Tag Archives: Don Williams

Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Dan Seals

dan-sealsThe following is a guest contribution by Country Universe reader Tad Baierlein.

When Dan Seals died of lymphoma last Wednesday, a great deal of the press coverage centered on his days as “England Dan” in the soft rock duo England Dan and John Ford Coley. Seals’ country career, though more successful for a longer period of time, seemed to be treated as an afterthought.

Many of the obituaries mentioned Seals’ biggest country hit, “Bop”; hardly an accurate representation of his years spent in country. Now, it’s perfectly justifiable to glance at a person’s career highlights for a newspaper obituary, but I think that a great deal more attention should’ve been paid to Seals’ death within the country music community. I would like to contribute this little appreciation to one of my favorite country artists.

rebel-heart#25
“The Banker”
Rebel Heart, 1983

For two years following the split of England Dan and John Ford Coley, nothing seemed to be going right for Seals. First off, he recorded two solo soft rock albums just as that sound was going out of favor. Aside from one single ekeing its way into the Adult Contemporary charts, the albums were considered huge failures. Secondly, Seals had accrued a massive amount of debt to the IRS; almost everything he owned was repossessed to pay it. Seals’ move to Nashville had been planned for quite a while but in 1982 it seemed almost a necessity.

This song that he wrote for Rebel Heart would seem to place his frustrations and hope in the story of a man trying to save his land from an evil, number-crunching banker. Sometimes when it seems like all hope is lost all you can do is work to get yourself out of trouble. Seals could only hope that the oil-rich resolution of “The Banker” came true in his life as well; he wouldn’t have to worry.

on-the-front-line#24
“Fewer Threads Than These”
On the Front Line, 1986

The Seals album On the Front Line was his first as a country superstar. Refreshingly, Seals decided to go in a more self-assuredly country direction. With only a few exceptions (“I Will Be There,” “You Still Move Me”) the album follows a more straightforward country path. The album not only points to the direction Seals would take with his Rage On album, but also to the direction producer Kyle Lehning was already pursuing with his most famous artist, Randy Travis. This song, one of only three on the album not written by Seals, is a lovely traditional-sounding tune about patience in a relationship, featuring great dobro work by Jerry Douglas.

rebel-heart#23
“Candle in the Rain”
Rebel Heart, 1983

Seals had worked with Kyle Lehning for six years prior to his first country album. Lehning produced the most successful albums for England Dan and John Ford Coley. Much like Seals, Lehning didn’t consider himself part of the rock ’n’ roll community. Not only was he already working in Nashville at the time he started producing England Dan, he was established as a country musician (working with artists
like Waylon Jennings and the Glaser Brothers).

If Seals hadn’t strongly indicated an interest in country music right off the bat, it’s more than likely that he would’ve drifted in that direction anyway with Lehning at the helm. “Candle in the Rain,” an album track from Rebel Heart, features a new wave/country mix that’s pretty revolutionary. Right off the bat there’s a combination of acoustic guitar and synthesizer that hadn’t been heard in country music previous to Lehning’s production. The clear, almost new wave, drum beat in the chorus, the mixture of steel guitar and synthesizer, the airy backing vocals; “Candle in the Rain” really does combine the best elements of country and rock. It was a sound that Lehning and Seals would return to on many occasions.

san-antone#22
“My Baby’s Got Good Timing”
San Antone, 1984

Bob McDill and Dan Seals had a mutually beneficial songwriting relationship during Seals peak years as a country artist. McDill helped Seals find his voice as a country artist and songwriter, and Seals allowed McDill to get back to the more challenging material he had written in the seventies for folks like Don Williams and Bobby Bare. “My Baby’s Got Good Timing” is a tenetive first step for both artists; both are still unsure of Seals viability as a country artist.This is mainly McDill’s patented breezy love song matched with Seals’ best pop vocals. It’s an excellent combination but one that doesn’t point to the brilliant compositions the two would write in the years to come.

rebel-heart#21
“God Must Be a Cowboy”
Rebel Heart, 1983

To me, Seals’ Bahai faith really colors “God Must Be a Cowboy,” his first top ten hit. From what I understand (and I probably don’t) Bahai is like a buffet table of spirituality (take a little of this from Christianity, a little of that from Hinduism, oh that part of Islam looks good…), with meditation on universal tolerance at its core. “God Must Be a Cowboy” travels on the well-worn path of songs about country beauty vs. city clog, but there’s a meditative quality to the lyrics that separates it from the pack.

