May 15, 2008
When Mercury records launched Terri Clark in 1995, they billed her as country music’s first female hat act. Over the next decade, she’d show a lot more staying power than most of her male contemporaries, adapting to the big changes in country music along the way.
Clark grew up in Medicine Hat, a town in Alberta, Canada. Her grandparents had been country stars on the Canadian country music scene, and her mother had sang in local coffeehouses. Terri taught herself to play guitar by listening to her grandparents’ country records. She was inspired to pursue a country career of her own by the female stars of the new traditionalist movement in American country music, particularly the mid-eighties work of Reba McEntire and The Judds.
As soon as she graduated high school in 1987, she headed all the way to Nashville. She headed downtown and walked right into Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge, the legendary Broadway watering hole. Impressed by the young woman’s talent and grit, the managers hired her as a house singer. Clark worked odd jobs around town while moonlighting at the establishment, until a batch of self-written songs caught the attention of Mercury records, and they promptly signed her to a recording contract.
She wrote or co-wrote eleven of the twelve tracks on her self-titled debut, including the three big hits: “Better Things to Do,” “When Boy Meets Girl” and “If I Were You.” The album went platinum and Clark received several industry award nominations, including the CMA Horizon Award in both 1996 and 1997. Her sophomore set Just the Same went gold, and featured a revival of the Warren Zevon classic “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” that Clark had learned from Linda Ronstadt.
As Clark prepared her third set, the mood in country music had shifted. The hat act era had faded away, replaced by the big pop crossover sounds of Shania Twain and Faith Hill. Clark resurfaced with the surprisingly soft, pop-flavored ballad “Now That I Found You.” It was a smash, and while she had an even bigger hit when she revisited her kickin’ country style (“You’re Easy on the Eyes”), How I Feel found her exploring wider musical terrain, covering artists as diverse and Melba Montgomery and Kim Richey.
The platinum sales of that third album inspired her to dig deeper, and in 2000 she released the introspective Fearless. She co-wrote with both Richey and Mary Chapin Carpenter, and mournfully covered the Carlene Carter classic “Easy From Now On.” Clark received the best reviews of her career, but the album was largely ignored by American radio and it became her first studio album to not sell gold.
When she returned two years later with Pain to Kill, Clark wryly noted that nobody at country radio was chomping at the bit to hear the new Terri Clark record, and she knew she had to come back strong. “I Just Wanna Be Mad” hit in late 2002, and it returned her to hit-making status. Despite women being practically wiped off of the radio dial that year, Clark’s turbo-country managed to break through. The song went to No.2 and, on the strength of “I Just Wanna Be Mad” and “I Wanna Do it All,” her album went gold.
By 2004, Clark was a staple in the female vocalist races. “Girls Lie Too” became her second #1 hit, and it powered her Greatest Hits collection that year to gold sales. The Grand Ole Opry invited her to become a cast member, making her the first and only female Canadian cast member in the history of the show.
Mercury attempted to launch her sixth album with “The World Needs a Drink”, but it delayed the release when the single stalled at No. 26. They tried again with “She Didn’t Have Time,” a tender story song about a resilient single mother. While it didn’t do much better at radio than its predecessor, Life Goes On became Clark’s highest charting album to date upon its release, despite its exclusion of the original lead single. But sales were disappointing, and Clark and Mercury decided to part ways after a decade together.
In 2007, Clark made her debut on BNA Records with a pair of singles, “Dirty Girl” and “In My Next Life.” The latter is expected to be the title cut of her seventh studio album, due for release later in 2008. In the meantime, Mercury released The Definitive Collection earlier this year, which includes eighteen of Clark’s hit singles with the label.
- “Better Things to Do,” 1995
- “Now That I Found You,” 1998
- “You’re Easy on the Eyes,” 1998
- “I Just Wanna Be Mad,” 2002
- “Girls Lie Too,” 2004
- Terri Clark (1995)
- How I Feel (1998)
- Fearless (2000)
- Pain to Kill (2003)