Clint Black killed time like it was 1989 at One World Theatre

The year 1989 changed country music forever— and no, it’s not just because that was the year Taylor Swift was born.

It could be argued that modern country’s commercial roots could be traced back to that year, the eve of a new decade of economic prosperity and happiness for America. And thanks to the efforts of a select few country artists, it was the dawning of a new era of economic prosperity for country music, too.

clintblackpressphoto
Clint Black. (Credit: Kevin Mazur)

As a member of country music’s famed “Class of ’89,” Clint Black helped to rejuvenate the genre for a new decade. Until 1988, the presumption was that in order for any country artist to reach any level of success, they had to cross over into the pop format. (Come to think of it, it still is, but the biggest examples in the 80s were Hank Jr. and Alabama). Black, along with fellow “classmates” Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks, rose to prominence in 1989 as a trio of hat wearing, honky-tonk throwbacks who played standard country with commercial appeal, and the genre was never the same.

More: Read our interview with Clint Black

Of those three artists, Black’s star rose the quickest. With his black hat, quick wit and uncanny resemblance to Roy Rogers, the Texan had four consecutive No. 1s and nine Top 10 hits by 1991. By the end of the 90s, though, Jackson and Brooks surpassed Black career-wise. While Brooks had become a household name due to his live shows and Jackson enjoyed a career boost due to “Drive” and “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” Black took a sabbatical to be a dad to his newborn daughter, and eventually create a new record label.

So a Clint Black show in 2016, on a tour in support of his first album since 2005, rightly feels like a throwback. There were some new songs played from 2015’s “On Purpose,” but a majority of the 90-minute set at One World Theatre Sunday night came from those early years, starting with 1989.

Black, backed by a talented 5-piece band, took advantage of the intimate setting at the sold-out venue to perform stripped-down versions of older songs and to have conversations with the crowd. He even started the show with a pretty good Willie Nelson impression on “Time of the Preacher,” followed by an example of that aforementioned quick wit.

“I met Willie one time, he invited me on his bus,” Black told the crowd after that song. “So I walked on in, and I couldn’t see him anywhere,” he said, motioning as if he was clearing smoke from his eyes, to the delight of the audience. “I don’t know, I guess they were burning some…’toast’ and it was really smoky, and then Willie emerges from the smoke, and offers me some ‘toast.’ And I said, ‘Willie, I gotta go, I’m supposed to be on stage,’ and I got right off the bus, and I wasn’t on the bus but for…well, I lost track of time…I wasn’t on there long. And when I made it inside to the wings, I was toast. And that’s a true story as far as you know.”

More Willie Nelson coverage: See what Willie’s up to on Austin360

That story might have been scripted (Willie covers have shown up on other setlists for Black’s tour), but it felt genuine, and it’s a testament to Black’s showmanship that it felt like a genuine connection with the audience. Another stage-bit highlight of the night was when he joked, “Because this is such a small venue, y’all might get a little bit of a different show. We did have to cut out all of the dance numbers and wardrobe changes.”

Speaking of the audience, it looked like it mostly consisted of people who were fans from the beginning of Black’s career, but the age of the average attendee was belied by the enthusiastic shouts and hollers during many songs, especially on “Killin’ Time.”

The only new songs Black performed— “Better and Worse” and “Still Calling It News”— were still hits with the audience, but most came to see Black’s old stuff, the hits that will forever be linked to his name when he eventually becomes a Country Music Hall of Famer. But when most of county radio is full of the Florida Georgia Lines and Jason Aldeans of the genre, spending an evening killing time with such a talented, understated artist makes the old hits feel brand new again.

