Independent country artist Amber Hayes released her first EP C’mon in the summer of 2010, and has since been covering all media ground, building up a solid fan following without the support of a major label. She had already added “theater performer” to her resume back in 2008, when she was cast as Kathy in the Conway Twitty musical. The year 2012 brought about the release of her second EP Any Day Is a Good Day, as well as her screen debut in the film Cowgirls ‘n Angels. Amber Hayes recently spoke with Country Universe to discuss her accomplishments over the past year.
Ben Foster: How would you describe what your journey has been like in the two years since you released the C’mon EP, and how is that reflected on Any Day Is a Good Day?
Amber Hayes: I think it definitely reflects in the song “Any Day Is a Good Day,” because I just feel so blessed for all the opportunities I’ve gotten over the last two years. I’ve gotten to perform overseas and be in a movie and sing the National Anthem at two NFL games. It’s just been really exciting, and I’ve been really blessed.
What kind of lyrical themes do you deal with on this record?
I think it’s pretty diverse. I’ve got “Somewhere Out West” which is a story song about a girl trying to find her father. When I was on WSM the other morning, Bill Cody said “I see ‘Somewhere Out West’ as not just a story song about a little girl.” “Somewhere Out West” is like what they’re looking for in their life, so I think it definitely doesn’t just have to be about that storyline. “Suspicious” is just fun – kind of a laid-back feel to it. “Built This Wall” is more like in your face, independent. Then we have “Far Far Away,” and it’s definitely towards the love side of it all – a little vulnerable. So I think it definitely shows different sides.
What can you tell about your inspiration for writing the title track “Any Day Is a Good Day”?
I wish I could tell you exactly what it was, but when we got into the room that day, we just started talking and throwing out some ideas, and nothing was really going anywhere. Somebody just said something about it being a good day, and wanting to write a positive song, and so we just kind of came up with that. But what’s cool about that is one of the co-writers with me, he’s blind. He has a different outlook on “Any Day Is a Good Day” because his day compared to ours is a little bit harder. I think when we got done writing that song, it was pretty cool because he sang the work tape, and we were like ‘Oh my gosh, you know this is pretty awesome.’ Our day compared to his is so much easier, but his outlook on it is just like ‘I’m not going to worry about it. If I can wake up, it’s a good day.’
What kind of experience was it for you being involved in the Cowgirls N’ Angels film?
It was so fun. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because people will say ‘You were in a movie,’ and it’s like almost kind of hard to believe a little bit, but it was definitely a really cool experience – something I had never been around. I had done theater, but had never done any kind of movie or TV or anything like that. It was pretty cool. The scene that I’m in is a bar scene, and I am the girl singing in the bar, so it kind of made sense. But I got to sing two of my songs from the C’mon EP, and the stars actually line danced to “C’mon,” so it’s very cool.
What was it like working with Richie McDonald?
He’s very nice. He’s so nice. When we wrote this song ["Always There for Me"], and we were trying to decide who to sing it with, he came to mind because I love his voice. It’s soothing, plus it commands, and I thought it sounds like a dad. He was just very easy to work with, and so nice. It’s pretty cool. He’s done so many great things in his career. That I got to record with him and perform with him was awesome.
You’ve also branched into television with having four of your songs selected for use in The CW’s Heart of Dixie. How did that feel?
I’ve been a fan of Heart of Dixie since it actually started coming on TV. I’ve just always loved the show because it reminds me of where I grew up, and I just always knew that they had a lot of great country music in there, and I kind of in the back of my mind thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if I actually got some music on that show?” Then we did, and it was really awesome. I was watching the first season a couple of weekends ago, and all of the placements we got are in the first season, so it really cool to watch that, and then it’s like “Oh gosh, there’s the song!” So it was neat!
What can you tell us about your contribution to Liam Sullivan’s new book Making the Scene: Nashville?
