Forgotten Artists – The 1980s

Paul W. Dennis | July 28th, 2009

Thus far, the thrust of the Forgotten Artists series has been artists whose salad days occurred before 1980. While Brady tells me that many of the articles have received a lot of hits, relatively few comments have been left. I suspect that this is because few of the readers actually recall the artists of whom I’ve written. I hope at least a few people have gone back and discovered some of these artists for themselves.

While there are literally dozens of other artists from the distant past worthy of articles, for them I will refer you to a couple of excellent websites where you can obtain information about the real pioneers of country music.

At this time, I am turning the wagon around and pointing it toward artists of the 1980s. I must confess that I do not have the same affection for the 1980s as I do for some other decades, particularly for the first half of the ’80s, the so-called “Urban Cowboy” era. I do believe that the second part of the decade more than atoned for the first part by kicking off the New Traditionalists Movement that ran from about 1986-1995. I also believe that even the worst of periods (such as 1961-1964 or 2001-2009) produced some really great music, and even the best of periods (1949-1956 or 1966-1975) produced some abysmal schlock.

I will NOT be writing about artists such as George Strait, Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson and Ricky Skaggs–if you want to read about them, pick up a copy of Country Weekly–they are hardly forgotten. I plan on including Eddie Rabbitt, Lacy J. Dalton, John Conlee and Earl Thomas Conley in the series. After that, I’m open to suggestions. If there’s someone you’d like featured, let me know about them.

Thank you,
Paul W. Dennis

  1. Razor X
    July 28, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    I’m looking forward to this! How about adding David Frizzell, Shelly West, Janie Fricke, Gary Morris and Johnny Lee to the list?

  2. Howard
    July 28, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Man 80’s are slim pickings, but you should shed a light on Moe Bandy. His best stuff was in the late 70’s but he was still strong in the early 80’s. It’s crazy to me that more people do not know him.

  3. Saving Country Music
    July 28, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Great idea. I’ll be looking forward to Eddie Rabbitt. According to the madre, my first favorite song that wasn’t a Christmas carol was “I love A Rainy Night.”

  4. Michael
    July 28, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Awesome! I’m looking forward to reading more about all four of the artists you mentioned. Also consider… Charly McClain, Juice Newton, K.T. Oslin, Steve Wariner, Lee Greenwood (he had plenty of hits other than “God Bless the U.S.A.), Crystal Gayle… Thanks! :)

  5. Mike Parker
    July 28, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Second on Moe Bandy… I wore out my copy of one of the great Moe and Joe albums when I was a kid and could never find that stuff again.

  6. Rick
    July 28, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    The only 80’s country artists I’ve forgotten are the ones I’ve intentionally been trying to forget! (lol) (And there weren’t even many of those back then.) In the mid to late 80’s I listened to Top 40 country radio exclusively and almost never changed stations due to any song that came on. Nowadays its the opposite as I rarely listen to Top 40 country radio as almost every song that comes on makes me switch stations! Argh!

    Even mid-level groups that attained just moderate levels of success, such as Southern Pacific, are still more enjoyable to listen to than most of what’s on country radio these days…

  7. Chris A.
    July 28, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    I LOVE John Conlee and Earl Thomas Conley and can’t wait for those articles. I’d like to cast my vote for Moe Bandy, too. His “Good Ol Boy” duets with Joe Stampley were awesome!

  8. Ronda
    July 28, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    I have to disagree. Radio has forgotten that Randy Travis exists. Last year he put out a great album, one as great as Storms of Life, and radio didn’t play a single cut off that album. I have been told by several radio people that he doesn’t record for the core demographic, whatever that is.

    My answer to that is to boycott radio. Only thing is I don’t think they have noticed. lol

  9. Jon
    July 28, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    I have to say, I think it’s pretty funny to see folks who regularly complain about today’s pop-country telling us how much they look forward to hearing about pop-country artists of the 80s. Quite a few of the names brought up thus far were accused of being insufficiently country when they were popular, often in exactly the same terms being used today.

    Is Ricky Skaggs – who still doesn’t get enough credit for launching neo-traditionalism in the early (not mid) 1980s – really getting regular coverage in Country Weekly?!

