He has subsequently won Grammy’s for instrumental collaborations with Asleep At The Wheel and Brad Paisley. His final release for Arista was his own first instrumental album, No More Mr Nice Guy.

After his exit from Arista in 1996, Steve concentrated on songwriting for a while, penning hits for Garth Brooks (‘Longneck Bottle’) and Clint Black (‘Nothing But Taillights’) among others. Labelless, he even helped Anita Cochran to her only chart hit by duetting on ‘What If I Said’, which went all the way to #1. He was rewarded by his fourth major label deal, with Capitol, where he scored another brace of hit singles around the turn of the millennium.

The 21st century has been less successful commercially, but Steve is still active, releasing music on his own label, including another instrumental album, a tribute to his mentor Chet Atkins, in 2007. A third instrumental record is due out this month. He has also continued writing, and was responsible for Keith Urban’s 2001 hit ‘Where The Blacktop Ends’.

We hope to share some of the highlights of Steve’s career with you over the next month.

10 responses to “Spotlight Artist: Steve Wariner

  1. pwdennis February 1, 2011 at 9:12 am

    I’ve always like Steve Wariner as a vocalist and guitar picker. I purchased his first few albums and saw him live in Orlando as the opening act for Johnny Carver sometime around 1978. (I still have a “Steve Wariner Hoedown” t-shirt purchased at the concert)

    Unfortunately,many of his early recordings are marred by that 80s style production – I’d like to have him go back and remake some of the songs using a decent four or five piece country band

    I look forward to this spotlight series

  2. bll February 1, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    One of THE nicest people ever; I’m looking forward to the articles.

  3. southtexaspistolero February 1, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Ah, Steve Wariner. “Some Fools Never Learn” is my favorite song of all time, from any artist or any genre. No fooling.

  4. Andrew Leprich February 1, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    I’m not nearly familiar with Steve Wariner as I’d like to be, so I’m definitely looking forward to this month’s coverage. The only album of his that I’ve heard is “Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down.”

    Great job on the Dwight Yoakam coverage, by the way.

  5. Ken Johnson February 1, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    No question that Steve is not only talented but is absolutely one of the nicest people in country music. Never got a “star attitude” or became involved in drug or alcohol abuse. A happily married family man Steve well deserves all of his success.

    His early MCA hits count as my favorite portion of his catalog – “What I Didn’t Do,” “Some Fools Never Learn” and “Life’s Highway” are among his finest work. Also his 1987 duet with Glen Campbell “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” is a classic.

  6. bob February 1, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Good article. I saw Steve with Suzy Bogguss in August of ’98 at one of the free lunch-time concerts they used to have at the World Trade Center. “Holes in the Floor of Heaven” was his hit at the time. I don’t have any of his albums but I like his voice so I’ll probably read your upcoming articles, listen to what songs I can on-line and try to find the best available greatest hits cd.

  7. DodgeR/T February 2, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    YES!

    One of my all-time favorites. Saw him in concert once, he is a great entertainer.

    I’m looking forward to this month 😀

  8. Leeann Ward February 3, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Good choice. I’d like him better if not for the reason that Paul stated, but I still like him pretty well considering. I had the same issue with Ricky Skaggs eighties output (great voice, great songs, eighties production), so I was happy when he re-recorded some of those hits for the Cracker Barrel album with much better production. Maybe Steve will do that someday.

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