Lacy J. Dalton
2008 Edition: #62 (-15)
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. Her most recent release, Here’s to Hank, hit stores in 2010. Essential Singles
- Hard Times, 1980
- Takin’ it Easy, 1981
- Everybody Makes Mistakes, 1981
- 16th Avenue, 1982
- Black Coffee, 1990
- Hard Times (1980)
- 16th Avenue (1982)
- Dream Baby (1983)
- Highway Diner (1986)
- Academy of Country Music
- Top New Female Vocalist, 1980
Next: #78. Holly Dunn