Seals takes time to appreciate the friendship of an old guitar, whose sound “sure smooths the wrinkles of my soul.” “An eagle overhead” makes Seals want to fly away before his time. Whatever home means to you, thank God there’s a trail to take you back there. Seals doesn’t chastise the city (“it’s alright for awhile/Sure makes you feel good when you’re there”), but he understands that in order to appreciate it you must first appreciate the quiet moments in the country. As a country artist, Seals tended to share his faith more by recording songs about tolerance rather than preaching. “God Must Be a Cowboy” really embraces his faith to a point that it shouldn’t be ignored.

on-the-front-line#20
“Lullaby” (with Emmylou Harris)
On the Front Line, 1986

In many ways this song could be considered the opposite (or resolution of) Seals‘ huge 1985 duet “Meet Me In Montana.” Marie Osmond’s saccharine vocals are replaced by Emmylou Harris’ relaxed harmonies. A spare acoustic sound (highlighted by Mark O’Connor’s always welcome fiddle) replaces the rather bombastic orchestration of “Meet Me In Montana.” Poignancy and contentedness replaces fear and urgency. While “Meet Me in Montana” practically throttles you to get its attention (in a good way), “Lullaby” glides. The song doesn’t draw attention to itself, and if you notice how beautiful it is at the end of On the Front Line, well, good for you. A lovely song.

wont-be-blue-anymore#19
“Bop”
Won’t Be Blue Anymore, 1985

Undeniably catchy, and a monster crossover hit that rocketed Seals to the top of country play lists, “Bop” is also marred by some of the worst tendencies of eighties production. From the processed saxophone to the drum machine to the squiggly synth prominent in the mix, “Bop” was Public Enemy Number One for folks who wanted country music to get back to its traditional roots. The strange thing is, “Bop”was not only an anomaly as far as Seals’ country career was concerned, but it also doesn’t match anything Kyle Lehning has been known for before or since. “Bop” was a very fun gamble that worked extraordinarily well. The unfortunate side effect was that the song associated Seals with the pre-packaged country the hat acts tried to eradicate in the early nineties.

on-the-front-line#18
“I Will Be There”
On the Front Line, 1986

A bit of a bone thrown at the pop-country crowd that made “Bop” such a massive hit (co-written by Jennifer Kimball, the co-writer of “Bop”). That isn’t to say it’s not an impressive song, but aside from the mandolin that comes and goes in the verses it’s not very country. “I Will Be There” sticks out like a sore thumb on On the Front Line. Even so, the production is definitely more tasteful than “Bop”; it’s almost as if Seals and Lehning looked at what they had done and were like, “we need to step back a little from this for our own good.” Also very prominently featured on this song are Baillie and the Boys, a vocal group who had quite a few hits of their own in the late eighties, as well as providing excellent backup to the likes of Seals, Randy Travis and Clint Black, among others.

make-it-home#17
“Saw You in My Dreams”
Make it Home, 2002

After the failure of his last two singles from On Arrival, Seals decided to sign a deal with Warner Bros. The resulting albums, Walking the Wire and the Kyle Lehning-less Fired Up, were flops. After the inevitable drop from Warner Bros. Seals became a touring artist at modest venues. With one exception, Seals’ only albums from 1994 to his death were live recordings of old hits.

His last chance at regaining his country audience was 2002’s Make it Home, a very nice collection of new material (mainly written by Seals or Nashville pro Rand Bishop). There are no amazing moments on Make it Home, but it’s almost uniformly well done. The best song on the album, in my opinion, is this song about a chance encounter/pickup. For a subject that could’ve turned sleazy on a dime (“would you believe I saw you in my dreams” he casually mentions to his crush in the chorus) it’s a sincere and very sweet song. If Make it Home is indeed Seals’ last solo album, it’s a good way to finish things up.

rage-on#16
“Big Wheels in the Moonlight”
Rage On, 1988

Seals’ 1988 album Rage On is probably his definitive moment as an artist. All of a sudden the relaxed production of On the Front Line was matched with uniformly good songs. One of the recurring themes of Rage On is wanderlust, whether it’s from a relationship (“Addicted”) or the boredom of a small town (“They Rage On”).

