Forgotten Artists: Ten from the ’80s, Pt. 1
This article will focus on some artists who either had a very short period of great success or had an extended run of near-success. In other words, I cannot justify an entire article on any of them.
Deborah Allen was born in 1953 in Memphis, and probably has had greater success as a songwriter, having written hits for artists including Tanya Tucker, Sheena Easton and Janie Fricke. As a performer, RCA had the bright idea of dubbing her voice onto old Jim Reeves recordings to create duets. The three duets released as singles–“Don’t Let Me Cross Over,” “Oh, How I Miss You Tonight” and “Take Me In Your Arms And Hold Me”–all went Top 10 in 1979-80. As a solo artist, Allen charted 10 times with three Top 10 singles: “Baby I Lied” (1983–#4), “I’ve Been Wrong Before” (1984–#2) and “I Hurt For You” (1984–#10).
Baillie and The Boys were a late 80s act which charted 10 times between 1987 and 1991 before disappearing from the charts. Seven of their hit records went Top 10, with “(I Wish I Had A) Heart of Stone” (1989–#4) being the biggest. Kathie Baillie was the lead singer, and while initially a trio, the group became a duo in 1988 with few people able to tell the difference.
Larry Boone is best known as a songwriter, having cuts by Kathy Mattea, Don Williams, Tracy Lawrence, Rick Trevino, George Strait, Shenandoah, Marie Osmond and Lonestar. As a singer, he wasn’t terribly distinctive–sort of a George Strait lite. Boone charted 14 singles from 1986-93, with only 1988’s “Don’t Give Candy To A Stranger” reaching the Top 10. The other Top 20 singles were “I Just Called To Say Goodbye Again” and a remake of “Wine Me Up”–both of which reached their peak chart positions in 1989.
Dean Dillon charted 20 times from 1979-93, with his biggest hit being “Nobody In His Right Mind (Would’ve Left Her)” which reached #25 in November, 1980. During 1982 and 83, RCA paired Dillon with fading star Gary Stewart, hoping for the kind of magic that was later achieved when Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn were paired together. No real hits came of this collaboration, but the recordings were quite interesting and are available on CD.
Fortunately for Dillon, he is a far better songwriter than singer. His hits as a writer include George Jones’ “Tennessee Whisky,” and more than a dozen George Strait Top 10s. In fact, Strait has recorded over 50 of Dillon’s songs, ensuring that the wolf will never again knock at Dean Dillon’s door.
Foster & Lloyd (Radney Foster & Bill Lloyd) charted nine singles between 1987 and 1990, with 1987’s “Crazy Over You” (#4) being the biggest hit. Their first five singles all went Top 20, with four reaching the Top 10, but subsequent singles stiffed and the pair split up. Bill Lloyd really wasn’t a country artist and Radney Foster went on to be important in various phases of the music industry, although he only charted four singles (1992-93) as a solo act. 1993’s “Nobody Wins” reached #2.
Terri Gibbs, blind since her birth in 1954, was a fine bluesy singer who really was miscast as a country artist–although she won the CMA’s Horizon Award in 1981 and charted 13 times between 1980-87. The only song anyone remembers her for is “Somebody’s Knocking,” which was as big a pop hit as it was a country hit.
Vince Gill and Mark Gray were touted as the next big things during the mid 1980s. I’m not sure what happened to that Gill fellow, but Mark Gray–a lead singer of Exile from 1979-1983 and a talented songwriter–almost made it. He released three albums and charted eight Top 40 singles, with the 1985 Tammy Wynette duet “Sometimes When We Touch” climbing all the way to #6. Gray had three more Top 10 records (“If All The Magic Is Gone,” “Diamonds In The Dust” and “Please Be Love”) before fading away. As a songwriter, he found success with “Take Me Down” and “The Closer You Get,” two big hits for Alabama. He also wrote Janie Frickie’s #1 hit “It Ain’t Easy Being Easy.”
Becky Hobbs continues to record and perform. I view her as one of those performers who just never caught a break. Stunningly attractive (with rather wild hair), Becky recorded for Mercury from 1978-81, performing pop-country without any of her six chart singles cracking the Top 40. In 1983, Columbia paired her with hard-core country singer Moe Bandy for the Top 10 duet “Let’s Get Over Them Together.”
Never actually signed to Columbia, she then reappeared on Liberty/EMI in 1984-85, where she charted four singles, with “Hottest ‘Ex’ In Texas” reaching #37. In 1988, Becky–by now signed to fledgling label MTM–released three superlative hard-core country singles in “Jones On The Jukebox,” “They Always Look Better When They’re Leaving” and “Are There Any More Like You (Where You Come From).” “Jones” reached #31; it was her biggest hit, but MTM was a sinking ship. The label was purchased by RCA, which reissued Hobbs’ album in slightly altered form. Unfortunately, RCA never put much promotional push behind her. All told, Hobbs charted 15 singles from 1978-89, although she is probably best remembered today for her late, non-charting Curb single “Talk Back Trembling Lips.” The video of the song reached #6 on CMT.
I have no idea why Con Hunley didn’t become a big star. He had an excellent voice and the look that 1980s record labels were seeking. Perhaps his voice was too distinctive, as it was smoky with strong blues flavoring. At any rate, he charted 25 times (11 Top 20 hits) from 1977-86, with his biggest national hit being “What’s New With You,” which reached #11 in 1981. I doubt that anyone remembers him for that song, however, as other songs such as “Week-End Friend” (#13), “I’ve Been Waiting For You All My Life” (#14), “You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart (#14), “Since I Fell For You” (#20) and “Oh Girl” (#12) were all huge regional hits, reaching Top 5 status in many markets.
Louise Mandrell never quite escaped the shadow of big sister Barbara, although for a while–in the wake of the Barbara Mandrell and The Mandrell Sisters television show–it appeared as though she might. She charted 22 singles as a solo act, plus seven more chart singles with then-husband R.C. Bannon. She had five Top 10 singles during the three years from 1983-85, with 1985’s “I Wanna Say Yes” reaching #5. It was her biggest record. Her countrypolitan style went out of vogue immediately after that and she never again reached the Top 20.
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