Setlist:

“Live and Learn”

“The Time of the Preacher”/”Couldn’t Believe It Was True”/”Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” (Willie Nelson medley)

“Better and Worse”

“Shoes You’re Wearing”

“Summer’s Coming”

“Code of the West”

“Better Man”

“When My Ship Comes In”

“Like the Rain”

“Good Run of Bad Luck”

“No Time To Kill”

“One More Payment and It’s Mine”

“State of Mind”

“Killin’ Time”

“Still Calling it News”

“Put Yourself In My Shoes”

“We Tell Ourselves”

“Are You Sure Waylon Done it This Way” (Waylon Jennings cover)

“Been There”

Encore

“Nothin’ But the Taillights”

“Tuckered Out”

Clint Black: ‘I’m looking to put the wisdom I’ve gained into lyrics’

Clint Black is coming to Austin this Sunday for a night at One World Theatre, touring in support of his new album “On Purpose.” It’s his first album in a decade, but it sounds like the Clint Black that fans grew to love in the ’90s. There’s the strong songwriting (Black wrote or co-wrote every song on the new album) combined with the traditional country musicianship he’s known for, as well as another duet with his wife, Lisa Hartman Black.

Clint Black. (Photo credit: Kevin Mazur.)
Clint Black. (Photo credit: Kevin Mazur.)

But what has Black been up to in the interim? I got the chance to interview Black via email, and he answered questions about his new album and his career thus far. Answers that follow have been edited for length, clarity and style.

Austin Music Source: How has your life changed since returning to music after 10 years?

Clint Black: I’m doing a lot more interviews! HA. I really never left, I was just fielding offers from major labels and let them drag out for about seven years over three labels. [Black spent most of his career at RCA before founding his own label, Equity Music Group, in 2003. The company folded in 2008 due to financial difficulties. His new album is being released through Thirty Tigers.]

I was touring 80 or 90 cities a year, doing movies, writing and producing music for film and television and working for my charity, the International Rett Syndrome Foundation. [Black’s niece Cortney died from the rare genetic disorder at 16 years old in 2003.] Releasing new music is exciting, though, and it did make me a bit more busy.

AMS: What was the biggest difference with working with Thirty Tigers over RCA and Equity?

CB: The people running Thirty Tigers do a great job of running their company, and the people running my label…didn’t. Every time I came back from the road, something else was going wrong. Equity did do one thing right though— we broke Little Big Town’s career wide open. When they left the label after that, it was too much for the label to handle. [Other acts signed to the label included Kevin Fowler and Mark Wills.]

AMS: You co-wrote or wrote every song on “On Purpose” and you’ve had a strong hand in writing your own material since “Killin’ Time.” What is your songwriting process like, and what do you hope to accomplish with each song you write?

CB: Nowadays, it could be sitting with a guitar and a piece of paper, or in many cases, with a USB keyboard plugged into my laptop, putting drum grooves down that allow me to play ideas over and over until the parts all come together. As a lyricist, I’m just trying to not write the same song again. That goes for songs I didn’t write, too. At this stage in my life, I’m looking to put the wisdom I’ve gained into the lyrics and possibly find more wisdom in the process. It has always been an exploration of the human condition and the feelings that come from the myriad conditions we all experience.

AMS: “On Purpose” features “You Still Get to Me,” your third duet with your wife. How has your creative collaboration with her evolved over the years?

CB: We just get better at it! We get better at everything we do together. That comes from growing together. We’re closer now than ever before and that makes every challenge easier.

AMS: What drove you to write, record and produce a new album now?

CB: I’d been working up new music for quite a while. I was convinced that three successive labels were interested in me. Each time, it turned out, they wanted my voice and my name but wanted to make the records themselves. They “find songs,” they “get it produced”…they “make the record,” essentially. I’ve written or co-written all of my hits from the beginning and I felt I’d earned the job by now. So, I finally walked away from the majors and found Thirty Tigers. Suddenly, I had a deadline! I had written a ton of songs, so I had the difficult task of deciding what I would include.

AMS: You recently became the 48th inductee into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. What was your reaction to the news, and to what do you owe your success?

CB: I was very pleased to be included. I’m proud of my roots and thrilled to be in that hall in my home state. To my success, I owe so many people along the way who encouraged and enabled me to make it. Along with that, the determination to make music regardless of the level of success. What ultimately led to my breakthrough was a book on time management. That book helped me organize and focus my efforts, which led to the demo that led me to RCA Records.