Well, Liam came to my album release show that we did with WSM at Station Inn. I met him then, and he asked if he could interview me for this book, so we just sat down and talked, and I just kind of told him my story like an interview type thing. I kind of just forgot about it, and then when I found out it came out, I just started looking into it, and come to find out I actually made the book, so it was really cool. So it’s a great book about Nashville, what you should do when you come to town, and great places to go – even if you’re not into the music industry, but just visiting.
Let’s talk about some of your musical heroes. In what ways do you endeavor to carry on the musical legacy of the women in country music who have inspired you?
My biggest influences are Reba and Dolly and Barbara Mandrell probably, but I love people like Jeannie Seely and Jean Shephard, and I’ve also had the big honor of knowing both of those women and working with them. I just am so grateful to people like them who still to this day get to go on the Opry every week and sing country music, and they’re so proud to represent country music in such a great way. They’re so classy. I think that’s the deal with all these people that I love. If I could say one word that sums them up, it’s class. They’re great entertainers. I think that every single one of those women, when they walk out onstage, they have you right in the palm of their hand. Of course, Dolly and Reba and Barbara Mandrell have all done a little bit of everything, and that’s what I want to be, and that’s what I want to do. I definitely want my fans to go away from a show
thinking ‘Wow, this was so fun’ and ‘She puts on a great show,’ and I can’t wait to go back again.
You pay tribute to one of your heroes with the song “Me and Loretta.” How did that song come about?
Well, I wrote that song with Brian Eckert and Brady Seals, and Brady is a huge traditional country music fan. He said “You know, we should write a song about your love for country music, or somebody that you love.” He loves Loretta, and he knows Loretta and has worked with her in the past. He said “You know, every song of Loretta’s that you hear you’ve gone through, somebody has lived. Let’s just make it where you’re like talking to her, or in the car with her or something,” and we came out with “Me and Loretta.” I think it’s a pretty cool story. I think it’s just kind of like with “Somewhere Out West.” Loretta can be whoever you want it to be, but to me it’s just Loretta. Every one of her songs is just so real, and like I said, you’ve lived it at some point in your life.
What’s next for Amber Hayes?
“Any Day Is a Good Day” is the single, and we’ll see what happens with that. Just booking stuff for 2013, and I don’t know. I guess I’ll just see what happens! I’m just so excited to get new music out, just because it’s been two years, and I’ve done a lot since then. I feel like I’ve really built up a lot of new fans, and old fans that need to hear some new music, so it’s exciting!
Amidst her generation of successful female country artists, Lorrie Morgan was the only one who was clearly from the tradition of heartbreak queen Tammy Wynette, with a healthy dose of Jeannie Seely in the mix. With her contemporaries far more shaped by the work of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, Morgan was instrumental in keeping the sound of female country from the sixties still relevant in the nineties.
While Morgan never earned the critical acclaim or industry accolades of peers like Patty Loveless and Pam Tillis, she was immensely popular with country fans, able to sell gold with albums that radio largely ignored. She was the first female country artist to have her first three studio albums go platinum, with three additional albums going gold and a hits collection selling double platinum.
Many of Morgan’s best recordings were never sent to radio, and those interested in discovering her in depth should seek out her finest studio albums, Greater Need and Show Me How.
But her singles were pretty good too, with these being the most essential.
Ten Essential Tracks:
from the 1989 album Leave the Light On
This song broke through just as news of the death of Keith Whitley, Morgan’s husband, became known. She was unfairly accused of capitalizing on his death with this release, as people both misinterpreted the song’s meaning and apparently ignored the fact that it had gone to radio weeks before his death.
“We Both Walk”
from the 1991 album Something in Red
One of her more cutting performances. She refuses to let her roving man come back home, because when he leaves, he walks away and she walks the floor.
“Something in Red”
from the 1991 album Something in Red
Her signature hit is the tale of a woman’s life through conversations while shopping for clothes. Amazingly poignant, especially given the conceit of the song.
“What Part of No”
from the 1992 album Watch Me
“Back off, buddy,” is the message of Morgan’s biggest chart hit, which topped the charts for three weeks.
