100 Greatest Women, #62: Lacy J. Dalton

100 Greatest Women

#62

Lacy J. Dalton

A full-throated voice for the working class.

Lacy J. Dalton sang once about “Hard Times,” and during her early years, she certainly lived through some of them. But her music has always been defined by two distinct characteristics: her raspy, Joplin-esque vocals, and her thematic focus on working class Americans, those everyday people that are too often invisible as they keep the country running and struggle to make ends meet.

When Dalton sang about them, she was drawing on her own personal experience. Raised a small-town girl in Appalachian Pennsylvania, she was the daughter of a beautician and a mechanic. Both her mother and her father worked side jobs – as a waitress and a hunting tour guide, respectively – to pay the bills. They were also both country musicians, but like many a child of the sixties, Dalton was drawn to the folk rock scene.

After a move to California, she met John Croston, a musician who became her husband. She started her own band and was making a small name for herself when tragedy struck. Croston was paralyzed in a freak swimming accident in 1971, and his health gradually got worse until he died in 1974. Suddenly, Lacy was a widowed mother, their son having been conceived right before the accident. Throughout his illness and after his death, Dalton did whatever she needed to do to pay the bills: singing, cooking, waitressing, even dancing in after-hours gentleman’s clubs.

Still using her real name Jill Croston, she recorded some albums on her own, one of which caught the attention of CBS Records in Nashville. They loved her voice, and immediately signed her, and on the label’s request, she chose her stage name. Her debut album, Lacy J. Dalton, hit in 1979 and built up steam over the course of the next year. Powered by the top twenty hits “Crazy Blue Eyes” and “Tennessee Waltz,” she was the surprise winner of the ACM for Top New Female Vocalist in 1980, defeating a field that included Rosanne Cash, Gail Davies, Louise Mandrell and Sylvia.

Her second album, Hard Times, was her big breakthrough at radio, with a title cut that celebrated the happiness of a working class family wise enough to know that their love is worth more than the money they lack. It started a string of hits over the next few years, which led to her receiving Female Vocalist nominations from both the CMA and ACM.

During the course of her hit run, she released her masterpiece single, “16th Avenue.” Most songs about the music industry track the experience of the singer, but true to Dalton’s worldview, this song is a celebration of the songwriters who “make the noise on 16th Avenue”, the one-way street that made up the bulk of Music Row at that time. It features what just might be the most beautiful words ever written about the creative experience, as she describes the moment that perfect song is captured by its struggling creator:

Then one night in some empty room where no curtains ever hung

Like a miracle some golden words roll off of someone’s tongue

And after years of being nothing, they’re all looking right at you

And for a while they’ll go in style on 16th Avenue

Dalton fully expanded on her working class theme with a concept album in 1986 called Highway’s Diner. The hit “Working Class Man” continued her emphasis on everyday Americans in song. She remained a presence on radio through 1990, with her last two hits being a Kris Kristofferson cover (“The Heart”) and the pulsating “Black Coffee.”

Dalton’s love for the wilderness and wildlife led her to move to Nevada, where she set up her own label. Her releases are not solely for the purpose of getting her music to the fans, as they also benefit Lacy’s Let ‘em Run Foundation, which raises funds for the preservation of wild horses.

Lacy J. Dalton

Essential Singles

  • “Hard Times,” 1980
  • “Takin’ it Easy,” 1981
  • “Everybody Makes Mistakes,” 1981
  • “16th Avenue,” 1982
  • “Black Coffee,” 1990

Essential Albums

  • Hard Times (1980)
  • 16th Avenue (1982)
  • Dream Baby (1983)
  • Highway Diner (1986)

Industry Awards

  • ACM Top New Female Vocalist, 1980

==> #61. Carlene Carter

<== #63. Rhonda Vincent

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6 Comments

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6 Responses to 100 Greatest Women, #62: Lacy J. Dalton

  1. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    A voice with as much character as Lacy J. Dalton’s should NEVER go out of style. Ever her post-peak efforts are worth hunting down

  2. LeeannNo Gravatar

    She has a great voice. You’re right, it is very reminscent of Joplin.

  3. DougNo Gravatar

    I’m so pleased and relieved that Lacy made it onto the list. I heard “Hard Times” as a high school junior in 1980 and have been a fan of Lacy’s and country music ever since. Her voice — which, admittedly, isn’t for everyone — has a heft and force to it that really sets her apart. And she’s a terrific songwriter. She co-wrote one of the all-time great country opening lines: “Mama, I’ve always loved losers.” (From “Crazy Blue Eyes”) It would be hard for a song to say more in fewer words.

  4. just a person

    I can’t believe that lacy comes in at this number.Charly Mcclain was a better singer and she only ranks at 84.

  5. tonioNo Gravatar

    lacy j.dalton is a lady of heartwrenchinglyamount of talent she is a very warm-hearted person and it comes throgh her voice,and songs .imiss her somuch on radio,thankgod ihave almost allof her music on cassettes and albums.lacy if you are out there.you are awesome.

  6. LoriNo Gravatar

    In my opinion Lacy should have been alot higher on this list. She has one of the most original and beautiful voice in country music. You will never mistake her for someone else which is very rare. Combine that voice with her writing talent and you will be hard pressed to found a better artist.