Wanderlust is name-checked in “Big Wheels in the Moonlight,” and it’s probably the most deceptively downcast song on the album. The protagonist spends two verses talking about his dream of riding the big rigs, but in the third he’s stuck in the same town with “kids and a wife and a regular job.” That dream that drew him in as a kid now haunts him as an adult, but he‘s resigned to not living it. Seriously, without listening to the lyrics, who would guess how sad this song is?

on-the-front-line#15
“You Still Move Me”
On the Front Line, 1986

Country fans who can overlook the mid-eighties production painted a little thick on “You Still Move Me” will find a breathtakingly beautiful ballad. Not only is the melody lovely, but the song contains some of Seals’ greatest vocal moments. Particularly outstanding are his pained vocals in the bridge, and his “God, you move me” at the end. That moment perfectly sums up this song about a man who can’t believe he’s about to wreck a good relationship, but can’t control his emotions any longer.

wont-be-blue-anymore#14
“You Plant Your Fields”
Won’t Be Blue Anymore, 1985

Wendy Waldman’s route to Nashville mirrors Dan Seals in every way except scope. A moderately successful singer/songwriter in the 1970’s, Waldman moved to Nashville in the early eighties. Unlike Seals, Waldman found her niche in songwriting for artists like Crystal Gayle, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Don Johnson (I mean, I’m talking about Wendy Waldman here, how could I ignore the fact that she wrote “Heartbeat” for Don Johnson).

“You Plant Your Fields” is more introspective than most of Waldman’s country material, comparing the seasons of love to tending the farm: “You plant your fields when the spring is tender, when the summer beats down you pray for rain, you hope for the harvest, the long cold winter, then you plant your fields again.”

san-antone#13
“In San Antone”
San Antone, 1984

Broadway vs. home is a hoary old cliché, but it always seems to apply. For every artist who makes it big on the great white way there are at least a thousand who become disillusioned and homesick. The title track to Seals second country album is a story about a singer trying to make it on Broadway but missing the girl he left behind in San Antone. It’s unclear whether he’ll return to her, but it’s a pretty safe bet considering he “can’t take much more of Broadway,” namely his squalid seventh floor apartment. The rocking coda of the song, where he proclaims “She believes in me!,” would probably point the way of departure.

on-the-front-line#12
“Three Time Loser”
On the Front Line, 1986

It doesn’t get much more fun than this little ditty from On the Front Line.  This is one of Seals’ amazing run of nine number one singles, and eleven out of twelve. It’s interesting that Seals often gets mentioned as a pop star first and country star second, because as a kid I considered him to be the quintessential country artist. Every single he released struck some sort of chord, whether it was a lovely ballad about friends, a pure rock song about someone being there, or this country song about trying to figure out girls (surprisingly prescient to a seven year-old).

rage-on#11
“Five Generations of Rock County Wilsons”
Rage On, 1988

A bit like “The Banker” in context but much more successful and realistic as a composition. If the theme for most of Rage On was wanderlust, this song expresses the exact opposite emotion. The protagonist wants to stay put and is outraged that his heritage means nothing to the men driving him off his land. He finally resigns himself to the fact that he will have to make way for the “big diesel cats.” At the end he boards a “big ol’ gray dog” bound for wherever; the song makes him sound like he’s doing it at gunpoint.

on-arrival#10
“Bordertown”
On Arrival, 1990

After eight years of nothing but top ten hits, the streak finally broke with “Bordertown.” It wasn’t like the song hit number 12 either; it barely cracked the top 50. Possibly it was the transition to the early-nineties hat acts, but probably it was the controversial material: “Bordertown” is about illegal immigration, a touchy issue at the time that has only grown touchier since 9/11.

Seals and Bob McDill’s viewpoint, that everyone deserves a chance to become an American, is a stance that not many artists would take a chance on. The writers don’t waffle on “Bordertown”; they have a clear opinion that nobody should stand in the way of somebody who wants a better life. “The law’s the law,” except when the law applies to human decency. “It’s not his job to say what’s right or wrong,” and it’s not anybody’s job to stop people from improving their situation. It’s a shame that this was the single that drove Seals off of the charts, because it’s a song that deserved a wider audience to hear its message.

rebel-heart#9
“Up On the Hill”
Rebel Heart, 1983

Almost like a dry run for “They Rage On,” this song is about star-crossed lovers who find love and escape at night to their little makeout point. But unlike some other songs that share this same story the song takes a very pessimistic turn when the man from the wrong side of the tracks finds out “that money is what it’s all about.” But the man doesn‘t give up; every night he still climbs that hill, waiting. Good luck fella.