  10. PaulaW
    July 28, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    How about Sylvia? I love her music.

  11. J.R. Journey
    July 28, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    I am really looking forward to this too. Maybe add Highway 101 to your list? They made some excellent traditional country records and are definitely forgotten today.

  12. Leeann Ward
    July 28, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    I’m sad that you have to disband the way you were doing things,because I really liked it. But I understand. As everyone already knows, I’m not a fan of the country music of the eighties. Even the few artists that I did like of the eighties (George Strait, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis) recorded my favorite music of theirs in the nineties or even 2000s. So, in that case, I’m interested to read some education on eighties music that might change my mind regarding the music from that decade.

  13. Leeann Ward
    July 28, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Back when I had a subscription to Country Weekly, I at least read one Ricky Skaggs album review from Chris Neal. About a year and a half ago, which is pretty good for a guy who hasn’t been on the upper reaches of the top forty for a couple of decades. He’s all over the radar because of his bluegrass music, at least. I’ve always liked Skaggs’ voice, but much preferred his bluegrass output than his country music, mostly due to the production, I think. I’d love for him to update his country songs to a less eighty-ish (though neotraditional) sound.

  14. Steve Harvey
    July 28, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    The 1980s is a cultural wasteland, the music of which is marred by appalling production that combines the worst excesses of Phil Spector with an obsession with soulless vacuity.

  15. James S.
    July 28, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Many good groups from the second half of the decade seem to be largely forgotten today such as Desert Rose Band, Sweethearts Of The Rodeo, Foster & Lloyd, The O’Kanes, The Forester Sisters, Restless Heart, and as mentioned above, Highway 101. Oh, and Holly Dunn is another good artist you don’t hear about anymore.

    Let me also cast my vote for Steve Wariner. He’s one of the most underrated artists of all time.

  16. Andrew Lacy
    July 28, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    Steve Wariner, Foster & Lloyd and Highway 101 should definitely be included.

  17. Truersound
    July 28, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    no way, 70’s country highly trumps 80’s country. I was going to comment on them but didn’t notice them until the last 2. So wasn’t sure what I missed. As far as forgotten artists from the 80’s, anyone remember Uncle Walt’s Band?

  18. Jaime
    July 29, 2009 at 5:43 am

    My mom loved Earl Thomas Conley and John Conlee, and I can remember her singing along to their songs in the car. I look forward to this series!

  19. Ken Morton, Jr.
    July 29, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Gus Hardin, Don Williams, Bellamy Brothers, BJ Thomas, Anne Murray, Gatlin Brothers, Dan Seals, Gary Morris, The Kendalls & TG Sheppard… all some of my first country memories…

  20. Rick
    July 29, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Ken, Gus Hardin? I’m very familiar with all of the other artists mentioned in these comments, but not only have I not “forgotten” Gus Hardin, I’ve never heard of him in the first place! (lol)

    On Richmond Kentucky’s KYCO FM Friday night “Classic Country Request Live” radio show (with Al Snyder), most of the requests are for 80’s country songs. Many of the above mentioned artists get played almost every week. And yes Paula W., Sylvia’s “Nobody” shows up now and then! I think I’ll have to request John Schneider’s “What’s a Memory Like You Doing In a Love Like This”! (lol)

    Music CDs came on the consumer scene in 1982 and the early 80’s digital recording equipment, and analog to digital converters sounded horrorific! The sound was often tinny and thin and hollow with an overall harshness that plagued many 80’s country albums. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “State of the Heart” is a classic example but Michael Martin Murphy’s “Cowboy Songs Vol. 1″ is the most extreme example I’ve ever encountered.

  21. Razor X
    July 29, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Gus Hardin, I’ve never heard of him in the first place! (lol)

    Him was a her.

  22. Paul W Dennis
    July 29, 2009 at 11:12 am

    I saw Gus perform in Cedar Rapids, Iowa many years ago. She was a fine performer, who died in a car crash a few years ago. I have both of her RCA albums (vinyl) and had decided to do an article on her as soon as I saw the suggestion

  23. Ken Morton Jr
    July 29, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Gus Hardin’s biggest hits were “After The Last Goodbye” and a duet with Earl Thomas Conley called “All Tangled Up In Love.” She even won the 1984 Best New Female Artist at the ACM’s. Her voice reminds me somewhat of a more countrified Bonnie Tyler (Total Eclispe of The Heart). You can listen to a couple of her later songs here:

  24. Lewis
    July 29, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Lacy J. Dalton and Gail Davies would be perfect for articles.

