Having grown up in Katy, Texas, in the ’70s, country star Clint Black is acutely aware of the meaning of time.
“I’ve written about an album’s worth of songs with ‘time’ in the title, because time is something I’ve always felt is precious, even as a teenager,” he says, his unmistakable baritone crackling over the phone.
“Cancer hit the family, and we had the Vietnam War, and I just grew up with those shadows, not thinking I’d be old enough to have a driver’s license,” he adds with a chuckle. “Then that passed, and on I went until I finally said, ‘OK, I’d better start taking care of my teeth now. I’m 25.’ ”
By the time he burst onto the national scene as part of the so-called class of ’89 with Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt — all neo-traditionalists who made their debut that year — Black presented himself as a thoughtful, unassuming and purposeful artist with a clear vision of himself and his mission. He refused to play up his good looks (“a twinkle-eyed cowboy dream,” as the Nashville Tennessean put it) so as to keep the focus on the music.
Black’s Killin’ Time produced four No. 1 singles (“A Better Man,” “Walking Away,” “Nobody’s Home” and the title track), all of which he wrote or cowrote. (A fifth single from the album, “Nothing’s News,” hit the top of the chart in Canada. Black’s career total of number ones stands at 13 in the U.S. and 22 worldwide, with some 20 million records sold.)
His aim, then as when he started out, the 59-year-old Grammy winner says, has been to make timeless albums — records that stand the test of time without dating themselves in production techniques or subject matter.
If some critics have found his approach to be a bit safe or “cheerfully square” these days, as allmusic.com commented, others praise him for staying true to his amiable trademark sound, even if the years have softened his Texas cowboy twang.
“My feeling was to resist the urge to follow trends. I want to make records that you can listen to 20 years from now and just hear a great band playing the songs, and not say, ‘Hey, that’s ’80s.’ ”
His current album, last year’s Out of Sane, is an example. A smart, traditional record, it’s thoroughly modern in production (catch the ZZ Top–ish guitar solo in “Hell Bent”) but also noticeably clean and uncluttered compared with much of what comes out of Nashville these days.
“I think especially in this last album, rather than pushing things up to be heard, I take things away. I go back to that first album. The way [guitarist and songwriter] Hayden [Nicholas] and I made the demos is pretty much how we made that album. And a lot of that was mapping out who’s playing where and leaving room. You know, ‘The fiddle’s got this, so you don’t need to be playing the Dobro underneath, because the drummer and the bass player and the acoustic guitar are already doing plenty.’ ”
Through the years things got a little more rushed in the studio, he admits. “If there was less of that mapping out, by the time I got to D’lectrified , a little more of that approach came back to me. Now it’s full circle.”
His latest single, “Till the End of Time,” is a duet with his wife, actress Lisa Hartman Black, to whom he’ll have been married to for 30 years on Oct. 20 and with whom he’s made a few western-themed movies.
On Nov. 18 the couple will begin their “Mostly Hits & the Mrs. Tour,” their first full tour together. Joining them will be their daughter, Lily Pearl. The 20-year-old plans to make a career in music, and Dad, a big Steely Dan fan who “forced classic rock into her iPod when she was little,” couldn’t be happier. (Black is also father to Chelsea Bain, his daughter from a previous relationship.)
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“Lily is a little country rocker. She just Facetimed with me and showed me she was singing a Carrie Underwood song and hit the A flat above high C. She has an amazing vocal range and such a really wonderful texture to her voice. She loves all the rock and rap and hip-hop, but she wants to be a country singer.”
One of the last of the “hat acts” (he is rarely seen professionally without his black cowboy topper), the singer also hosts a television show, Talking in Circles With Clint Black, on which he “talks shop” with other artists, most of them traditional. It airs on Saturday nights, after the Grand Ole Opry, on the Circle network.
In 2001, Black walked away from the major labels because he thought that executives exerted too much control over the music. He then formed his own independent labels and recorded until 2005, when he took a 10-year studio hiatus. He returned in 2015 with On Purpose, which featured Big & Rich and Hartman Black.
“The record-making machine in Nashville has had a lot to do with what those sounds are and who they’re aiming at. ... In the early 2000s the industry made a conscious effort to focus on the kids at the bonfire and make it all about the party crowd. ... I wasn’t going to let them make my albums.”
The over-50 crowd still craves authenticity in its country music, something that’s been in short supply since the heyday of the class of ’89. Black knows that’s his audience, and, in fact, he reaches his own milestone next February, when he turns 60. Aging doesn’t seem to bother this man who thinks so much about time.
“My attitude now is, I don’t think 60 is as old as I did when I was 20,” he says with a ready laugh. “You’re as young as you feel. But it does force you to start looking a little more closely at the future and how you’re going to be in it. You just have to keep a positive, healthy outlook, and keep the music in your life, and don’t slow down.”
Clint Black’s Country Favorites
Opry member and Grammy Award–winning country icon Clint Black has been recording hits for decades and shares his favorites — along with his own songs — with AARP.
Read about his picks, then scroll down to listen to the playlist on Spotify.
America (Still in Love With You), performed by Clint Black
“It’s a love song that starts out deceptively, seemingly about a couple, where there are faults and mistakes and forgiveness but, ultimately, the decision to keep working on the relationship. The surprise at the end of the chorus is that it’s about our country. I was hoping the song would serve as a reminder that we need to count our blessings and work on the curses.”
Ramblin’ Fever, performed by Merle Haggard
“Merle is my biggest influence in country music. ‘Ramblin’ Fever’ is just such a well-written song, and he sang it so well. Aside from his poetry and his melodies, the honesty in his voice always struck me and informed who I became.”