Another great example of the soon to be commonplace Kyle Lehning production style, with steel guitars standing side-by-side with electric guitar and a propulsive drum beat. This style almost seems more natural for those of us who grew up with 80’s and 90’s country music. To me, it’s hard to believe that there was a time when it didn’t exist (for better or worse).

rage-on#8
“Addicted”
Rage On, 1988

A brilliant song about a woman trapped in a destructive relationship, “Addicted” remains a very powerful piece of work. There’s a wonderful YouTube performance of “Addicted” from 1991 where Cheryl Wheeler joins Seals on stage to play guitar and sing a verse that wascut out of the single version. It’s interesting to see the writer and the singer’s different takes on the song: Whereas Seals sings the song like a concerned bystander dealing with a situation he has no control over, Wheeler sings her verse as an almost desperate wake-up call to a friend. It took a lot of guts for Seals to release “Addicted” as a single (and not only that, but as the first single from the album Rage On) and it’s a great performance.

wont-be-blue-anymore#7
“Meet Me in Montana” (with Marie Osmond)
Won’t Be Blue Anymore, 1985

As Seals and writer Paul Davis’ first country number one and duet partner Marie Osmond’s return to the top after a ten year absence, “Meet Me In Montana” is a bit of a watershed for the soft-rock-to-country transfer of the mid-eighties. Davis was a crony of Seals and Kyle Lehning, as well as being a successful soft rock performer in his own right in the late-seventies. Instead of pursuing country superstardom Davis decided to retire from performing and write songs (occasionally performing, most notably with Paul Overstreet and Tanya Tucker on “I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love”). Davis wrote two very important songs for Seals: “Bop” and this brilliant duet. Seals’ clear voice matches perfectly with Osmond’s sunniness. Their voices add some hopefulness to a subject matter that could’ve been a little harsh.

san-antone#6
“My Old Yellow Car”
San Antone, 1984

It’s a shame that Seals didn’t pair up more with Thom Schuyler, who was for a time considered the songwriter’s songwriter in Nashville (partly because he wrote the songwriter’s song, “16th Avenue”). As a country singer, Seals was at his best telling a story or getting inside a character, and Schuyler was one of the best in the early eighties. In “My Old Yellow Car,” the successful protagonist looks back with regret at the old rust-bucket, and the innocence, that he’s lost track of.

on-arrival#5
“Love On Arrival”
On Arrival, 1990

OMG it’s LOA. IMHO the song is LOL clever. I’ll quit that.

Seals’ final two number ones were great old rock ’n’ roll throwbacks: “Love On Arrival” and his cover of Sam Cooke’s “Good Times.” Those singles arrived at a time when country was trying to “get back to its roots;” instead of Sam Cooke and The Beatles (Seals’ idols growing up) the new traditionalists name-checked George Jones and Merle Haggard.

At the time it seemed like the gulf between new artists like Garth Brooks and Clint Black and late-eighties artists like Dan Seals couldn’t have been wider. Brooks and Black weren’t crossing over from pop, and they didn’t seem to have rock ‘n’ roll roots; they seemed authentic. This was before Brooks showed his Billy Joel fetish and Black started writing songs with Jimmy Buffett.

If anything, Garth Brooks can be seen nowadays as inheritor of Dan Seals’ throne: an immensely popular artist not afraid to be country or pop if the need be and not afraid to be controversial if the need be. As for the song itself, “Love On Arrival” is clever, fun and has a great hook: what more could you ask for.

on-the-front-line#4
“Gonna Be Easy Now”
On the Front Line, 1986

A song about the hopelessness and lack-of-control of day-to-day life. I love the question/answer chorus that just gets bleaker and bleaker as it goes: “What’re you gonna do if the well runs dry? I’ll wait for the rain to fall. What’re you gonna do if the crops all die? Well, I won’t have to work at all. What’re you gonna do if the creek gets high? I’m still making up my mind. What’re you gonna do if the sun don’t shine? I’ll lay right down and die, and then everything’ll be alright.”

The protagonist puts on a brave face, a sort of roll-with-the-punches mentality, but inside he knows that “problems ain’t goin’ away, they’re just gonna change their shape” (this pessimistic attitude about rolling-with-the-punches contrasts harshly with the lessons taught in “You Plant Your Fields“). Seals’ final scream, “Everything’s gonna be easy now,” is a real eye-opener.

rage-on#3
“They Rage On”
Rage On, 1988

“They Rage On” is the song that broke Seals’ streak of number one singles, and listening to it it’s easy to see why; this ain’t no drinking song depression, it’s full-blown hopelessness. I wouldn’t place a song this bleak at the top of any chart. “They Rage On” is a song about small-town people who have nothing better to do with their lives, so they sit around holding each other tight, “searching for the answers.”

