There’s the time she heard her debut single “Better Things to Do” on the radio for the first time. Or the night she performed “No Fear” with athletes from the Canadian Special Olympics. Or the show where rocker Warren Zevon came to hear her sing his “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me.”
Each track on Terri Clark’s recent greatest-hits package represents a story in her 10-year career — some serious, some humorous, all part of her path from obscurity to country stardom.
“The whole album has been like a road map for me,” says Clark, her ubiquitous cowboy hat on the table beside her. “The places I’ve gone, the stories I’ve heard from people. Each one represents something different to me, and different to other people too.”
The 14 tracks include two new songs, “One of the Guys” and “Girls Lie Too,” a breezy sing-along that’s become her latest hit.
There’s also “You’re Easy on the Eyes,” “I Just Wanna Be Mad,” “I Wanna Do It All” and a live version of “No Fear,” a song about digging deep to find your true self that she co-wrote with Mary Chapin Carpenter, the introspective singer-songwriter who seems the polar opposite of Clark’s rowdy cowgirl.
The Canadian Special Olympics Committee adopted the tune for its theme song, and Clark performed it with some Special Olympians at the 2001 Canadian Country Music Association awards show.
“That’s one of the jewels in my crown if I have one, writing that song with her and what it has to say,” the 36-year-old Montreal native said.
A revved-up, hard country soundAt a time when female country singers have struggled, Clark has scored with her revved-up, hard country sound. Last year, “I Just Wanna Be Mad” was the only No. 1 by a female.
With her twangy vocals, cowboy boots and beat-up Telecaster guitar, Clark is a change from the pop-country divas who had dominated radio.
“For a while, there were a lot of adult contemporary country songs being put out by females,” said Paul Williams, program director at KPLX-FM in Dallas, where Clark performed Aug. 15 with Toby Keith. “Interestingly, the one that went to No. 1 wasn’t one of those ballad, soccer-mom songs — it was a Terri Clark song. That says a lot for her.”
Clark’s most durable songs have catchy choruses, a driving beat and playful lyrics, often with a strong female viewpoint. In “I Just Wanna Be Mad,” she sings, “For now you might as well forget it / Don’t run your fingers through my hair / Yeah that’s right I’m being stubborn / No I don’t want to go back upstairs.”
“Girls Lie Too” includes a sly innuendo in the last line of the second verse: “We don’t care how much money you make / What you drive or what you weigh / Size don’t matter anyway.”
Clark says her family is full of strong-willed women, and a big part of her early musical inspiration was Loretta Lynn’s feminist songs like “The Pill” and “Rated X.” As for the rock edge and snappy melodies, some of her first ideas about music came from her mother’s Beatles and Janis Joplin records.
“I have two speeds — either really country or I like to rock,” she says. “I’m not in between. I’m not much for anything that’s sort of this or sort of that.”
That helps explain “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” the Zevon song she covered on her second album. It seems out of place beside her honky-tonk hits, but it’s one of her most popular numbers.
“I never thought it would see the light of day as a single,” she says. “I thought it was too bizarre.”
A famous fanOne night, while performing in Los Angeles several years ago, she spotted Zevon in front of the stage.
“He took the time to watch this kid’s whole show, this girl in this hat walking around singing his song,” she says of the late songwriter. “And I remember him saying, ‘Well you’ve made more money with it than I’ve made recently so I figured I’d come and see what it’s all about.”’
This year, Clark turned down an offer to pose for Playboy magazine (not her style, she says) and accepted an invitation to join the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. She’s about two-thirds finished with a new album expected next year.
Raised in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Clark developed a love of country music from her grandparents, Ray and Betty Gauthier, country performers who opened shows for Johnny Cash, George Jones, Little Jimmie Dickens and others. Her mother was a folk singer who played in coffeehouses.
After high school she moved to Nashville and landed a job singing at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a honky tonk bar across the alley from the historic Ryman Auditorium.
She signed a deal with Mercury Records and her first single “Better Things To Do” hit the Top 5 in 1995.
Commercial success continued for a few years with six songs cracking the Top 10, including the No. 1 “You’re Easy on the Eyes.”
But by 2000 her popularity was waning. Her comeback album was 2003’s “Pain To Kill,” which yielded “I Just Wanna Be Mad” and “I Wanna Do It All.”
“Even when my brand of what I was doing — the girl in the hat singing the way I sing — wasn’t always the popular thing, I just kept doing it,” she says. “I can only be who I am and hopefully the audience at some point looks at that and says ’That’s what we want right now.”’