Aspen Times Q&A: Clint Black
If You Go …
Who: Clint Black
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Saturday, March 25, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $95-$125
Tickets: Wheeler box office; http://www.aspenshowtix.com
Anticipation has been building for more than a year for Clint Black’s concert at the Wheeler Opera House this weekend.
The country music great had to cancel last winter’s show at the last minute. But the Wheeler and Belly Up Aspen, which is co-presenting the concert, immediately booked his return.
Black’s most recent album is 2015’s “On Purpose,” which was his first studio album in a decade. But the Aspen show — with Black playing alongside a full band — will pick from throughout his legendary career, going back to 1989’s “Killin’ Time,” a tectonic force in country music that produced five No. 1 hits and shifted the genre for a generation (and began an indomitable chart-topping run that’s included 31 top 10 songs and 22 No. 1 singles).
He spoke to Aspen Times Arts Editor Andrew Travers about the new album, playing Aspen, playing with John Denver and what’s next for the legend in the black hat.
The Aspen Times: Congrats on “On Purpose”’ It’s been a decade since your last studio album. Why the long break and what drew you back into the studio to make it?
Clint Black: I was being courted by major labels for the last several years while touring and working on new music. At the end of each “courtship,” I found they really wanted to “find” songs for me and “have them produced.” As my fans know, I write my own songs and produce my own records. I finally walked away from each of those offers and found Thirty Tigers, an indie label, and focused on finishing the work I’d been doing.
AT: You produced the record and made it in your studio. How did that kind of creative control shape the record?
CB: The freedom that comes with having my own studio allowed for some experimentation. I was able to try and fail, try and succeed, without worrying about who needed the studio next. I played almost all of the electric guitar parts and that takes longer than it would with the hired guns. Without having my own studio and knowing how to run it, I wouldn’t have been able to take the time to work things out myself and would’ve ended up reaching out to other guitarists, who work more quickly. I think the end result is my fans get as much of an expression of my artistic talent as possible. The reaction has been very satisfying both from fans and peers.
AT: How did you and your wife, Lisa Hartman Black, decide to record “You Still Get to Me” together. How important is creative collaboration for the two of you?
CB: I’ve always had to coax her into recording with me. It was easier this time, after the success of “When I Said I Do,” but this time I wanted to write something with a tougher tone and a more rhythmic beat. It’s not critical that we collaborate since we’re collaborating plenty on raising our daughter, Lily, but we do love having something special to bring our musical talents into.
AT: What can we expect at your show at the Wheeler Opera House? What kind of band are you bringing with you?
CB: The band is a bit larger than our last visit to Aspen at the Belly Up. I believe the keyboardist was there last time, be we’ve also added Jason Mowery, a multi-instrumentalist. Jason plays; fiddle, dobro, lap steel acoustic guitar, basuki and more.
We’ll play lots of hits, some new stuff and share some funny tidbits about a few of the songs. The band is fantastic and gets a chance to stretch out on some of the songs and show their abilities. I play a bit more harmonica in this show and a lot more lead guitar. It’s a challenging show and it’s been very well received by our fans.
AT: John Denver is our sort of poet laureate here in Aspen. I know you played together at least once, on the “Montana Christmas Skies” special. As a singer-songwriter, what does his music mean to you? Did you get to know him personally at all?
CB: I would like to have gotten to know John Denver better. I’m glad I have that TV special to look back on. I was a big fan growing up and sang several of his songs in the bars around Houston. I wish we could’ve found out what kind of music he would be bringing us today.
AT: How has your early material evolved over the years in live performance? I know you play electric guitar more now than you used to — have you plugged in some of the acoustic stuff?
CB: We try to leave the old stuff intact. If we do make changes, we’re careful to leave that which the fans were most attached to unaffected. There is one exception and I’ll leave it to those in attendance to figure out and to judge. I don’t make changes lightly.
AT: Did you have a sense, when you were writing the songs on “Killin’ Time,” that you had something special on your hands? That it might be the classic it’s considered today?
CB: I had no idea of the magnitude of success that album would bring me. I was confident country fans would like the songs, but recently it placed No. 12 on the 100 Best Country Albums of All Time (in Billboard). I don’t think I would’ve seen that coming in my wildest dreams!
AT: A lot of county music these days is aimed at a wider pop audience with less individual style and maybe less reverence for the tradition. What, if anything, do you think we’re losing in country as the style loses some of its country identity?
CB: Country has always evolved and typically, prior generations don’t like the changes. Personally, I could do without some of the pop and rap influences, but we still have plenty of great country that is pure in instrumentation and rises to the lyrical standards of the last few decades. A sad byproduct of the digital age though, is we’re losing a depth of fidelity in all genres. A CD is degraded about 85 percent. An MP3, about 95 percent. For those of us who enjoy music in our studios at 100 percent of the bit rate, it’s hard for our ears to take sometimes.
AT: After achieving so much, Is there anything you haven’t gotten to do that you still hope to in music?
CB: There is still plenty to do. More songs to release still waiting in the wings. There are fellow artists I hope to collaborate with someday. Plus, I have a movie project I hope to announce soon and some TV opportunities to consider. We’re also at a very hopeful time for my charity (the nonprofit Rettsyndrome.org). Researchers believe an effective treatment may be at hand. And I still haven’t tired of performing on tour. We’re all looking forward to the Wheeler Opera House.
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