If it sounds like I’m dismissing “They Rage On” I’m certainly not; I’ve never heard a song encapsulate small town frustration any better. I’m just amazed that it was released as a single. If “They Rage On” doesn’t prove that Seals took more risks than any other country artist of the late-eighties I don’t know what does. Whatever the case, “They Rage On” is a gorgeous, brooding number which deserved its place as Seals’ streak-breaker.

the-best#2
“One Friend”
The Best, 1987

As I said before, from reading the obituaries it would seem that Seals had two signature moments as an artist: one as a member of England Dan and John Ford Coley with Parker McGee’s “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” and the other as a solo crossover artist with “Bop.” Those two songs are all well and good, but to me “One Friend” and “Everything That Glitters” will always be Seals’ signatures.

Amazingly, “One Friend” had to be resurrected and re-recorded for his greatest hits to become a single. Seals recorded a spare two-minute long acoustic version for the end of San Antone. The original version was obviously supposed to be a pleasant little album ender, nothing more. Kyle Lehning thought the song had potential, so he had Seals repeat the bridge and the chorus, then added orchestration. The finished product is a song that is deceptively simple and universal, and one of the greatest songs about commitment I’ve ever heard.

wont-be-blue-anymore#1
“Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)”
Won’t Be Blue Anymore, 1985

“Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)” is a brilliant composition. It’s a song filled with great characters (apparently from stories that Seals‘ grandmother told him): the struggling rodeo rider living in a mobile home, his little girl who’s slowly turning into a woman, the old horse that should be put to pasture except the rider “just can’t bear to let him go” and, of course, the woman who let success go to her head and left the people who loved her behind. The song is basically crying for a movie to be made of it, except no movie could match Seals’ emotions here.

The first verse and chorus is sung with vulnerability and resignation. The anger starts to build in the second verse, culminating at the bridge where he tells her “Someday I’m sure you’re gonna know the cost, cause for everything you win there’s something lost.” Then, after a moment to gather himself, Seals wistfully sings the chorus, then whistles off into the sunset.

Goodbye, Dan.

16 Comments

Filed under Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists

Hall of Fame, By the Numbers

hall-of-fameMy good friend and favorite sports blogger Charles Geier, of The Widening Geier fame, has long used statistics-based reasoning when making the case for the best in sports, whether for the current season or throughout the history of a given sport.

He recently launched an in-depth site called Sports Statistics – By the Numbers, which details the crucial importance of statistics, and of course, it got me thinking about country music.

Music statistics are difficult to use in the same way, if only because chart success is but one measure of an artist’s impact. However, with country music being such a commercial genre, it’s interesting to see how the most successful chart acts have fared among Country Music Hall of Fame inductees.

Looking through Joel Whitburn’s Hot Country Songs 1944-2008 and Hot Country Albums 1964-2007, it’s immediately clear that the charts are important. All of the top ten country singles artists are in the Hall of Fame, as are eight of the top ten country albums artists.

But what about those not in the Hall of Fame who are ranked high in either measure? Should they be next in line, or should they still wait? What follows are the top ten singles artists and album artists that have yet to be inducted or announced as inductees of the Hall of Fame. Their rank overall is included after their name.

Top Country Singles Artists Not in the Hall of Fame

  1. Reba McEntire (Overall Rank: #11)
  2. Hank Williams, Jr. (#15)
  3. Alan Jackson (#18)
  4. Garth Brooks (#23)
  5. Ronnie Milsap (#26)
  6. Kenny Rogers (#27)
  7. Tim McGraw (#29)
  8. Brooks & Dunn (#33)
  9. Tanya Tucker (#34)
  10. Don Williams (#37)

Top Country Albums Artists Not in the Hall of Fame

  1. Hank Williams, Jr. (Overall Rank: #5)
  2. Kenny Rogers (#10)
  3. Garth Brooks (#12)
  4. Reba McEntire (#13)
  5. Alan Jackson (#18)
  6. Randy Travis (#19)
  7. Tim McGraw (#22)
  8. Anne Murray (#23)
  9. Toby Keith (#24)
  10. Ronnie Milsap (#27)

This year’s artist inductees to the Hall of Fame are Barbara Mandrell and Roy Clark. Mandrell ranks #55 on the singles list and #64 on the albums list. Clark comes in at #118 on the singles list and #63 on the albums list. Both artists, however, were very successful on television, so they also reveal how limiting such lists can be.

