March 24, 2008
Sweethearts of the Rodeo
When you name your duo after a seminal country-rock album, you’re making a big statement about both where you came from and where you’re planning to go with your music. The Byrds released the classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo in 1969, when their fellow Californians Janis & Kristine Oliver were in middle school. After many years of performing as the Oliver Sisters, they settled on the name Sweethearts of the Rodeo.
With tight sibling harmonies that rivaled fellow female family acts of their time, like The Judds and the Forester Sisters, Sweethearts of the Rodeo carved out a cool little niche on country radio during the latter half of the eighties. With elements of both rockabilly and bluegrass in their musical style, they strung together seven consecutive top ten hits, starting with the Foster & Lloyd composition “Since I Found You” in 1986.
Observant watchers of old music award shows from the time will recognize Vince Gill sitting next to Janis; the two were married from 1980-1997, and with his career taking off in the early nineties, they were regulars at country award shows for more than a decade. The girls scored two Horizon award nominations and were bridesmaids in the Vocal Duo category for nine years (1988-1996), losing four times to The Judds and five to Brooks & Dunn.
Their last big hit was “I Feel Fine”, a Beatles cover that went to #9 in early 1989. After that, the Sweethearts were overwhelmed by the same wave that prematurely ended the hit runs of countless acts from that time: the Class of 1989. Once the country music goldrush kicked in, under the leadership of new acts like Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt and the resurgence of Reba McEntire and Janis’ husband Vince Gill, the duo cracked the top forty only two more times, and left Columbia records after their fourth album, Sisters, failed to produce a hit in 1992.
The Sweethearts used the opportunity to sign with Sugar Hill records, and released the quite excellent Rodeo Waltz in 1993, a bluegrass-flavored collection that received wide publicity for the song that Janis wrote about her then-husband, “Bluegrass Boy.” They moved away from the country circuit and began playing bluegrass and folk festivals, finding a receptive audience that appreciated both the hits and their more rootsy new material. They explored their folk influences on Beautiful Lies, their sixth and most recent album, in 1996. It featured covers of songs of everyone from Jimmie Rodgers to Bob Dylan.
Sweethearts of the Rodeo
- “Since I Found You” – 1986
- “Midnight Girl/Sunset Town” – 1987
- “Chains of Gold” – 1987
- “Satisfy You” – 1988
- “I Feel Fine” – 1989
- Sweethearts of the Rodeo (1986)
- One Time, One Night (1988)
- Rodeo Waltz (1993)
- Beautiful Lies (1996)