To Clint Black, having his own distinctive sound has always been an overriding goal for his music.
It’s one reason he doesn’t listen to much current country music, particularly when he is writing for a new album.
“Unless you want to listen to every ounce of everything that’s out there so you’ll know you’re not like anything else, you’re better off, I think, to stay away,” Black said in a recent phone interview.
Originality had a lot to do with why 10 years passed before Black followed up his 2005 release, “Drinkin’ Songs and Other Logic,” with the release last fall of his 10th studio album, “On Purpose.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
Black, 54, stayed busy during those years, touring, writing music for film and television, and doing some acting.
But a big reason a new album wasn’t coming was that he was sorting through offers from major Nashville labels that wanted him to record outside songs in hopes of having a hit single. As an artist who had written or co-written virtually every song on his albums, that was no small issue. Perhaps the biggest ingredient in Black’s originality is his songwriting. And the labels were told about Black’s songwriting history.
“I think what they wanted to do was listen to everything I’d been working on and be all kind and thoughtful in the process. Then ultimately they would say, ‘If you will just let us find you a hit, we’ll go and work it,’ ” Black said.
Pressure to record outside songs has been pretty much a constant event with his first label, RCA Records.
His 1989 debut album, “Killin’ Time,” became a blockbuster, spawning five No. 1 singles. By the time the album finished its run, Black was being hailed as a leader of country’s new traditionalist movement that was pushing country back toward its rustic traditional roots.
Despite having co-written or written every song on “Killin’ Time,” whenever it was time for a new album, RCA would pressure him to record outside songs – and Black would refuse. Finally, Black went to the head of RCA and asked why the label kept pushing him to record outside songs.
“I will never forget what he said to me because it was a crushing blow,” Black said. “He said, ‘They just want a little taste.’ So all of that pressure to record outside songs had nothing to do with the quality of my songs. And all it had to do with was some political relationships and bargaining, like they’re collecting delegates for award shows.
“I thought, ‘That is absolutely the last thing I wanted to hear. I’m trying to be authentic here, and you’re asking me to throw away my life’s work so you can get me nominated for an award or something? Is that what this is about?’ ”
Black left RCA after “Nothin’ but the Taillights” and launched his own label, Equity Records. He made three albums on Equity – 1999’s “D’lectrified,” 2004’s “Spend My Time” and “Drinkin’ Songs and Other Logic” – before the label was closed in 2006. Then began the search for a new label deal, which didn’t end until Black turned toward indie labels and signed with Thirty Tigers.
The album that emerged, “On Purpose,” sounds like prototypical Clint Black, rooted in classic country, but with a touch of pop and a bit more edge. There are a few easy-going rockers (“Still Call It News,” “Beer” and “Making You Smile”) and several ballads, including “Right On Time,” “Summertime Song” and “One Way to Live.”
. There’s also a jaunty bluesy duet between Black and his wife of 26 years, actress Lisa Hartman Black, in “You Still Get to Me.”
On his current tour, Black is playing songs from across his career.
“I’m doing a lot of hits,” he said. “I’m doing at least a few songs off of the new CD, and then a couple of songs that are album cuts.”
And Black has no plans to ease up any time soon with his career. “I want to keep touring,” he said. “I love doing the shows and I love having a band. And if you want to have a band, you’ve got to tour.
“But then I’m looking ahead to recording more, not any time soon, but sooner than ‘On Purpose’ happened. I’m also working on some film and television projects.
“I don’t intend to slow down,” he concluded.