  25. Rick
    July 29, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Thanks for the info guys, but why would a gal want to be named Gus? Hmmm…

    Since I’m partial to Socal honky-tonkers, I’d recommend adding Jann Browne to the list since she was LA’s answer to Lacy J. Dalton. The only song from Jann I ever heard on LA country radio was “You Ain’t Down Home” and she deserved better than that.

  26. Josh
    July 30, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Can’t wait to find out all about the ’80s. I grew up as a child during those time and hit puberty around the ’90s…all great fun and games for me back then. Let’s see what the philosophical input comes out of…

  27. David B
    July 30, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Dan Seals, Forester Sisters, K.T. Oslin would make good stories…and the group that sang, “Sweet Country Music”. I love that song, but can never remember the name of that group.

  28. kevin w
    July 30, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    Razzy Bailey
    Judy Rodman
    Earl Thomas Conley
    Louise Mandrell

  29. kevin w
    July 31, 2009 at 12:12 am

    And also Leon Everette

  30. Buddynoel
    July 31, 2009 at 12:27 am

    I worked a couple little southwest country stations in the 80s when the first few notes were covered with cue burn or wobbled as the tape stretched across a cart head.

    Try these on…
    Schuyler, Knoblock and Bickhardt – No Easy Horses
    Dwight Yoakam – Heartaches By The Number (B-side of his first demo)
    Southern Pacific – Midnight Highway
    Baillie and the Boys – I Cant Turn the Tide
    Restless Heart – Bluest Eyes in Texas

    …all played during hot desert nights in Coolidge, Arizona on a station that no longer exists.

  31. Buddynoel
    July 31, 2009 at 12:33 am

    by the way…

    Sweet Country Music – Atlanta (1983)

  32. Joe
    August 2, 2009 at 12:37 am

    … looking forward to this very much …

    I’ve been searching for years for CD versions of some of the old cassettes and LPs I collected when I was young in the 80s and have found myself delighted to find examples such as Baillie & the Boys’ “Turn the Tide,” that first solo album from Paul Overstreet (“Sowin’ Love” on one of the Christian labels) and anything from KT Oslin or The McCarters? Remember Jennifer McCarter & the McCarters?

    LOVED the guiltiest of country music pleasures: Sylvia, Louise Mandrell, and mid/late 80s Anne Murray, Crystal Gayle.

    WBEE in Rochester played Jann Browne’s “Tell Me Why” back when it was new in 1990 and I fell in love with it.

    David B: Atlanta and “Sweet Country Music” here …

  33. Bob
    August 4, 2009 at 5:07 pm


    Let me know if you need any background info on Lacy…

  34. Heather
    August 15, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    I give my votes to both Sylvia and Steve Wariner. I saw Sylvia three times at the local fair when I was going up in Tennessee. I would like to know about the group Atlanta and Shelly West. If you do anything about the ’90s, I’d like to know where Bryan White disappeared to.

  35. Lena
    December 25, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    One of my very first favorite country artists was Mark Collie. I saw him on Austin City Limits. He said, “I’m Mark Collie and these are The Dogs.” Songs: Hardin County Line, Something with a ring to it. Very commercial hit came later – Even the Man in the Moon is crying. The last I heard he was doing charity golf events for diabetes (which he has).

  36. Dave Wollenberg
    March 3, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Rick, Gus Hardin’s real name was Carolyn Blankenship. You can look it up in any of Joel Whitburn’s Country Singles Books from ’88 onward. God bless!

  37. Ben Foster
    May 15, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    I would love to see a Forgotten Artists feature on Marie Osmond. She is remembered for her television work, but the great country hits she produced (“Paper Roses,” “Meet Me In Montana,” “There’s No Stopping Your Heart”) remain largely forgotten.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    T. Graham Brown, John Cowan?

  39. Jon
    July 13, 2010 at 9:55 pm . Has a new release out just a month of two ago (The Massenburg Sessions), and is currently out on a fill-in tour with the Doobie Brothers. Nothing forgotten about the Cow!

  40. DCgurl
    February 28, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    What about Eddy Raven? He was one of the staples of country radio in the ’80s.

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