AMS: As a part of country music’s famed “Class of ’89,” you helped to revitalize and define the sound of country music for a new generation. What group from today’s country artists do you see making similar waves?

CB: It’s hard for me to tell. I’m focused less on the mainstream and more on the edges of country music.

AMS: You’re also known for dabbling in film outside of your music career. One of my favorite memories as a kid is of watching “Maverick” with my dad whenever it came on TV. Do you have any fond memories of filming that movie or recording its soundtrack?

CB: I have some great memories. Walking into “camp” and seeing Mel [Gibson] and [director] Dick Donner working in a trailer and being invited in to watch them work up the day’s shot list. Walking onto the boat and seeing James Garner, one of my favorite actors. Just standing around with Jodie [Foster], Mel, James and so many great western movie actors was priceless.

Afterward, I was given the unfinished film to pull clips from to use in the music video. It was the first video of mine I directed and I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to satisfy Warner Bros. and Richard Donner. They used my song, “A Good Run of Bad Luck” in the Maverick pinball machine, which –being a pinball junkie as a kid– was something I would never have thought to throw into my bucket list.

AMS: What can fans expect at your show at One World Theatre?

CB: We’re going to be doing a lot of hits, a couple of deep cuts, and two or three new songs from “On Purpose.” Also, we have new addition to the band, Jason Mowery, who sings and plays fiddle, dobro, banjo, guitar and the mandolin. This has energized the band, and it’s breathing new life into the show.

Of course, in the intimate setting of One World, I’ll be able to share some of the funny tidbits behind the songs and look for the laughs that often come from such a close interaction with an audience.

AMS: Finally, 25 years after bursting onto the country music scene, what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned?

CB: To not let anything I can control deprive me of enjoying the work I do and the audiences that come to see me.

Clint Black will perform at One World Theatre Sunday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be found here.

George Winston shows versatility at One World Theatre

George Winston performs Wednesday and Thursday at One World Theatre.
George Winston / Photo by Joe de Tufo

Since becoming widely known in the 1980s for his season-themed suites, George Winston has always been associated with the piano. It remains his primary instrument, evident from the full-size Steinway grand that took up most of the stage at One World Theatre Wednesday in the first show of a two-night stand at the unique west Austin venue.

For some, though, it was a surprise when he ended the first set by switching to guitar. Winston is specifically drawn to slack key, a Hawaiian style that involves open-tuning the strings more loosely than usual. Winston credited slack key pioneer Leonard Kwan specifically for his influence before launching into a thoroughly enjoyable tune called “Sassy.”

More evidence of Winston’s range was found between sets at the merchandise table, which was manned by a representative of the Capital Area Food Bank in accordance with Winston’s gracious donation of all his merch proceeds to a local charity at each of his tour stops. We picked up a recent collection titled “Harmonica Solos,” not being previously aware that Winston also played harmonica.

Before the George Winston show at One World Theatre / Photo by Peter Blackstock
Before the George Winston show at One World Theatre / Photo by Peter Blackstock

As for his piano playing, Winston remains a master of both tone and invention. Starting with a bluesy tune inspired by Professor Longhair — Winston’s most recent albums have included two Gulf Coast-inspired collections — he proceeded through seasonal favorites “Rain” (from 1982’s “Winter Into Spring”) and “Woods” (from 1980’s “Autumn”). On the latter, he created remarkable “hollowed” sounds to some notes by reaching inside the piano and muting strings with one hand while striking keys with the other.

He also paid tribute to the great Vince Guaraldi, legendary for his “Peanuts” theme music, with a medley of “Air Music” and “Rain Rain Go Away,” both of which are included on Winston’s 2010 second volume of Guaraldi tunes. It’s easy to see why Guaraldi was such a good fit for Charles Schulz’s comic characters, as Winston’s empathetic playing brought out the playful-yet-wistful spirit of the compositions.

Conflicting obligations kept us from staying for the second set, but even an hour of George Winston was time well spent at one of Austin’s most creatively designed listening spaces. (No photos were allowed during the performance, thus the shot included here of just Winston’s piano a few minutes before the show.)