New fans of country music in the nineties were hit over the head with the assertion that country music was one big family. Nothing demonstrated this mythos better than the all star jams that cropped up during the boom years.
There were some variants of this approach. A popular one found a veteran star teaming up with one or more of the boom artists to increase their chances of radio airplay. George Jones was big on this approach, with the most high profile attempt being “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.” Seventeen years later, it’s amazing to see how young everyone looks – even Jones himself!
Jones shared the CMA Vocal Event of the Year trophy for that collaboration with Clint Black, Garth Brooks, T. Graham Brown, Mark Chesnutt, Joe Diffie, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, and Travis Tritt. He’d continue with this approach by teaming up with his vocal chameleon Sammy Kershaw on “Never Bit a Bullet Like This”, and he recorded an entire album of his own songs as duets with mostly younger stars. The Bradley Barn Sessions was represented at radio with “A Good Year For the Roses”, which found him singing one of his best hits with Alan Jackson:
Among the legends, the only other one to be successful with this approach was Dolly Parton, who used collaborations with young stars to score consecutive platinum albums for the first and only time in her career. Her 1991 set Eagle When She Flies was powered by the #1 single “Rockin’ Years”, co-written by her brother and sung with Ricky Van Shelton:
That album also included a duet with Lorrie Morgan on “Best Woman Wins.” She upped the bandwagon ante on Slow Dancing With the Moon, bringing a whole caravan of young stars on board with her line dance cash-in “Romeo.”
That’s Mary Chapin Carpenter, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kathy Mattea, and Tanya Tucker in the video. Pam Tillis isn’t in the clip, but she sings on the record with them. Parton also duets with Billy Dean on that album on “(You Got Me Over a) Heartache Tonight.”
Her next collaboration was with fellow legends Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, but they couldn’t resist the temptation to squeeze in several younger stars in the video for “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.” Alongside veterans like Chet Atkins, Bill Anderson, and Little Jimmy Dickens, you’ll catch cameos from Mark Collie, Confederate Railroad, Rodney Crowell, Diamond Rio, Sammy Kershaw, Doug Stone, and Marty Stuart.
Parton scored a CMA award when she resurrected “I Will Always Love You” as a duet with Vince Gill:
And while it didn’t burn up the charts, her version of “Just When I Needed You Most” with Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski:
Tammy Wynette made an attempt to connect with the new country audience with her own album of duets, Without Walls. Her pairing with Wynonna on “Girl Thang” earned some unsolicited airplay:
Perhaps the most endearing project in this vein came from Roy Rogers. How cool is it to hear him singing with Clint Black?
The new stars liked pairing up with each other, too. A popular trend was to have other stars pop up in music videos. There’s the classic “Women of Country” version of “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”, for starters. Mary Chapin Carpenter sounds pretty darn good with Suzy Bogguss, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Pam Tillis, and Trisha Yearwood on backup:
That’s a live collaboration, so at least you hear the voices of the other stars. But Vince Gill put together an all-star band for his “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away” video without getting them to actually play. That’s Little Jimmy Dickens, Kentucky Headhunters, Patty Loveless, Lee Roy Parnell, Carl Perkins, Pam Tillis, and Kelly Willis behind him, with Reba McEntire reprising her waitress role from her own “Is There Life Out There” clip.
My personal favorite was Tracy Lawrence’s slightly less A-list spin on the above, with “My Second Home” featuring the future superstars Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, and Shania Twain, along with John Anderson, Holly Dunn, Hank Flamingo, Johnny Rodriguez, Tanya Tucker, Clay Walker, and a few people that I just can’t identify.
Tracy Lawrence – My Second Home
For pure star wattage, it took the bright lights of Hollywood to get a truly amazing group together. The Maverick Choir assembled to cover “Amazing Grace”, and it doesn’t get much better than country gospel delivered in a barn by John Anderson, Clint Black, Suzy Bogguss, Billy Dean, Radney Foster, Amy Grant, Faith Hill, Waylon Jennings, Tracy Lawrence, Kathy Mattea, Reba McEntire, John Michael Montgomery, Restless Heart, Ricky Van Shelton, Joy Lynn White, and Tammy Wynette.
What’s your favorite of the bunch? Any good ones I missed?
i love “Silver Threads & Golden Needles”
the collaborations from that Women Of Country special: “The Hard Way” & “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”
Anything from Rhythm Country & Blues. But especially “The Weight” with Marty Stuart and the Staple Singers.
I really like that version of “Amazing Grace.” I also love the George Jones album. Another collaboration from that era that I like is “A Voice Still Rings True” from the Keith Whitley tribute album. It included Joe Diffie, Ricky Skaggs, Tanya Tucker, T. Graham Brown (I think), Sawyer Brown, Steve Wariner, Mark Collie (I think), John Anderson, and a couple of voices that I can’t place.
I actually love it when a bunch of artists collaborate, as long as it doesn’t detract from the song. I guess one of my least favorites of this ilk is Dolly’s “Romeo.”
Aside from the aforementioned list, I also maintain a fondness for Reba featuring Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood and Linda Davis coming together for “On My Own” as well as the Honky Tonk Angels project with Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn.
There were just so many exceptional collaborations during that period.
One of the elements that I love about the wider discourse of country music is the sustained theme/tradition of collaboration and community.
Good call on “On My Own”, Julia.
I guess my favorite in this batch is MCC’s “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”.
Although I don’t think she sang on the track, this post did remind me that Reba also appeared in Aaron Tippin’s “Honky Tonk Superman” music video.
Vince Gill’s collaboration with Patty Loveless and Ricky Skaggs on “Go Rest High on that Mountain”, while not one of my favorites, was also well received.
The closest we’ve had to events like these in the last few years have been the Music Mafia (see Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” music video) and Tracy Lawrence’s “Find Out Who Your Friends Are”.
There was also Matraca Berg’s “Back in the Saddle,” which featured Suzy Bogguss, Faith Hill, Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, and more.
Watching these videos was really fun. Watching older clips like these from CMT, TNN, and the various network specials always rekindles my love for country music, even when it starts to wane.
Ditto on some others too.
While my favorite is MCC’s “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”, listening to the Roy Rogers/Clint Black duet was nostalgic since it brought back memories of watching the Roy Rogers show as a little kid in the early 50’s. Thanks and Happy Trails. Also didn’t know about the Dolly Parton duet with Billy Dean. Good one.
Leeann: yes, T Graham Brown and Mark Collie were there on A Voice Still Rings True. Others featured are Earl Thomas Conley and Deborah Allen, and backing vocals included Larry Cordle, Daron Norwood, Rhonda Vincent, Mac McAnally, Dean Dillon, Ken Mellons and Randy sscruggs
“Romeo” is such a cute video, but I wish they could have had Pam Tillis in it.
Re: Vince Gill’s ‘Don’t Let Our Love…’
You didn’t list:
Leon Russell on piano
Michael McDonald on piano
Delbert McClinton on organ
Leeland Sklar on bass
and the old ‘wrassler’ Tex Cobb dancing