This article will focus on some artists who either had a very short period of great success or had an extended run of near-success. In other words, I cannot justify an entire article on any of them.
Deborah Allen was born in 1953 in Memphis, and probably has had greater success as a songwriter, having written hits for artists including Tanya Tucker, Sheena Easton and Janie Fricke. As a performer, RCA had the bright idea of dubbing her voice onto old Jim Reeves recordings to create duets. The three duets released as singles – “Don’t Let Me Cross Over,” “Oh, How I Miss You Tonight” and “Take Me In Your Arms And Hold Me” – all went Top 10 in 1979-80. As a solo artist, Allen charted 10 times with three Top 10 singles: “Baby I Lied” (1983–#4), “I’ve Been Wrong Before” (1984–#2) and “I Hurt For You” (1984–#10).
Baillie and The Boys were a late 80s act which charted 10 times between 1987 and 1991 before disappearing from the charts. Seven of their hit records went Top 10, with “(I Wish I Had A) Heart of Stone” (1989–#4) being the biggest. Kathie Baillie was the lead singer, and while initially a trio, the group became a duo in 1988 with few people able to tell the difference.
Debby Boone is one of two answers to a trivia question – name the two families that have had a #1 pop record in each of three consecutive generations. One answer is obvious – the Nelson family – big band leader Ozzie Nelson (“And Then Some”, 1935), Rick Nelson (“Poor Little Fool”, 1958 and “Traveling Man”, 1960) and Rick’s sons Gunnar and Matthew Nelson (recording, under the name Nelson, “Love and Affection”, 1990).
The Nelson family answer works top down and bottom up as the members of the chain are all blood relatives. In the case of Debby Boone’s family, it only works top down. Debby (“You Light Up My Life“, 1977), father Pat Boone (seven #1s from 1955-1961 including “Love Letters In The Sand“) and grandfather Red Foley – no blood relation to Pat Boone but a blood relation of Debby’s (“Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy”, 1950).
Debby Boone may be a direct direct descendant of the American pioneer Daniel Boone. She is distantly related to two stars of American television, Richard Boone (Have Gun, Will Travel, Hec Ramsey) and Randy Boone, (The Virginian and Cimarron Strip).
Enough with the trivia – Debby charted on the country charts thirteen times from 1977-1981 although most of those were pop records that happened to chart country. Starting in 1979 Debby started consciously recording for country markets. “My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own” reached #11 in early 1979. The next three records did relatively nothing but the first single issued in 1980 “Are You On The Road To Loving Me Again” finally made it to the top. She would chart four more singles before turning to gospel/Christian music.
Larry Boone is best known as a songwriter, having cuts by Kathy Mattea, Don Williams, Tracy Lawrence, Rick Trevino, George Strait, Shenandoah, Marie Osmond and Lonestar. As a singer, he wasn’t terribly distinctive – sort of a George Strait-lite. Boone charted 14 singles from 1986-93, with only 1988’s “Don’t Give Candy To A Stranger” reaching the Top 10. The other Top 20 singles were “I Just Called To Say Goodbye Again” and a remake of “Wine Me Up” – both of which reached their peak chart positions in 1989.
Dean Dillon charted 20 times from 1979-93, with his biggest hit being “Nobody In His Right Mind (Would’ve Left Her)” which reached #25 in November, 1980. During 1982 and 83, RCA paired Dillon with fading star Gary Stewart, hoping for the kind of magic that was later achieved when Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn were paired together. No real hits came of this collaboration, but the recordings were quite interesting and are available on CD.
Fortunately for Dillon, he is a far better songwriter than singer. His hits as a writer include George Jones’ “Tennessee Whiskey,” and more than a dozen George Strait Top 10s. In fact, Strait has recorded over 50 of Dillon’s songs, ensuring that the wolf will never again knock at Dean Dillon’s door.
