Forgotten Artists: Ten from the ’80s, Pt. 1

Paul W. Dennis | March 9th, 2010

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.

  1. Jon
    March 9, 2010 at 7:49 am

    he only song anyone remembers [Terri Gibbs] for is “Somebody’s Knocking”

    Well, no, that’s wrong; “Mis’ry River” has become something of a bluegrass standard, thanks to an early recording by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.

  2. PaulaW
    March 9, 2010 at 7:58 am

    Thanks Paul. I always enjoy your articles. You bring back to mind many artists that I ‘know and love’ and music that deserves to be heard still today.

  3. Sam G.
    March 9, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Radney Foster posted on his Facebook page this week that he and Bill Lloyd went back into the studio to record songs for the first time in 20 years. He didn’t offer up any other information, but a potential new Foster & Lloyd album is great news.

  4. Wade
    March 9, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Mark Gray’s 3 records on Columbia were stellar….Always amazed he never got another shot.

    “This Ol(d)’ Piano (1984) is a particular gem

  5. Wade
    March 9, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Kathy Baillie is one of the most underrated country vocalists of the past 25 years….

  6. Jewels
    March 9, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Louise Mandrell became a very successful live entertainer. One could say she “found her niche.” I am not sure she ever wanted to get out of the shade of Barbara and I say this because Louise did things after the TV show that “pointed her” toward her sister rather than away.

  7. numberonecountryfan
    March 9, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Becky Hobbs wrote I Want To Know You Before We Make Love that Alabama recorded first and Conway Twitty released (#2 in 1987).

  8. t.scott
    March 9, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    I think Con Hunley just got lost in the name game.

    Con Hunley, John Conlee ,and Earl Thomas Conley. I really liked him.

    Becky Hobbs could do 80’s style country music with the best of them.She even had a hit with an Urban Cowboy type song (Honky Tonk Saturday Night)

  9. Michelle
    March 9, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I love “Rose Colored Glasses” by John Conlee.

  10. A fan
    March 9, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Louise Mandrell-one of the best singers in the business. Her road show and production shows were highly successful. So much so, she was able to come off the road and open her own theater for 8 years in East Tenn’s Pigeon Forge. 2008 & 2009 (and again in 2010) she performed a Christmas dinner show at Opryland hotel. She also recorded a new CD of old standards to be released 2010. Living up to the Mandrell name, she is and will continue to be a country star in every sense of the word.

  11. Rick
    March 9, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    I started listening to country radio in 1985 and L.A.’s only country station played songs by Deborah Allen, Baillie and the Boys, Foster & Lloyd, and Terri Gibbs while the other artists were no shows. Terri Gibbs vocals reminded me of Shelly West in a way. This makes for a nice trip down memory lane!

  12. Razor X
    March 9, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Well, no, that’s wrong; “Mis’ry River” has become something of a bluegrass standard, thanks to an early recording by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.

    Which version was the original? I’d always assumed that Terri’s was, but I recently heard the Doyle Lawson version on the Sugar Hill 50 collection and thought that perhaps that one came first. At any rate, I always thought it was Terri’s best song.

    I liked all of the artists mentioned in this installment. Thanks for a nice trip down memory lane, Paul.

  13. Jon
    March 9, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Terri Gibbs’ version came first.

  14. Buddynoel
    March 9, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    I played Terri Gibbs when she briefly crossed into contemporary Christian in the late 80s with a song called “I Can See Heaven” and another called “Turn Around.” Much like most of that music, I haven’t found her old Canaan releases available anywhere.

  15. Jewel
    March 12, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Are you kidding?………….:”What happened to that Gill fellow?” You are referring to Vince Gill. He’s just one of the most wonderful, talented, gifted artists to ever come our way! Listen to “Go Rest High on That Mountain.” I’m sure you’ll remember him NOW! We love you Vince!

  16. numberonecountryfan
    March 12, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    That was tongue-in-cheek!

  17. Janice
    April 21, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I would add Razzy Bailey to the list of forgotten 80s artists with several #1’s to start the decade, but most of them forgotten now. I associate him with Con Hunley. I was playing them both on the radio around the same time and thought they were great.

    As for Radney Foster… Don’t forget his solo performing career is going strong and he has written hits for Keith Urban (Raining on Sunday) and Sara Evans (Real Fine Place to Start) and Keith Urban sang Foster’s “I’m In” on the Academy of Country Music Awards April 18, 2010. Expect a Darius Rucker recording of a Foster song soon, too… he is a long-time fan.

    July 11, 2010 at 1:46 am

    I fully expect Radney Foster to rise again since he’s got the composing-lyricist-performing trifecta in his Del Rio pockets. He’s got talent for the long run.

  19. Michael Kelly
    August 12, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Con Hunley still records and sings better than ever!

  20. DCgurl
    February 28, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    You didn’t mention Mark Gray’s best-known song, “Left Side of the Bed”. I don’t know how high it charted, but the video was a big hit in the early days of TNN. He also had a low-charting but great song called “Way Back When Love Was Enough”.

    Baillie and the Boys are still performing, mainly in Nashville, and their daughter Alyssa is also an aspiring singer and songwriter.

    Do you have any information on an ’80s singer named Tari Hensley? There is no information about this singer on the web except information on her singles, and somehow, her name got tangled in more than a few adult sites.

    This is quite a trip down memory lane. Thanks!!

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