My Kind of Country

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

Spotlight Artist: Janie Fricke

Like many other country music stars, Janie Fricke grew up singing in school and church from an early age, but unlike most of her peers, she never planned on becoming a star. Instead, the South Whitley, Indiana native was pursuing a career in education. While studying at Indiana University, she landed a gig singing advertising jingles (most notably for Red Lobster), which sparked her interest in a music career. She moved to Nashville in 1975 and became a highly sought-after background vocalist, lending her voice to recordings by many of the era’s biggest names, including Conway Twitty, Ronnie Milsap, Tanya Tucker, Barbara Mandrell, and Crystal Gayle.

It was Fricke’s work with Johnny Duncan, however, which set her on the path for her own solo career. An uncredited line on his 1977 hit “Stranger” led to audiences wondering who the female mystery singer was. As a result, Billy Sherrill offered her a recording contract and signed her to Columbia. Much of her early work was in the highly-produced pop country style that dominated during the late 70s, but she also showed a knack for interpreting more traditional material. Her first two singles “What’re You Doing Tonight” and “Baby It’s You” both just missed the Top 20, but her cover of Hank Lockin’s “Please Help Me I’m Falling (In Love With You)” almost cracked the Top 10, landing at #12 in 1978.

Janie continued to enjoy moderate chart success through the end of the 1970s, finally cracking the Top 10 in 1980 with “Down To My Last Broken Heart”, which topped out at #2. Her follow-up single, a cover of Ray Price’s hit “Pride”, reached #12 and “I’ll Need Someone To Hold Me (When I Cry)” reached #4. From then on, Janie was consistent Top 10 hit maker, including seven #1 hits and became one of the most popular female artists of the 1980s, earning Female Vocalist of the Year trophies from the CMA in 1982 and 1983. Her success began to taper off around 1986 when the shift to more traditional sounds began to dominate on country radio. Her last Columbia album Labor of Love, was released in 1989.

After leaving Columbia, Janie continued to record for a variety of smaller, independent labels and was also a regular on The Statler Brothers’ TNN variety show in the early 1990s. Her most recent album is a 2012 re-release of a 2004 collection of her 80s hits remade with bluegrass arrangements. She records infrequently these days although she continues to tour. Our spotlight will focus on her most successful 80s output and we hope you will enjoy the trip down memory lane.

4 responses to “Spotlight Artist: Janie Fricke

  1. Ken August 2, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Nice choice for the August spotlight. Janie is a very sweet lady as well as one of the best voices in country music. During the 1980’s I had the chance to spend some time with her at concerts and industry events and found her to be very warm, friendly and approachable. Her clear, beautiful and versatile voice adapts to a wide range of musical styles from traditional country & bluegrass to pop standards. When country music shifted toward a pop/soft rock sound in the early 80’s Janie’s voice fit the trend. She was In the right place at the right time with the right voice.

    As Razor pointed out although she caught the attention of country fans with her appearances on Johnny Duncan’s recordings it took a few years for her to score hits on her own. Thankfully Columbia was willing to allow her the time to find her footing. Though her first single was released in 1977 she did not score her first solo top ten single until early 1981. In those intervening years Columbia released three solo albums and a duet album with Johnny Duncan none of which even cracked the country best-selling album chart. Can’t imagine a record label having that amount of patience to develop an act today. [Johnny Duncan was signed to Columbia in 1967 but did not have his first top ten single until 1973]

    Although “Stranger” is frequently cited as the recording that brought Janie’s voice to the attention of country fans she first sang with Johnny Duncan on the Larry Gatlin produced single “Jo And The Cowboy” six months earlier. Janie did receive label credit on that single albeit in small print at the bottom. Although that record only climbed to #26 it set the stage for her return appearance two singles later.

  2. Paul W Dennis August 2, 2017 at 11:58 pm

    “Can’t imagine a record label having that amount of patience to develop an act today. [Johnny Duncan was signed to Columbia in 1967 but did not have his first top ten single until 1973]”

    True, although were signs that Johnny was about to break out. 1970’s “Let Me Go (Set Me Free)” was a huge regional hit in Florida. WHOO-AM and WSUN-AM both had it hit #1 for multiple weeks and other country stations in Central and North Florida had it in their top five.

    In 1971 both “There’s Something About a Lady” and “Baby’s Smile, Woman’s Kiss” charted very strongly and in 1972 “Fools” (later rather poorly covered by Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius) was a chart topper on WHOO-AM and WSUN-AM and friends in the Norfolk VA area said WCMS-AM played the song repeatedly.

    Poor Johnny and Janie were saddled with some rather bland easy listening type material early in their careers.

  3. Paul W Dennis August 5, 2017 at 9:40 am

    According to Billboard, Fricke had nine #1 singles, the first one being “On My Knees” with Charlie Rich. Coincidentally that recording was the last of Rich’s nine #1 singles.

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