Two Decades After Making A Big Splash On The Charts She’s Still Going Strong
Although her father Fred was a noted singer songwriter and seasoned session player, Deana Carter flirted with a different career path before rocketing to fame at age 30 in 1996. Her debut release, ‘Did I Shave My Legs For This’ sold over five million copies, topped the country music charts, and earned her a 1997 Grammy for her chart topping single ‘Strawberry Wine’.
While her dad found his mark in his early 20’s eventually working alongside greats like Slim Whitman, Roy Orbison, The Band, Waylon Jennings, Simon & Garfunkel, and Bob Dylan, Deana yearned for a music career but opted for a degree in Rehabilitation Therapy from the University of Tennessee. Carter found the work fruitful but ultimately discovered her first love was going to be following in her father’s footsteps.
“I actually worked as a rehab intern for a while. It’s incredible work. I got really involved in the patients I was working with, many who were stroke victims. Their stories are amazing. Even though I found that type of work rewarding, music always seemed to be tugging at my heart. But in the music business there’s never is a guarantee, so I wanted to finish college and have something to fall back on.”
Ironically it was another famed country artist that gave Carter a leg up in the business. After hearing her demo Nashville crooner Willie Nelson invited Carter to take part in his 1994 Farm Aid VII concert. “At that point in my life I had done several demos and written a bunch of songs. Guys like Willie and Kris Kristofferson were long time friends of my dad so they knew what I could do. They had been around while I was growing up, so I guess you could say I was ‘uncled’ into Farm Aid.”
Her appearance at Farm Aid VII would help Carter land a contract with Capitol Records, and two years later she would be lauded as the newest queen of country music. “I had development deal, that’s what they did back then to bring new artists along. So the wheels were already in motion prior to me hitting it big with my debut release.”
The label wasn’t quite sure how to market Carter early on. “Like so many artists that came along in the 90’s I was a product of all the music I grew up listening too. My formative years were the 1970’s and 80’s so I was a big fan of classic rock, bands like The Eagles and Boston. Add the stuff my father introduced me too and I was fairly well rounded musically. Initially the record companies labeled me as alternative country. I was sort of a cross between Fleetwood Mac and Edie Brickell.”
After a couple of years and two separate producers, the label found the contemporary country music sound Carter was hoping to achieve. “A lot of great ladies in country music came about when I first hit, so I definitely wanted to set myself apart from the field. The beauty of the new artists that were emerging in the 1990’s is that they were all so versatile. Everyone had different backgrounds and different influences, so you got to witness new country and traditional country being introduced.”
Whether it was the right time or the right formula ‘Did I Shave My Legs For This’ was an instant success, eventually achieving quintuple platinum success. The album provided Carter with two additional number ones, with ‘We Danced Anyway’ and ‘How Do I Get There’ topping the country music charts in late 1996 and 1997. She scored a top five hit as well with ‘Count Me In’. It was an all around solid effort for her inaugural release.
Carter is quick to refute critics who claim she was an overnight success. “The album was well received and I love the songs, but honestly it took forever to get there. It took me several years to become the next overnight success in Nashville. I spent the better part of my 20’s working on material, writing songs, and facing rejection. The bottom line in country or any genre is you have to be dedicated and you have to be good, if not you’ll have a short career.”
Her follow up release ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ didn’t burn up the charts like her debut effort, but still earned gold certification and solid airplay for ‘Absence of the Heart’, and ‘Angels Working Overtime’. Creative differences and declining sales lead to label changes with Carter putting out three studio albums in the early 2000’s with ‘There’s No Limit’ and ‘I’m Just A Girl’ cracking the Top 40 on country radio.
Staying true to her music has been one of the driving factors for Carter when recording new songs. In a 22 year career she only released seven studio albums. “That averages out to one every three years. I did take a break after my son was born. I wanted to help raise him. I love writing songs and being in the studio, but I’ve always wanted to go at my own pace, and record songs that I feel strongly about.”
One of her favorite albums during that time period is 2007’s ‘The Chain’. The album consists of cover songs including many duets with artists, such as Dolly Parton and George Jones. The record was intended as a salute to her father and several of Deana Carter’s childhood heroes. “I have so many fond memories recording ‘The Chain’. Here I am the producer of the album and I have some of the biggest legends of country music working alongside me.”