Foster & Lloyd (Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd) charted nine singles between 1987 and 1990, with 1987’s “Crazy Over You” (#4) being the biggest hit. Their first five singles all went Top 20, with four reaching the Top 10, but subsequent singles stiffed and the pair split up. Bill Lloyd really wasn’t a country artist and Radney Foster went on to be important in various phases of the music industry, although he only charted four singles (1992-93) as a solo act. 1993’s “Nobody Wins” reached #2. The duo recently reunited and released an album in 2011 titled It’s Already Tomorrow.
Terri Gibbs, blind since her birth in 1954, was a fine bluesy singer who really was miscast as a country artist – although she won the CMA’s Horizon Award in 1981 and charted 13 times between 1980-87. The only song anyone remembers her for is “Somebody’s Knocking,” which was as big a pop hit as it was a country hit.
Vince Gill and Mark Gray were touted as the next big things during the mid 1980s. I’m not sure what happened to that Gill fellow, but Mark Gray – a lead singer of Exile from 1979-1983 and a talented songwriter – almost made it. He released three albums and charted eight Top 40 singles, with the 1985 Tammy Wynette duet “Sometimes When We Touch” climbing all the way to #6. Gray had three more Top 10 records (“If All The Magic Is Gone,” “Diamond In The Dust” and “Please Be Love”) before fading away. As a songwriter, he found success with “Take Me Down” and “The Closer You Get,” two big hits for Alabama. He also wrote Janie Frickie’s #1 hit “It Ain’t Easy Being Easy.”
Becky Hobbs continues to record and perform. I view her as one of those performers who just never caught a break. Stunningly attractive (with rather wild hair), Becky recorded for Mercury from 1978-81, performing pop-country without any of her six chart singles cracking the Top 40. In 1983, Columbia paired her with hard-core country singer Moe Bandy for the Top 10 duet “Let’s Get Over Them Together.”
Never actually signed to Columbia, she then reappeared on Liberty/EMI in 1984-85, where she charted four singles, with “Hottest ‘Ex’ In Texas” reaching #37. In 1988, Becky – by now signed to fledgling label MTM – released three superlative hard-core country singles in “Jones On The Jukebox,” “They Always Look Better When They’re Leaving” and “Are There Any More Like You (Where You Come From)”. “Jones” reached #31; it was her biggest hit, but MTM was a sinking ship. The label was purchased by RCA, which reissued Hobbs’ album in slightly altered form. Unfortunately, RCA never put much promotional push behind her. All told, Hobbs charted 15 singles from 1978-89, although she is probably best remembered today for her late, non-charting Curb single “Talk Back Trembling Lips.” The video of the song reached #6 on CMT. She was a talented songwriter writing much of her own material as well as hits for others – “I Want To Know You Before We Make Love” went to #2 for Conway Twitty in 1987).
Michael Johnson had pop success with “Bluer Than Blue” in 1978 as the song reached #1 on Billboard’s AC chart (#12 Pop) . Michael actually falls into the category of singer-songwriter or folk more that either pop or country but he has some success in Nashville during the 1980s charting nine times with two # 1 records in “Give Me Wings” and “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder”.
David Lynn Jones was already 37 years old when “Bonnie Jean (Little Sister)” hit for him in 1987, reaching #10. David was more of a roots-rock artist than a country artist and would only chart four singles. The follow up “High Ridin’ Heroes” with Waylon Jennings reached #14, his only other top twenty single. DLJ was a talented songwriter, providing Willie Nelson with his #1 hit “Living In The Promised Land”.
Louise Mandrell never quite escaped the shadow of big sister Barbara, although for a while – in the wake of the Barbara Mandrell and The Mandrell Sisters television show – it appeared as though she might. She charted 22 singles as a solo act, plus seven more chart singles with then-husband R.C. Bannon. She had five Top 10 singles during the three years from 1983-85, with 1985’s “I Wanna Say Yes” reaching #5. It was her biggest record. Her countrypolitan style went out of vogue immediately after that and she never again reached the Top 20, but she is a dynamic live performer and remains in demand to this day.