He Stopped Loving Her Today, performed by George Jones
“[This song] was just so perfect for George Jones, with his tragic love affair with Tammy Wynette. A couple of polls have named it the greatest country song of all time. And it is a great song, but it also speaks to the guy who sings it so well. It’s not an easy song to sing, and he just nailed it.”
Hell Bent, performed by Clint Black
“The guy in ‘Hell Bent’ is an outlaw, so he’s a little bit of a metaphor for those of us who live on the road. It’s a throwback to my beginnings. You can hear that baritone guitar in there which Hayden [Nicholas] used on ‘Killin’ Time.’ But this is a snapshot of who I am now as a record producer and as a guitarist. I’m playing all the slide guitar and Dobro, some of the baritone guitar stuff, and the electric guitar solo. A guy who used to play with me compared me to a Southern rock guitarist, and halfway through the solo I did a harmony guitar part that twins it. That was extremely difficult for me. I had to redo it a few times to get there. I’d work on it all evening and then throw it away the next day and start again.”
Together Again performed by Buck Owens
“Buck was such a wonderful guy. I loved being around him. I’d have followed him around if I could. And that song is a masterpiece. The singing is superb, and the steel guitar part is just an orchestral arrangement unto itself. It was also in the first movie Lisa and I did together, Still Holding On: The Legend of Cadillac Jack . We chose that to be playing on the jukebox when we meet in the diner.”
She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft) performed by Jerry Reed
“Jerry was a special guy. A lot of people have no idea what a master he was on guitar, right up there with Chet Atkins. He would give us these funny songs, and he did something on that record. In the third refrain of, “Well, it all sounds sorta funny/But it hurts too much to laugh,” the background vocalists do a little bit of a laugh. You gotta listen for it. It’s really perfect.”
When I Said I Do performed by Clint Black and Lisa Hartman Black
“She didn’t know I was writing it for us, but I was teaching this song to Lisa as I was writing it in the kitchen. And when I finished it I said, ‘OK, we have to record that.’ And she resisted that idea, all the way through recording it, through making a video, and through doing The Tonight Show. But when 20,000 fans cheered her onstage in Dallas, she stopped resisting. She realized that she belonged there, that my fans wanted her there. That song is a real testament to who we are and the vows we took. It’s also a recording I can still listen to today, and it has all the mojo it had for me when we finished it.”
Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do performed by Dierks Bentley
“That’s my favorite Dierks Bentley song. I guess he’s probably heard it before, but to me, that song is Waylon Jennings personified. It’s got a really great guitar lick, and it’s just rockin’ good country.”
Let’s All Help the Cowboys (Sing the Blues) performed by Waylon Jennings
“What a fantastic song! That’s one I’ll play around the house, and once I do, I’ll end up playing that whole album. Then it’s Willie and Waylon all day long. That song is just so well written and sung and another metaphor for the traveling musician. We have a lot in common with the cowboy and rodeo cowboys.”
Killin’ Time (Live) performed by Clint Black
“I always felt like ‘Killin’ Time’ represented my Hank Williams influence. I wasn’t inclined to release live music, but a lot of people haven’t seen us play in years. So I decided if I were ever going to do it, the 30th anniversary of the release of that album would be the time, and I did a whole album of live songs [Still Killin’ Time] and was really happy with how that came across. It’s not doctored, and we didn’t rerecord anything. That’s the way we played it. If you can ever convey what it’s like to be in a venue, hearing it live, that’s it.”
Holes in the Floor of Heaven performed by Steve Wariner
“Nobody can write a tearjerker like Steve. I was really torn between choosing this song and I’m Already Taken but Holes was such a big hit and the Country Music Association Song of the Year , and deservedly so. I just don’t think anyone’s who’s lost somebody really important in his life can hear that without getting a little teary-eyed.”
Time Marches On performed by Tracy Lawrence
“Bobby Braddock wrote this song, and I think it speaks to who our country audience really is, from Hank Williams to Bob Dylan. Through the years, lots of classic rock and folk and blues fans came over to country music, and that song takes you through the years from the ’50s on through the personal lives of everyday people. Every family has its trials and tribulations, and this song can be emotional if you’ve had your family woes. But it’s also kind of funny, the picture that he paints of this family. And, of course, Tracy did a great job with it.”
Til the End of Time performed by Clint Black and Lisa Hartman Black
“I’d written four songs for Lisa and me to sing together, and I had no idea what else to say or how I could say it. I banged my head against the wall for about a week, and finally, the opening line came to me and suggested what the song would be. And within a couple of days I had it written.”
Time of the Preacher performed by Willie Nelson
“This song is the beginning of Willie’s Red Headed Stranger album, and it’s also the beginning of a great story. If our listeners are lucky, they will pursue the rest of the album, but even by itself, it tells you everything you need to know. It’s masterfully sung, and so under-produced that it really lets Willie and his voice come through. I’ve been singing that song since I was 13. It’s just fantastic.”
Nothin’ but the Taillights performed by Clint Black
“You gotta rock ’em a little. Steve Wariner had that idea, and I got over to his house one night about 10 p.m., and we started writing that song and finished it after a bunch of coffee. We get these million-spin certificates as songwriters from BMI, and that song earned one faster than any song I ever had. People just really took to it. I can’t imagine doing a show without it.”
See instructions below on how to add the playlist to your phone or tablet.
GET THE PLAYLIST
Every playlist on Spotify has its own unique code, similar to a QR code. Called Spotify Codes, these bars make it easy to add a playlist to your Spotify app on your device. Here's how:
- Download and open the free Spotify app on your phone or tablet.
- In the app, tap Search.
- Click the camera icon.
- Scan the barcode above, then tap the arrow to listen.