Among the 12 tracks Carter covers Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’, ‘Old Man’ from Neil Young and Bob Dylan’s ‘Lay, Lady, Lay’. “They’re just iconic songs.” Carter sings duets with Paul Simon (The Boxer), Dolly Parton (Love Is Like a Butterfly), Kristofferson (Help Me Make It Through The Night), ‘On the Road Again’ with Willie Nelson, and ‘He Still Thinks I Care’ with George Jones.
“It doesn’t get any better than that. I remember Dolly at the sound board and she’s just singing and having fun. She’s an incredible talent. She can do country, pop, and R&B. Just watching her do her thing was inspiring, and she really is one of the nicest people in all of show business. It was all those rare warming up moments with Kris and George that were amazing. To be able to share all of that with my dad is something I’ll cherish forever. I remember he would say something like ‘that’s the stuff right there’, because he knew we were doing something amazing.”
According to Carter no one cared more about music than her father. “It was a part of his soul.” And even though it was his livelihood he never pushed Deana into the business. “I started writing songs back in middle school, most of them faith based. Every now and then my father would say ‘hey do you want to sing a couple of lines on this song’. He was always there to encourage me but he never wanted to spoon feed me. He understood that I had to want to sing and record because it was my passion not his.”
Carter admits she learned much more about the music industry growing up than she realized early on. “It was what my dad did to earn a living. So I just watched him, and my mom who doesn’t get a lot of credit, but she was always there as well. I got schooled on the art of songwriting, publishing, and promotions. There are so many things that have to happen before an artist gets heard on the radio. I got to experience all of that while I was growing up, so you could say I had a better idea of what it took to make it in the industry.”
During some of her down time when Carter was more focused on raising her son, she found chart success thanks to country superstar Kenny Chesney. In 2010 Chesney recorded and released ‘You and Tequila’, a song Carter and Matraca Berg co-wrote in 2003 for Carter’s ‘I’m Just A Girl’ album. Chesney’s version including guest vocals from Grace Potter reached number three on the country charts and was nominated for Best Country Song and Best Duo Performance at the 2011 Grammy’s.
“As a songwriter you want artists that will pour their soul into a song and make it theirs. Kenny really connected with the song.” A long time Christian Carter admits she struggles with career, songwriting, and how she presents herself. “No matter what we do we are wrestle with our faith. Songs like ‘You and Tequila’ represent real life, our struggle with love and relationships, and ultimately the decisions we all make. I’ve always enjoyed songwriting.”
Her time in the spotlight has had its share of ups and downs, but it is her faith in God that has kept her centered. “This is a tough business to hold on to core values but I understand God has a sense of humor and expects us to have fun. You just can’t forget who is in control and who we serve when it’s all said and done. No matter what type of work you do, life is not easy but having a relationship with God makes the journey easier.”
In her own small way to give back for the many blessings she has received, Carter offers up a regular faith based TGIF-isode on YouTube on most Fridays. To date she’s posted over 65 segments to the popular video sharing channel. “I’m just trying to do my part to spread the Word. We all struggle with flesh versus faith. It’s just me in my dining room sharing simple conversations with viewers. I’m not trying to be overly reflective, just share stories, pray a little, and include a Word from God.”
More than two and a half decades since she began her musical journey and 52 years young, Deana Carter is still plying her trade. Her most recent album 2013’s ‘Southern Way of Life’ reflects her country upbringing and optimistic view. “I still love doing it. I especially like being onstage, connecting with the audience and meeting fans. The travel is harder. I spend most of my time in California so I’m always flying everywhere I perform. The music still keeps me young even if some of it takes a toll on the body.”
Fans in the Carolina’s will have a chance to see Deana Carter when she performs at the fourth annual Carolina Country Music Fest in Myrtle Beach over the weekend of June 8th-10th. The festival kicks off Thursday evening June 7th with Cole Swindell and Tracy Lawrence. Carter will perform during the day on Friday with Toby Keith as the headliner on the evening. For more on the festival visit https://carolinacountrymusicfest.com/
To listen to any of Carter’s TGIF-isodes past or more recent just open a search engine and type in the appropriate info and you’ll discover dozens of episodes. They are fun, carefree, informative and center around the joy of living in Christ.