The McCarters blazed brightly across the sky in 1988 and ’89. Comprised of lead singer Jennifer and her twin sisters Lisa and Teresa, this trio hearkened back to an older form of music. Their first album produced three Top 10 hits in “Timeless And True Love” (#5), “The Gift” (#4) and “Up And Gone” (#9). Their second album, with the act now billed as Jennifer McCarter and The McCarters, lacked the charm of their freshman effort and produced only one Top 30 hit.
Mel McDaniel had 41 chart entries, 21 of them during the 1980s. 20 of McDaniel’s charted records failed to crack the Top 30, however, and another eight failed to crack the Top 20. During the 1980s he had nine Top 10 songs scattered across the decade, but everyone remembers him for “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On”–his sole #1–which hit the top in early 1985 and kicked off a string of three Top 10s. Mel passed away in March 2011.
New Grass Revival was an incredibly important band in the development of bluegrass music, if only for adding the term ‘newgrass’ to the bluegrass dictionary. The band actually dates back to the early 1970s, but there had been several personnel changes by the time the group hit the charts in 1986. The group in 1986 consisted of Sam Bush (fiddle, mandolin), John Cowan (vocals, bass), Pat Flynn (guitar) and Bela Fleck (banjo) – all incredible musicians. The group charted six times during the 1980s with “Calling Baton Rouge” being the biggest hit, reaching #37 in 1989. This may not sound like much chart success but for a bluegrass group in the 1980s it was a huge level of success.
The O’Kanes were a duo comprised of veteran singer-songwriters Kieran Kane and Jamie O’Hara. They charted seven singles in the 1980s, six of which broke the Top 10. Their sound was quite distinctive, very acoustic at times, seemingly somewhere between that of the Louvin Brothers and the Everly Brothers. The first single released, 1986’s “Oh Darlin’,” reached #10, followed by their biggest hit, “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You” which hit the top in 1987. They broke up at the end of 1989 but both continued to be active in the Nashville music community.
K.T. Oslin perhaps wrote the decade’s theme song with her 1987 hit “80’s Ladies,” which hit #7 for the then-46 year old Oslin. By then, she had been in the music business for decades, having some success as a songwriter (most notably Gail Davies’ top 10 recording of “Round The Clock Lovin’”). Ms Oslin actually had four #1 records and may be best remembered for the “Bride of Frankenstein” video that was made for her last #1 (and last Top 10) hit, “Come Next Monday” in 1990.
Paul Overstreet remains active as a Christian artist, but earlier in his career he had considerable success as a songwriter, writing “Same Ole Me” for George Jones, “A Long Line of Love” for Michael Martin Murphey, “On The Other Hand” and “Forever And Ever, Amen” for Randy Travis, and numerous other hits for others. An initial single for RCA stalled out at #76 in 1982, but then Overstreet got another shot at recording as part of SKO (see below). After leaving SKO, Overstreet appeared on the #1 hit recording of “I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love” with the then red-hot Tanya Tucker and songwriter Paul Davis. In 1988, Overstreet issued his first solo single for MTM, the #3 “Love Helps Those,” then slid over to RCA when MTM collapsed and ran off seven more consecutive Top 10s with “Daddy’s Come Around” reaching # 1 in early 1991.
Sandy Pinkard and Richard Bowden were long-time Nashville session men and songwriters who teamed up for some comedy records during the 1980s. While none were huge chart hits, “Mama She’s Lazy,” a parody of the Judds’ “Mama He’s Crazy” got some airplay and spawned a hilarious video. Pickard’s most notable solo credit was as the co-writer of “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma.”
