This month we’ve decided to do something a little different; instead of spotlighting a single artist for the entire month, we’ll be taking a look at the careers of several of the duos that came to prominence during the 1980s:
1. David Frizzell & Shelly West
This duo’s pedigree was impressive; he was the younger brother of the legendary Lefty Frizzell, while she was the daughter of Dottie West and the wife of another Frizzell brother. Together they charted 11 singles on the Billboard country charts between 1981 and 1985, the first and best known of which was “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma”. That #1 single had been featured in the Clint Eastwood film Any Which Way You Can, and released on the Viva label, which was distributed by Warner Bros. They were awarded the CMA’s Duo of the Year trophy twice, and both Frizzell and West scored some solo hits during this period, though neither’s career was to enjoy any longevity. Shelly’s divorce from Allen Frizzell may have been partially responsible for the end of her professional relationship with David.
2. The Judds
The most commercially successful of the duos we’re spotlighting this month, the story of this mother-daughter act is well known. Record producer Brent Maher’s daughter was hospitalized and under the care of nurse Naomi Judd in the early 1980s, which provided the opportunity for Naomi to give Maher a demo tape, leading to a live audition and on-the-spot signing with RCA/Curb. The Judds were an immediate success, scoring 15 #1 singles between 1983 and 1990. During that time, they also won seven Academy of Country Music awards, nine CMA trophies, and five Grammys. A bout with Hepatitis C prompted Naomi’s retirement in 1991, while Wynonna went on to enjoy a highly successful career as a solo artist. During the 20 years since Naomi’s retirement, the two have occasionally reunited in concert and in the studio.
3. Sweethearts of the Rodeo
Sisters Kristine Arnold and Janis Gill sang together as children in California and began performing as The Oliver Sisters when they were teenagers. They later renamed their act after the title of the classic album by The Byrds. Both women married musicians; Kristine’s husband is Leonard Arnold of the band Blue Steel, while Janis is the ex-wife of Vince Gill. The Sweethearts of the Rodeo signed with Columbia Records in 1986, and for a brief time were one of the hottest acts in country music. Their debut single “Hey Doll Baby” peaked just outside the Top 20. Their second single “Since I Found You” reached the Top 10. Six more Top 10 hits followed. Though they were never top record sellers, they were staples at country radio in the late 80s. Their first two albums for Columbia racked up a number of radio hits, but after that the hits began to taper off. After two more albums failed to generate any more hits, Columbia dropped the Sweethearts from its roster in 1992. They re-emerged the following year on Sugar Hill Records, for whom they recorded two critically acclaimed albums in 1993 and 1996.
4. The O’Kanes
Jamie O’Hara and Kieran Kane recorded three albums for Columbia between 1986 and 1990. Six of the nine singles released during that period charted in the Top 10, including their best known hit “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You”, which reached the #1 spot in 1987. Jamie, a native of Toledo, Ohio, had penned “Older Women”, which had been a #1 hit for Ronnie McDowell in 1981 and The Judds’ signature hit “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Old Days)”, which won a Grammy for Best Country Song in 1986. The two met while working as songwriters for the same publishing company. They disbanded in 1990 and resumed their solo careers. Brooklyn-born Kane eventually went on to become one of the founders the independent Dead Reckoning Records.
5. Foster & Lloyd
Country rockers Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd recorded three albums together for RCA between 1987 and 1990, and in the process scored nine charting singles, four of which reached the Top 10. Prior to landing their own record deal, they wrote “Since I Found You”, which became the breakthrough hit for The Sweethearts of the Rodeo. Foster & Lloyd’s biggest hit was 1987’s “Crazy Over You”, which rose to #4. Perhaps a bit too offbeat for conservative country radio in the late 80s, they were more of a critical, rather than commercial, success and disbanded in 1990. Lead vocalist Radney Foster subsequently signed with Arista Records and enjoyed a moderately successful solo career, while Bill Lloyd went back to earning a living as a session musician. They reunited in 2011, with the release of It’s Already Tomorrow, their first album together in over 20 years.
As always, we hope that this spotlight will provide our readers with a pleasant trip down memory lane, or perhaps inspire them to explore music that they may have overlooked or are too young to remember.