Thoughts?

11 Comments

Filed under Discussion

CMA Flashback: Male Vocalist

For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.

2010

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Bentley and Shelton have never won, but they’re up against Strait, who has won five times, and Paisley and Urban, who’ve won three times each.  With the balance of commercial and critical success not significantly different across the category, this race could bring the night’s biggest surprise. But whatever happens, kudos to Paisley for earning his tenth nomination, and Strait for earning his twenty-fifth!

2009

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Just like in the Entertainer category, 80% of this race for the past three years had been Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, George Strait, and Keith Urban. This year, Darius Rucker took the fifth slot that was occupied by Alan Jackson in 2008 and Josh Turner in 2007.  Brad Paisley went on to win his third Male Vocalist prize.

brad-paisley2008

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

After so many years on the sidelines, Paisley began to dominate the category, scoring his second consecutive Male Vocalist award. Meanwhile, Kenny Chesney tied Willie Nelson for most nominations without a win, though his seventh loss was accompanied by his fourth win for Entertainer.

2007

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Josh Turner
  • Keith Urban

This was the year that Brad Paisley finally won, with his seventh nomination in eight years. The stars aligned for him, with a very successful tour, a new album that is selling strongly, and a continued hot streakat radio that was nearly unmatched. He still hasn’t had a single miss the top ten since “Me Neither” in 2000, a claim that even radio favorites like George Strait, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts can’t call their own.

2006

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban

Urban became the first artist to win Male Vocalist three years in a row since George Strait did it in 1996-1998, right after Vince Gill’s 1991-1995 run. His acceptance letter, read by Ronnie Dunn, was the emotional highlight of the evening’s show.

2005

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

No surprises here, as another multi-platinum year full of radio hits and a high-profile appearance at Live 8 kept Urban fresh on voter’s minds. The big shock was him walking away with Entertainer of the Year later that night.

2004

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Urban hadn’t even been nominated for any CMA Awards in 2002 and 2003, after winning Horizon in 2001, but he came back with a bang, taking home Male Vocalist of the Year over the four other superstars in the category. He joined Chesney as the only other man in the running who had never won before; Chesney got the wonderful consolation prizes of Entertainer and Album of the Year the same night.

2003

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Tim McGraw
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait

Things were getting tight in this category in 2003, with so many worthy contenders that ties resulted in six nominees, instead of the usual five. Still, voters chose to stick with last year’s winner, Alan Jackson, a sure indicator of his enduring popularity among CMA voters.

2002

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait

The other four men were merely placeholders, there to create a list around the obvious winner, Alan Jackson. As he swept the awards on the strength of his post-9/11 “Where Were You” and autobiographical “Drive”, the only real shock was that he was winning Male Vocalist for the first time, a result of the ridiculously slow turnover in this category during the 1990’s.

2001

  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Tim McGraw
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait

Toby Keith has been a vocal critic of the CMA because he feels they’ve overlooked him, but he’s been up against some tough competition, with his popularity peaking at the same time that Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban were making a huge impact on the charts and at the CMA’s. Thankfully, he’s at least won in this category, so he won’t go down in history with Willie Nelson and Conway Twitty as one of the best male singers to never win it.

2000

  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Tim McGraw
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait

On the same evening that his wife was crowned Female Vocalist, McGraw walked away with his second consecutive Male Vocalist award.

1999

  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait
  • Steve Wariner

Early on in his career, when McGraw was selling tons of records but being excluded from this category, he humbly said that he didn’t think he was a good enough singer to be nominated. His talents grew over the years, and he finally won in 1999.

1998

  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Tim McGraw
  • Collin Raye
  • George Strait

Strait matched Vince Gill’s record of five wins in this category, defeating Gill and three other nominees who had yet to win in the category.

1997

  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Collin Raye
  • George Strait
  • Bryan White

With no turnover in the category from the previous year, Strait won for the fourth time, again defeating his fellow mega-winner Gill, and three other stars who had never won before.

1996

  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Collin Raye
  • George Strait
  • Bryan White

Jackson was already long overdue, and Collin Raye and Bryan White broke into the category for the first time. Nobody expected Gill to win for the sixth year in a row, but many were surprised to see former two-time winner George Strait collect a Male Vocalist award for the first time in ten years.

