Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Kathy Mattea, “She Came From Fort Worth”

“She Came From Fort Worth”

Kathy Mattea

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.

The No.1

“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- 

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. I really like Kathy Mattea but this was not one of her more impressive efforts. Frankly, I’m surprised this made it to #1

  2. I didn’t remember this song from my childhood but discovered it a few years ago as I dug into all Kathy’s albums for deeper cuts. I really enjoy the song and agree with its rating. I didn’t understand radios tepid nature to her 90s songs as they were just as good or better than a lot of other 90s country. Met her once and she was so nice!

  3. Like trouble_with_the_truth, I don’t really remember hearing this one on the radio during my childhood, but it’s one I’ve really liked ever since I picked up the Willow In The Wind album. Like many of Kathy’s other ballads, it’s such a pleasant and relaxing listen, and I love her voice. I do get Kevin’s point, though, in comparing it to Patty’s “The Night’s Too Long.” I also absolutely love that song, and it’s a shame it wasn’t a bigger hit.

    Like Paul, I’m also kind of surprised it hit number one, but for a slightly different reason. This sounds much more like a Fall/Winter single to me, and not something that would’ve been popular on the radio in June.

    And yes, I also agree that it’s a shame that Kathy’s radio success began to taper off after the mid 90’s. I enjoy both her 80’s and 90’s music.

  4. This charming and innocent little story song is right in Mattea’s folk-country wheelhouse. Sure it’s a bit sleepy but it reminds me of so many of Don Williams’ songs. Just something familiar and comfortable about it, soothing even.

  5. The waitress in the Williams song is described in more detail than the waitress in the Mattea song I agree. But I’d much prefer to listen to Mattea sing She Came from Fort Worth. I’ve seen her a half dozen times and have tickets to see her again this October. (I also like Terri Clark’s Is Fort Worth Worth It, an album track from TCs’s debut album – I’ve never been to Ft Worth or anywhere else in Texas.)

  6. Yes! She always sort of reminded me of a female version of Don Williams, especially with a lot of her 80’s and early 90’s music.

  7. I find it interesting that The Nights To Long went #1 on Cashbox Country Chart but just #20 on Billboard. Does anyone know why there is such a huge discrepancy???? Did Cashbox tabulate charts differently?? There were a lot more female number ones and top 10s on that chart in the 90s compared to Billboard.

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