Anyway you cut it, Clint Black is country music royalty. If you’re looking at numbers, he has 57 charted singles, 31 top 10 hits and 22 No. 1 smashes, and he's sold more than 22 million albums worldwide.
As for awards, he has a bevy of American Country Awards, American Music Awards, Country Music Awards, and Grammy wins and nominations. He’s also acted, and his appearances in Maverick, Anger Management, and The Larry Sanders Show, among others, were memorable enough to grant him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Above all, Black is an ace performer and a road warrior. Lately, he’s been back at a touring pace reminiscent of his early days in the business, when criss-crossing the country multiple times a month was a necessity for a budding musician.
Black's latest album, 2015’s On Purpose, is one of his most homegrown affairs. He authored or co-authored all 14 tracks, played lead and rhythm guitar, and brought his band into his home studio in Nashville to lay things down to tape.
Black’s spring itinerary brings him to Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth for an April 28 show. Recently, he caught up with the Observer over email to discuss his tour, his longevity and his memories of DFW. (Responses have been edited for clarity.)
You're part of the famous Class of '89, which also includes Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, etc. What do you remember about those times? What still stands out today?
I think of how crazy my schedule was. Nine cities in a row, one day off, eight cities in a row, one day off — that was the norm. In the midst of all the travel and the shows, I was doing every kind of publicity event and interview imaginable.
At one point, I told my manager, “If you want me to sound like Joe Cocker, keep doing what you’re doing." It took me years to get control of all of that to the point where my vocal cords stood a chance of handling the likes of “Killin’ Time,” “A Better Man” and “Put Yourself in My Shoes."
Do you keep in touch with any of your contemporaries from those days?
I just had a long overdue email exchange with Marty Stuart. Steve Wariner and I are really close. I see him almost any time I’m back in town for a while.
It's been 30-plus years since you started out in the music business. Looking back on things, were you planning ahead for longevity or just taking one thing at a time?
Actually, if you count the years in the bars, it’s 38 years. And yes, longevity was the aim. That’s part of what drove me to take care of my vocal cords and to write my own songs. I wanted this to be a life in country music. Whatever the ups and downs, this is my life. I also wanted to look around and see the same faces onstage with me. Half of the band I share the stage with today were part of the band I put together for the RCA showcase in 1987. My tour manager has been with me since 1991. His son is my production manager. We’re like a family.
A couple of years ago, you linked up with Thirty Tigers (a Nashville-based publicity and management company with a strong collection of Americana artists). How did the partnership come about?
I had been offered major label deals by three different companies. It turned out — after much wasted time — they didn’t want all of me, just my voice. They all wanted to find me songs and have them produced. I write my own songs, produce them myself and do a lot of the engineering on my own.
I make music. They wanted a name. I finally told my manager, “Enough. I’m not going that route, so you might want to start looking at other means of releasing music." He’s the one who found Thirty Tigers. I loved their business model and their attitude toward their artists.
They have a great group of artists. Do you listen to or admire any of the artists on their roster?
It’s a pretty big list of artists they market, publish or release. I could list about 10 I’m either friends with or grew up listening to.
What kinds of sounds are you going for with new music that you write these days? Are there some new works in the pipeline that you are willing to talk about?
I just finished a new album. As far as sounds go, I’ve always wanted diversity in styles. I don’t want an album to be one thing or another. It’s not always easy to achieve, but if it’s the aim, I’ll get closer to the mark.
I’ve also written some new songs to add to my collection of original Christmas songs. My wife, Lisa [he and actress Lisa Hartman Black have been married since 1991] and I took one of the old songs and made a duet of it. These are all part of a Broadway-style holiday musical I’ve been developing for the last year and a half. I hope to have a production of it up and running somewhere this Christmas. We’re currently in talks with a theater.
Who will be out there in your band and playing with you on the road this spring and summer?
Along with my “long-timers,” I have Dwain Rowe on keyboards and Jason Mowery on fiddle, dobro, lap steel and acoustic guitar. He’s a busy guy.
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What kind of show can fans attending expect to see? You know there will be some die-hards analyzing your set lists and shouting for “Killin’ Time” and “Like The Rain."
Yep! I hope so, anyway. We’ll be doing mostly hits, but of course a few new ones and a couple of album cuts. And with Billy Bob’s in mind, we’ve brought back some of the more honky-tonk style songs. We’ll keep things pumping, but there will be some hardcore country ballads as well.
You'll be playing at Billy Bob's, which is such an iconic Texas venue. What do you remember from playing past shows there? What are you looking forward to most about your visit?
The audience is loud and ready for country. Oh, and the last time I was there, Tanya Tucker showed up and suddenly appeared onstage. I, of course, launched into “Delta Dawn,” and she didn’t miss a beat. I dropped in on Darius Rucker myself one year. I’d like to think we’ve got a tradition going.
Are there any particular things you have to do when you come to the DFW area?
See friends, get some Tex-Mex, Whataburger and resist the urge to buy another pair of boots.
Clint Black plays at 9:30 p.m. April 28 at Billy Bob’s Fort Worth.