1995

  • John Berry
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • John Michael Montgomery
  • George Strait

Even Gill was expecting to lose, so when his name was called out for the fifth year in a row, he was gamely applauding backstage for the winner, before suddenly realizing it was him and rushing out to the stage.

1994

  • John Anderson
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait
  • Dwight Yoakam

Vince won for the fourth year in a row, even though fellow nominees John Anderson, Alan Jackson and Dwight Yoakam were seen as likely spoilers.

1993

  • John Anderson
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait

Vince not only won his third Male Vocalist award this year, he also took home four other awards: Entertainer, Album, Song and Vocal Event.

1992

  • Garth Brooks
  • Joe Diffie
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Travis Tritt

A bunch of hot young stars dominated the ballot this year, with Gill emerging triumphant for the second time. Though they would continue to score hits for many years, Joe Diffie and Travis Tritt received their only nominations to date in this category.

1991

  • Clint Black
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait

After Garth swept the ACM’s earlier that year, he was expected to do the same at the CMA’s, and he came close, winning Entertainer, Single and Album. But industry favorite Vince Gill took home Male Vocalist, an award that Garth Brooks would never receive, though he would win Entertainer a record four times.

1990

  • Clint Black
  • Garth Brooks
  • Rodney Crowell
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait

For the second year in a row, the previous year’s Horizon winner took home Male Vocalist. Clint Black won easily over very distinguished competition.

1989

  • Rodney Crowell
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Keith Whitley

After winning Horizon in 1988, platinum-selling Ricky Van Shelton graduated into a Male Vocalist winner only one year later. Keith Whitley received a posthumous nomination; he won Single of the Year that same evening.

1988

  • Vern Gosdin
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

It’s hard not to wince at the knowledge that the peerless Vern Gosdin only received one nomination in this category, but there was no stopping Travis from collecting his second win.

1987

  • George Jones
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

In a lineup that was a traditionalist’s dream, new star Randy Travis took home the trophy.  At the time, he was breaking sales records, enjoying a quadruple-platinum studio album in Always & Forever.

1986

  • George Jones
  • Gary Morris
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

Strait won his second consecutive Male Vocalist award on the strength of another huge year at radio and retail.

1985

  • Lee Greenwood
  • Gary Morris
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

George Strait won the first of a record-matching five Male Vocalist awards, also taking home Album of the Year that same evening.

1984

  • Lee Greenwood
  • Merle Haggard
  • Gary Morris
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait

Greenwood’s Vegas vocals won him the award for the second time.

1983

  • John Anderson
  • Lee Greenwood
  • Merle Haggard
  • Willie Nelson
  • Ricky Skaggs

Greenwood looks pretty shabby against these other four nominees, taking home Male Vocalist in the same year Janie Fricke won for Female Vocalist. Is there a year in the history of the CMA’s where the winners of those two categories were collectively less impressive?

1982

  • Merle Haggard
  • George Jones
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Ricky Skaggs

Pulling off the astonishing feat of winning both Male Vocalist and Horizon award, Emmylou Harris’ former bandmate was hugely rewarded for bringing bluegrass to the masses.

1981

  • George Jones
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

It’s taken for granted that Jones is the greatest living male vocalist in country music; few would dare to argue otherwise. No surprise, then, that he won for the second year in a row.

1980

  • John Conlee
  • George Jones
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

Nominated for the first time in his career, George Jones walked away with Male Vocalist of the Year, along with Single of the Year for “He Stopped Loving Her Today”.

1979

  • John Conlee
  • Larry Gatlin
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

It’s hard to believe that the legendary showman never won Entertainer of the Year, but he did take home a much-deserved Male Vocalist award, at least.  Unfortunately, fellow nominee John Conlee would never be recognized at all, losing his first of two shots at this award.

1978

  • Larry Gatlin
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

One of the most underrated artists in country music history got a well-deserved pat on the back, winning over four larger personalities in 1978.

1977

  • Larry Gatlin
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

Milsap set a record when he won for the third time in this category, which would stand until 1994, when Vince Gill won his fourth trophy.

1976

  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Conway Twitty
  • Don Williams

After losing to Jennings the previous year, Milsap returned to collect his second Male Vocalist trophy in 1976. Conway Twitty lost again in his final appearance in the category.

1975

  • John Denver
  • Freddy Fender
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Conway Twitty

There was no love lost between Waylon Jennings and the CMA – he loathed the organization so much, he didn’t even show up at his Hall of Fame induction. This was the first of several CMA wins for Jennings, though the only one in this category that he would receive.

