Nothin’ But The Taillights: A Conversation With Clint Black

At this juncture in his career, famed country music artist Clint Black has nothing left to prove.

Since shooting out of the gates with his debut album, 1989’s “Killin’ Time,” which produced not one, not two, but four No. 1 singles, the 56-year-old Texan has racked up more than 20 million albums sold worldwide, 31 top-10 hits and 22 singles that have made it to the ever-elusive No. 1 slot. Recordings such as “A Better Man,” “Killin’ Time,” “When I Said I Do” and “Nothin’ But the Taillights” remain on country music radio station playlists to this day.

Numbers aside, Black’s seat at the table was secured back in the early 1990s with a string of successful releases that helped open the genre’s doors to millions of new fans who were straddling the pop/rock/country music lines and had nowhere to call home. Thanks to then-newcomers Black, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson, that changed, and the forward roll has continued ever since.

ListenIowa caught up with Black as he prepared to make an Iowa appearance at the Wild Rose Casino in Jefferson on Friday, July 13. Doors open at 7 p.m., with the show starting at 8 p.m.

You’re back out on tour and performing this summer. How does it feel to be back?
It’s always good to be back on stage. I break for about 3-4 months each year over the winter, then hit the road in the spring. I’ll do on average of 80-90 cities a year.

Musicians talk about living for those two hours on stage, then of the struggle to find ways to kill the next 22 hours before they can get back out and do it again. How does touring and performing now compare to the rigorous schedules you had in the 1990s?
It’s easier to kill time in between nowadays, with the Internet, Facetime, satellite tracking TV systems, video games and  – on my bus –  a guitar amplifier to practice on. Still, it’s all about performing. It’s what drove me as a teenager, and it’s the same today.

Talk about another venture you have in the works, the “Looking for Christmas: The Musical” that will open at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego this fall. How did this come together?
I happen to meet one James Sasser, a theater actor/writer/director, and he asked if I’d ever considered working on Broadway. I said “yes,” and that I’d never do it! Too many shows per week. (It would be a) grueling work schedule for the likes of me. I said I had thought about writing a musical for Broadway, and he and I started batting around ideas. “Looking for Christmas” is the one we were both most excited about, and off we went to formulate a story that would weave in and out of my collection of original Christmas songs, starting with the first album, and then encompassing the second and some songs outside the Christmas theme that matched up well with out story.

Staging a musical is a big undertaking. Did you have any fears or trepidations in stepping into this new territory?
I didn’t have any fears, but I knew it was a different animal than I was used to taming. I spoke with my friend Eric Idle of Monty Python infamy, and he, as usual, gave some great advice/insights. Also, it was helpful striking out on this endeavor to be working with seasoned Broadway veterans such as James, Kent Nicholson and Vince Burwell, which is the team I started with. Once we aligned the premiering of the show with The Old Globe Theater in San Diego, it really started to feel probable.

You’ve also dipped your boots in the acting realm at times, appearing in television and movies.
I was lucky to be asked to play a small role in “Maverick.” That was a great experience, and I decided I’d take other roles here and there. I enjoy it, but don’t ever want it to take a backseat to music.

Being a singer is one thing, but an actor is an entirely different animal. Was there anything that your music background helped you with once you got in front of the camera?
Maybe the songwriting process. I’m always looking for the truth, the essence and the feeling behind a lyrical idea. Acting requires the same for conveying a character’s feelings on screen.

You’re going to putting together another Christmas-based project in December around “A Clint Black Christmas,” and this year your wife, Lisa Hartman Black, will be joining you. 
Asking Lisa — a full time mom — to do shows with me is no small thing. I feel some pressure to make things just right for her and to see that it’s a smooth and comfortable operation. I know how much my fans want to see her join me, so I get very excited to share this with them. It will be short-lived, but hopefully we can do more once our daughter, Lily, is off to college.