“She Came From Fort Worth”
Written by Pat Alger and Fred Koller
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
June 1, 1990
The reigning Female Vocalist of the Year scores her final No. 1 hit.
The Road to No. 1
At the turn of the decade, Kathy Mattea was reaching her peak of mainstream success.
Signed to Mercury Records in the early eighties, Mattea’s career started out slowly, with her first two albums for the label each including a handful of minor hits. She broke through with her third studio album, 1986’s Walk the Way the Wind Blows, which featured her Grammy-nominated version of Nanci Griffith’s “Love at the Five and Dime,” one of four top ten hits from the set.
Mattea followed with Untasted Honey in 1987, which featured the No. 1 hits, “Goin’ Gone” and “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses,” the latter of which won Single of the Year honors at the CMA Awards in 1988 and the ACM Awards in 1989. Two more top five hits from that album followed.
Upon release of Willow in the Wind in 1989, Mattea scored an additional two No. 1 hits – “Come From the Heart” and “Burnin’ Old Memories” – and took home the 1989 CMA Award for Female Vocalist of the Year. “Where’ve You Been” followed, which only went top ten, but pushed the album to gold sales and became her signature song. The song swept the Songwriter categories of all three major awards shows, and Mattea won the 1990 ACM and CMA Female Vocalist awards, as well as the 1991 Best Female Country Vocal Performance Grammy for her performance of it.
The label went back to the album for a fourth and final single, which would become Mattea’s last to top one of the major singles charts.
“She Came From Forth Worth” is a sweet song about a small town girl moving to a big city to chase her dreams, as seen through the lens of two older male songwriters.
Here, the small town waitress meets a charming man from Boulder as she’s waiting tables, and he tells her to come to his city to start a new life. So…she does. Gets on the bus, takes the trip up north, and he’s waiting for her at the station.
That’s it. That’s the song.
In retrospect, it serves as an interesting counterpoint to the Lucinda Williams song, “The Night’s Too Long,” also about a small-town waitress who goes to the big city, but she’s a far better drawn character. She’s motivated by her own sense of intertia and longing for something more, so she puts the work in – saving tips and selling her clothes to make the move – and finds her bliss in the freedom of going out every night, dancing and listening to the band.
Patty Loveless released it as a single in 1990 and it had middling success, but it said more about where country music was going in the nineties than “She Came From Fort Worth” did. Women were taking control of their own narratives, and the impact was going to be seismic.
The Road From No. 1
Kathy Mattea would be one of those women, as she got more eclectic and forward-thinking with her musical choices. She remained a fixture on the radio through the mid-nineties, and its worth noting that even with tepid radio support, her next three studio albums all went gold, with audiences ultimately embracing them more than her more radio-friendly work in the eighties. After her radio run ended, she continued to make critically acclaimed albums, winning a Grammy for her evocative Christmas album, Good News, and earning a nomination for Coal, her exploration of her West Virginia roots via coal-mining songs.
“She Came From Fort Worth” gets a B-