1974

  • Merle Haggard
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Charlie Rich
  • Cal Smith

Blind singer-songwriter and pianist Ronnie Milsap won for the first time; with Olivia Newton-John winning Female Vocalist the same night, pop was the flavor of the evening.

1973

  • Merle Haggard
  • Tom T. Hall
  • Charlie Rich
  • Johnny Rodriguez
  • Conway Twitty

The Silver Fox won on the strength of a great year at radio. He’s still considered one of the era’s finest and most under-appreciated vocalists.

1972

  • Merle Haggard
  • Freddie Hart
  • Johnny Paycheck
  • Charley Pride
  • Jerry Wallace

Charley Pride became the first artist to repeat in the category, winning for the second year in a row.

1971

  • Merle Haggard
  • Ray Price
  • Charley Pride
  • Jerry Reed
  • Conway Twitty

The CMA had a wealth of great male vocalists to choose from in the early years of the awards, and they finally got around to acknowledging Pride, who had been nominated four times already.

1970

  • Johnny Cash
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride
  • Marty Robbins
  • Conway Twitty

Merle Haggard dominated the show in 1970, winning Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Single and Album of the Year.

1969

  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Merle Haggard
  • Sonny James
  • Charley Pride

Cash was a huge winner in 1969, taking home five awards: Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Single, Album and Vocal Group (with wife June Carter Cash). He wouldn’t win again until after his death in 2003, when he took home another three awards.

1968

  • Eddy Arnold
  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride

Crossover star Glen Campbell won in a year that is so impressive, all five nominees are now in the Hall of Fame. He also took home Male Vocalist the same evening.

1967

  • Eddy Arnold
  • Jack Greene
  • Merle Haggard
  • Sonny James
  • Buck Owens

Few casual country fans would recognize him today, but Jack Greene will forever go down in history as the first Male Vocalist winner at the CMA’s. He won on the strength of his signature hit “There Goes My Everything”, which also won Single of the Year and was the title track of his Album of the Year winner that same night.

Facts & Feats

Multiple Wins:

  • (5) – Vince Gill, George Strait
  • (3) – Ronnie Milsap, Keith Urban
  • (2) – Lee Greenwood, Alan Jackson, George Jones, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Randy Travis

Most Consecutive Wins:

  • (5) – Vince Gill (1991-1995)
  • (3) – George Strait (1996-1998), Keith Urban (2004-2006)

Most Nominations:

  • (25) – George Strait
  • (16) – Alan Jackson
  • (11) – Merle Haggard
  • (10) – Vince Gill
  • (10) – Brad Paisley
  • (8) – Kenny Chesney
  • (7) – Ronnie Milsap, Willie Nelson, Keith Urban
  • (6) – Don Williams
  • (5) – Garth Brooks, George Jones, Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs, Conway Twitty

Most Nominations Without a Win:

  • (8) – Kenny Chesney
  • (7) – Willie Nelson
  • (5) – Garth Brooks, Conway Twitty
  • (4) – Hank Williams, Jr.
  • (3) – John Anderson, Larry Gatlin, Gary Morris, Collin Raye
  • (2) – Eddy Arnold, Dierks Bentley, John Conlee, Rodney Crowell, Sonny James, Bryan White

Winners in First Year of Nomination:
Clint Black (1990), Glen Campbell (1968), Vince Gill (1991), Lee Greenwood (1983), George Jones (1980), Toby Keith (2001), Ronnie Milsap (1974), Charlie Rich (1973), Ricky Skaggs (1982), Randy Travis (1987), Keith Urban (2004)

CMA Male Vocalists of the Year Who Have Never Won the ACM Award:
Johnny Cash, Jack Greene, Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, Ricky Van Shelton, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis, Don Williams

ACM Male Vocalists of the Year Who Have Never Won the CMA Award:
Garth Brooks (1990 & 1991), Kenny Chesney (2003), Larry Gatlin (1980), Mickey Gilley (1977), Freddie Hart (1972)

CMA Male Vocalists Who Have Also Won the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male:
Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Lee Greenwood, George Jones, Tim McGraw, Ronnie Milsap, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Charlie Rich, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Keith Urban

Winners of the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male Who Have Never Won the CMA Male Vocalist Award:
Garth Brooks, David Houston, Lyle Lovett, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Jerry Reed, Ralph Stanley, Dwight Yoakam

6 Comments

Filed under CMA Awards