There were probably a lot of different ways to become Clint Black.
The country music star was only 8 or 9 years old when he discovered who would become lifelong influences – James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet, Jim Croce, Edgar Winter, among others. The list is long.
“The moment I started playing guitar, it quickly became a mix of all the big names in country as well as the classic rock and singer-songwriter crowd,” Black said.
By the time Black signed with RCA Nashville in 1989 at age 27, he had already written his first and most beloved album, “Killin’ Time.” This set a precedent for the rest of his career. Black declined to use outside writers or material, with few exceptions. Like Robert Frost’s famous poem, Black took the road less travelled, and for him, that made all the difference. In a recent phone interview, he opened up about the detours and pitfalls he narrowly avoided to earn him the career he has today.
“On the second album, when the record company wanted me to record outside songs, then I had almost three albums of songs written,” Black said.
So again he used his own material, and again he succeeded. But for the third album, when, again, they wanted to bring in outside songwriters, things started to change.
“At that point, every time I came in to do an album, I was writing 30 new songs,” Black said. “So I kept holding on and saying that the guy you signed wrote this debut album, which was an unprecedented success. My attitude was, I earned the right to record my own songs, and I held on for years, until finally one day I wrote ‘Like the Rain’ and the label didn’t like the second verse, so I wrote a new second verse and I recorded. They loved it, so I took the opportunity to chat with them.
“I needed to figure out why with all the success we’ve had, they wanted to change something so fundamental in my music.”
It was about splitting the revenue between various publishing companies, which Black didn’t find to be a reason to change what he was doing.
“Why should I spend hours and hours in the studio recording someone else’s song? Black said. “It’s like raising your kids and sending your neighbor’s kid to college.”
It became a point of contention. Black continued. He recorded albums, released them, and had continued success. But his relationship with the labels had soured. His contract was not renewed, and while other major labels were eager to sign him, they also took issue with him writing his own songs.
“I just couldn’t do it,” Black said. “So I remained an independent artist. And luckily, I was successful enough to sustain a career.
Not to mention, Black is a prolific writer churning out decades of material.
“The most important subject is love,” he said. Christmas is another. For the most part, “topics should be meaningful, there should be a larger idea around which you can build an entire song”.
Black also learned to make an inspirational craft, saying, “At first I was just reacting to my life and the songs were pouring out. But then I started approaching it like an actor approaching a movie scene – how do I feel? what is my backstory? – so I have real emotions and poetry can come from this place.
Three decades have passed since the release of Black’s breakthrough debut album, “Killin’ Time”, and it has sold over 20 million records, won nearly two dozen gold and platinum awards, a Grammy Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You can catch him interviewing his artist friends on a talk show he created during the COVID lockdown called “Talking in Circles” – a one-on-one conversation where Black says, “We’re going into the weeds, we talk about things we talk about behind the scenes.
Black also started a coffee business during COVID, and he soon has a PBS special called “Mostly Hits and the Mrs. Tour” with his wife and daughter. Black has done things his way, and now he’s set to release his 12th studio album, “Out of Sane,” on June 19. He will be at Rutland’s Paramount Theater at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 9 to support him.
“Fans come up to me and I put out records,” Black said. “Of course they don’t play on the radio, but my fans know how to find me. And I still write my own songs.