Clint Black reflects on his iconic country music career ahead of Tysons concert

Listen to our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Clint Black (Part 1)

“Ain’t it funny how a melody can bring back a memory?”

That’s going to happen for fans of country star Clint Black when he plays in Tysons, Virginia.

He’ll break in the new Capital One Hall on Feb. 5. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday.

“New venues are exciting because they really put a lot of work into it,” Black said. “Some older venues you might have some wires running under the stage that make your guitar hum. … All of the modern conveniences, you figure they’re putting that stuff in there.”

He’ll be performing with his wife of nearly 30 years Lisa Hartman Black.

“We can finish each other’s sentences,” Black said. “There’s an exchange that happens on stage. We know each other so well after nearly 30 years of marriage. When we look each other in the eye on stage. … Sometimes she won’t let me see what she’s going to wear when she comes on stage. I get to see it for the first time when the audience does.”

After a year of pandemic closures, he’s just happy to be back out on the road.

“I’m excited to just be playing now at this point,” Black told WTOP. “I lost my day job last March. I pitched a show to Circle TV, I started my own coffee company, Cowboy Coffee, it’s very good, according to me …  I need to be productive, so I set up this DSLR camera in my studio, then every day an Amazon truck delivered a cable. … I just tried to keep busy.”

Born in New Jersey, Black grew up in Texas for most of his childhood.

“The music I grew up on was all the country greats,” Black said. “Merle Haggard would be No. 1, Willie [Nelson] and Waylon [Jennings], Jerry Jeff Walker, all the cosmic cowboy stuff out of Austin. I also got really attached to Johnny and Edgar Winter playing blues rock.”

His three older brothers exposed him to all of the great rock records.

“I was listening to Deep Purple, [Led] Zeppelin, [Bob] Seger, Steely Dan,” Black said. “I drifted toward the singer-songwriters like James Taylor, who I would put up there with Haggard as No. 1 and 2, Jimmy Buffett, Loggins & Messina, [Jim] Croce, [Dan] Fogleberg … but it became obvious that the direction country was going in fit with who I am.”

In 1989, he signed with RCA among the “Class of 1989” — Clint Black, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt and Alan Jackson — a Mount Rushmore of ’90s country music.

“I know some of them were very competitive, but I didn’t like competition in an art form,” Black said. “I was competing with myself and trying to grow and get better. … Doing nine shows on, one day off. One month I did 21 straight cities in a row without a day off. … It was not really a competition to me, though I know it was that way for the industry.”

It paid off, winning the Country Music Association’s Single of the Year with “A Better Man” (1989), as well as the Horizon Award for most promising newcomer; the next big thing.

“I’d be lying if I said I was really surprised,” Black said. “They were telling me about my achievements: nobody’s debut single has gone No. 1 ever, five No 1 singles off a debut album has never happened, a No. 1 and 2 single of the year hasn’t happened since Hank Williams Sr. I’m hoping for that Horizon Award. I’m not shocked, but I’m overwhelmed.”

He penned hit after hit — “We Tell Ourselves” (1992), “When My Ship Comes In” (1993), “A Good Run of Bad Luck” (1994), “Something That We Do” (1997), “The Shoes You’re Wearing” (1998) — but left the label when it insisted that he record other people’s songs.

“The resentment from my record company for not letting everybody else onto my records grew to be a real point of contention,” Black said. “Other labels said they’d really like to work with me, but not if I insist on writing my own songs. I said, ‘I wrote 22 No. 1 hits and sold 22 million records of songs that I wrote, why would you want another songwriter?”

Black is a visual storyteller, painting a roadside picture in “Nothin’ But the Taillights” (1994).

“I was walking down that road in my mind, trying to hitch a ride, which I used to do as a kid,” Black said. “Has anybody ever been dropped off or kicked out of a car? I have! I’ve had my uncle pull away, pretending to leave me on the side of the road in the pitch dark.”

Perhaps his greatest visual allegory was the metaphor in “Like the Rain” (1996).

“Houston got plenty of rain, L.A. not so much, so [my wife] really loved it anytime it rained,” Black said. “One night we were watching it pour down rain in Nashville out the window. I started thinking … ‘I never liked the rain until I walked through it with you. Every thunder cloud that came was one more I might not get through.’ That was the metaphor for love.”

In addition to love, he consistently returns to the theme of time, first wasting it (“Killin’ Time”), then being busy (“No Time to Kill”) and ultimately using it wisely (“Spend My Time”).

“It has always been an issue,” Black said. “It was real clear to me at a young age that time is precious and promised to no one. … I just had this weird fatalistic view. … It’s a great subject. … Love, time, Christmas, these are things I’ve been able to revisit. … As you watch your family tree grow roots and lose branches, you think about that time you have.”

Recently, he wrote “Til the End of Time” with his wife, the latest in a run of great duets, joining Wynonna for “A Bad Goodbye” (1993), Martina McBride for “Still Holding On” (1997) and his wife for “When I Said I Do” (1999), one of the great wedding songs of all time.

“I was writing the song in the kitchen, standing around the island,” Black said. “I just started thinking, ‘What would we sing to the world if everyone and God were watching?’ … It starts out with a dose of reality, ‘These times are troubled and these times are good, and they’re always gonna be. … When I said I do, I meant that I will, ’til the end of all time.'”

He said he got the best marriage advice from Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

“He said, ‘Don’t ever go to bed angry,'” Black said. “Don’t let something lie there and become a festering wound to your marriage the next day and the next because you won’t see it clearly looking back, even a day, so get it off the table before you go to sleep.”

Still, it was Evans who told him the best marriage joke.

“She told me that as they were getting on in age she was hoping that he would die first,” Black said. “How dark is that? She said that she was afraid that if she went first, he might have her stuffed. Hey! A Trigger joke! … I’m a sit-down comic. Less expectation.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Clint Black (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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