Judy Rodman, like Janie Fricke and Karen Taylor-Good (her partners in a vocal group called Phase II), spent years doing backup vocals and commercial jingles. Unlike Fricke (who made it really big) and Taylor-Good (for whom nothing really happened), Ms. Rodman almost made it big. Her first three singles for MTM records all broke the Top 40 in 1985, then the first release in 1986, “Until I Met You,” made it to #1. Her next three singles (“She Thinks That She’ll Marry,” “Girls Ride Horses Too” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”) all reached Top 10 status. Unfortunately, MTM was a sinking ship and her next three records went to #18, #43 and #45 before MTM shut down its doors forever. While she never again was a force as a recording artist, she had success doing backing vocals and penning the LeAnn Rimes hit “One Way Ticket.” She currently works as a vocal coach/trainer.
It isn’t really fair to put The Rovers in this article – they had only two county hits (“Wasn’t That A Party” and “Pain In My Past”) during the early 1980s (the former, penned by Tom Paxton, was also a major pop hit), but under their former (and future) name – The Irish Rovers – this band of Irish-born Canadians has a long and distinguished pedigree having a major international hit with Bill Anderson’s “The Unicorn” in 1967 and having released over thirty albums, mostly of Irish folk music. They also had an international (but not U.S.) hit with “Grandma Got Run-Over By A Reindeer” in 1982.
Billy Joe Royal was a major pop star of the 1960s with such top twenty hits as “Down In The Boondocks”, “I Knew You When” and “Cherry Hill Park” (the first two reached #1 in Canada). In 1986 Billy Joe reinvented himself as a country artist (not much of a stretch since many of the songs he recorded as a pop singer were covered and performed by country artists) and would chart fifteen times between 1986 and 1992 (eleven times in the 1980s). Billy Joe would have six top ten records during the decade with “Tell It Like It Is” and “Til I Can’t Take It Anymore” both reaching #2.
Hot on the heels of some television success, John Schneider tried his hand as a country singer. A brief fling as a pop singer in the early eighties saw Schneider score with a #14 pop cover of Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now Or Never”. Several other pop songs scored with lesser success, but what struck Schneider’s management was that seven of the singles got some country airplay as well. After signing with MCA in mid-1984, he reached the top with “I’ve Been Around Enough To Know”. Schneider hung around the recording studios for another three years and scored three more #1s and five additional Top 10 records, but his heart was too much into being an actor to ever devote to touring and by the end of 1987 he was back to being an actor full-time. All told he charted 17 times with 10 Top 10 records. He wasn’t just a pretty face – he really could sing, and his records were as country as anything going at the time.
SKO/SKB: Many artists reach Nashville as songwriters but also wanting to have careers as performers. In 1986, songwriters Thom Schuyler, J. Fred Knoblock and Paul Overstreet – all of whom had written many hits for other artists – came together and formed an act, obtaining a recording contract in the process. Prior to forming the group, Schuyler and Overstreet had minor chart hits and Knoblock had a pair of country top 10s – one a duet with actress Susan Anton – but with more pop-oriented material.
The first two singles, “You Can’t Stop Love” and “Baby’s Got A New Baby,” reached Top 10 status with the latter going to #1 in early 1987. The third single, “American Me,” stalled at #16, but by then Paul Overstreet had reached the decision to go it alone.
Overstreet was replaced by another successful songwriter in Craig Bickhardt and the group became SKB. Three more Top 30 singles followed with “Givers and Takers” reaching #8, but when the next single stiffed at #44, the jig was up. All of these guys continued to provide other singers with material.
Shelly West was the daughter of prominent Nashville star Dottie West. While never as a big star as her mother, Shelly had a five year chart run, both as a solo artist and as part of the David Frizzell-Shelly West duo. As a solo act Shelly charted ten times between 1983 and 1986 with three top ten recordings: “Jose Cuervo” (#1), “Flight 309 To Tennessee” (#4) and “Another Motel Memory” (#10). None of her other charting singles reached the top twenty.
As part of the duet team, Shelly charted ten times from 1981-1985, with four top tens, plus three more to reach the top twenty. The biggest record was “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma” which reached #1 in 1981. Shelly and David won the CMA Vocal Duo of the Year awards in 1981 and 1982.