“I Guess You Had to Be There”
from the 1992 album Watch Me
In my opinion, Morgan’s finest performance from her platinum years. When this was on the radio at the same time as Pam Tillis’ “Do You Know Where Your Man Is”, it was the next best thing to having Tammy Wynette back in heavy rotation.
“If You Came Back From Heaven”
from the 1994 album War Paint
While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories.
This is a look back at the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category. It was first awarded in 1965, an included single competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.
I’ve often made the case that female artists were making the best music in the 1990s, and the Grammys did a great job nominating songs and albums that were ignored at the CMA and ACM awards, which is not surprising, given that those shows have so few categories that are actually for songs and albums.
As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back.
Martina McBride, “For These Times”
LeAnn Rimes, “What I Cannot Change”
Carrie Underwood, “Last Name”
Lee Ann Womack, “Last Call”
Trisha Yearwood, “This is Me You’re Talking To”
This year’s lineup includes three former winners and two women looking for their first victory in this category. Martina McBride is in the running for the eighth time in fifteen years, and with one of her more understated performances. Lee Ann Womack returns for a fifth time, having received a nomination for the lead single of her five most recent albums. Both ladies turned in good performances here, but they’ve been overlooked for records bigger and better, so they’re not likely to snap their losing streaks this time around.
As for the previous winners, LeAnn Rimes earned her third consecutive nod, bringing her total to five in this category. She hasn’t won since 1997, when she took home the award for “Blue.” If enough voters hear “What I Cannot Change,” she might have a shot, though the only version of the song that’s been a legitimate hit has been the dance remix.
Trisha Yearwood won in 1998 for “How Do I Live,” her only victory to date. But she’s earned her tenth nomination for “This is Me You’re Talking To,” which is arguably her strongest vocal performance of the ten. Like Rimes, the challenge is getting enough voters to listen to it, but she’s never been more deserving of the victory than she is this year.
Still, the favorite remains Carrie Underwood. She’s quickly become a favorite with Grammy voters, having won this category two years running, along with Best New Artist in 2007. She’s the nominee with the highest profile, and while “Last Name” is nowhere near the same league of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” in terms of artistry or impact, it was a big hit, something that the other four entries cannot claim.
If Underwood was nominated for “Just a Dream,” she’d have a mortal lock on this one. But the strength of the other nominees will at least keep this race competitive. If Underwood prevails, Grammy queen Alison Krauss better watch her back.
Alison Krauss, “Simple Love”
Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
LeAnn Rimes, “Nothin’ Better to Do”
Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”
Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love”
Looking at this lineup, you’d think that it was a golden age of female country artists, something akin to the mid-nineties. In reality, only one of these songs was a big radio hit, though three others managed to go top twenty. In terms of quality, however, this is the most consistent and thoroughly wonderful set of nominees this category has seen this century. You’d have to go back to exactly 1999 to find a better lineup.
In a year when any winner would have been deserving, Underwood won for “Before He Cheats,” her second straight win for a signature mega-hit from her debut album.
With the voice of a honky tonk angel and the mouth of a sailor, Jeannie Seely has been one of the most forceful personalities on the country music scene since she had her first big hit in 1966.
She started listening to the Grand Ole Opry when she was just a tot, and by her early teens, she was singing on local radio shows in her small town Pennsylvania. At the age of sixteen, she began making television appearances on a station out of Erie. As smart as she was talented, Seely took business classes at night after high school, while also making appearances in local talents shows. When her car got stuck in a snowstorm, she decided to leave the chilly northeast world and move to Los Angeles.
Her business skills helped her land a banking job in Beverly Hills, but she took a pay cut to go work at Liberty and Imperial Records instead. She wrote some songs for Four Star Music and became a regular performer on the Hollywood Jamboree television series. She released some regionally successful singles on Challenge Records, and her songs were cut by Dottie West and R&B act Irma Thomas.