May 20, 2008
There aren’t that many singers who emerge from the background to become stars in their own right. Then again, there aren’t that many who are able to make six figures a year doing jingles, demo and backup gigs. But when Janie Fricke chose to move up front, it put into motion one of the most successful female careers of the early eighties.
She grew up a fan of folk singers like Joan Baez, but she fell in love with country music and she moved to Nashville in 1975. Rather than just play the honky tonks and clubs at night, she used her talents during the day, becoming an in-demand session vocalist almost immediately. At one point, she was making $100,000 a year for her efforts. Her vocals were on classic hits by Elvis Presley (“My Way”), Conway Twitty (“I’d Love to Lay You Down”), T.G. Sheppard (“Devil in the Bottle”) and England Dan & John Ford Coley (“I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.”)
But producer Billy Sherrill saw her potential, and wanted to bring her to the foreground. In 1976, he had her sing a string of duets with Johnny Duncan. Though she wasn’t credited, she was a major presence on his #1 single “Thinkin’ of a Rendezvous.” Still, Fricke wasn’t sold on a solo career, and when she went into the studio with Charlie Rich in 1978, she thought it was just to do harmony. When Sherrill and Rich called her back in for overdubs, they had her sing some lines from the song on her own. Suddenly, it was a duet, and “On My Knees” by Charlie Rich with Janie Fricke became a #1 hit.
Sherrill signed her to Columbia Records and she became a singer of soft, torchy ballads. She had her first big solo hit in 1980, when “Down to My Last Broken Heart” went to #2. But it wasn’t until 1982 when she had her big breakthrough, “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby.” The #1 hit started a three year stretch where Fricke dominated the charts, with six more #1 singles and two other top tens in between.
Some of these were the most popular songs of the Urban Cowboy era, including “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy”, “He’s a Heartache (Looking For a Place to Happen)” and “Tell Me a Lie.” She even had another popular duet, this time with Merle Haggard on “A Place to Fall Apart.”
The industry took notice of her success, and the CMA named her Female Vocalist in both 1982 and 1983. The ACM followed suit in 1984, giving her Top Female Vocalist. As her run of hits not only continued, but became more uptempo, she became a show-stopping performer on the road, earning high marks for her energetic shows.
In 1986, she made a tweak to her last name, adding an “i” to make it Janie Frickie. She did this in response to announcers mispronouncing her name. That same year, she had her final #1 hit with “Always Have Always Will”, which received a Single of the Year nomination from the ACM. The album it was culled from, Black & White, topped the albums chart as well.
She continued to record for Columbia for the rest of the decade, though her success began to drop off as the new traditionalist movement was in full swing. When she parted ways with the label, she moved to Branson and recorded for a smaller label, releasing two country albums in the early nineties and a gospel collection in 1996. In 2000, she launched her own label with her country collection Bouncin’ Back.
- “On My Knees” (with Charlie Rich), 1978
- “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby”, 1982
- “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy”, 1982
- “He’s a Heartache (Looking For a Place to Happen)”, 1983
- “Always Have Always Will”, 1986
- It Ain’t Easy (1982)
- Love Lies (1983)
- The First Word in Memory (1984)
- Black & White (1986)
- CMA Female Vocalist, 1982 & 1983
- ACM Top Female Vocalist, 1984