May 13, 2008
Jo Dee Messina
The first big post-Shania country star, Jo Dee Messina fully embodied the girl power movement of the late nineties, releasing catchy country-pop songs that were consistently from a strong woman’s point of view.
One of the few major country stars to hail from the northeast, she’s a Massachusetts native who moved to Nashville when she was nineteen. While doing office jobs during the day, she performed in talent shows and on the radio show Live at Libby’s.
Producer Bryan Gallimore heard her on the radio show and contacted her. They agreed to work together to secure her a record contract, and Messina became fast friends with another young hopeful, Tim McGraw. When McGraw broke through, he introduced Messina to his label executives at Curb. They signed Messina, and McGraw and Gallimore came on board as her producers.
Messina launched the year after Shania Twain broke through with The Woman in Me, and the market was ripe for strong female artists who knew their way around a country-pop hook. Messina’s first single, “Heads Carolina, Tails California”, went straight to No. 2, and the follow-up “You’re Not in Kansas Anymore” also went top ten.
Messina was off to a good start, but when the next two singles stalled, her momentum slowed down. Some unlucky business choices made the next year difficult, but when she resurfaced in early 1998, her career exploded. A pair of singles written by rising songwriter Phil Vassar spent multiple weeks at No. 1, and “Bye-Bye” and “I’m Alright” were included on a CD single that went gold. Her sophomore album, I’m Alright, sold strongly.
The industry embraced Messina, and as she scored two more big hits with “Stand Beside Me” and “Lesson in Leavin’,” she won both ACM Top New Female Vocalist and the CMA Horizon Award in 1999. She finished the year as the most-played female act on country radio.
In 2000, she released her third album, Burn. It entered at #1 on the country album chart, and lead single “That’s the Way” was a four-week #1 hit. The title track and “Downtime” were also big hits. The label didn’t want to release the album closer, “Bring on the Rain”, as a single, but Messina pushed hard. The resilient song became a post-9/11 anthem, and helped push the album to platinum.
After that, however, Messina received more resistance from her label. It rejected her fourth studio album, and dismantled it by tacking a handful of its cuts on to a Greatest Hits album in 2003. Even the label must have been surprised when that hits collection entered at No. 1, and it went on to sell gold, with a little help from the top thirty hits “Was That My Life” and “I Wish.”
Two years later, Messina made a big comeback at country radio with “My Give a Damn’s Busted,” a Joe Diffie-penned track that had been recorded by him first, but that his label had refused to release as a single. It rocketed to #1, as did her first studio album in five years, Delicious Surprise. Even though the next three singles from the project weren’t embraced by radio, the album was certified gold.
Messina’s label has been prepping her upcoming album, Unmistakable, in fits and starts. Two singles, “Biker Chick” and “I’m Done,” have struggled at radio, and the album’s planned 2007 release has been pushed into 2008. But the label said that it was her best album to date when she submitted it, and Messina is getting a positive response on the road to the new material. If her history is any indication, she’s never further than one girl power anthem away from the top of the charts.
Jo Dee Messina
- “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” 1996
- “Bye-Bye,” 1998
- “I’m Alright,” 1998
- “Bring On the Rain” (with Tim McGraw), 2001
- “My Give a Damn’s Busted,” 2005
- I’m Alright (1998)
- Burn (2000)
- Delicious Surprise (2005)
- ACM Top New Female Vocalist, 1999
- CMA Horizon Award, 1999