Sept 13, 2017–It’s boggling to think that the difference between being a backup singer and becoming a country music superstar was one lyric in one song. Yet seven words pulled one Nashville studio musician out of the backline and into the spotlight.
It was1977. Johnny Duncan had a number-one hit song Stranger. In the chorus, fans heard a female backup singing one line–Shut out the light and lead me–and wanted to know who sang it.
The singer was Janie Fricke.
The buzz was so big, Columbia Records offered Fricke her own recording contract. Amazingly, she was not sure she was ready for it.
“The label ‘reluctant superstar’ was used about me,” Fricke said during a phone interview. “It was scary when they offered me a contract. I loved doing studio work and singing harmony in backup vocal groups.”
She talked it over with her friends and fellow musicians. It was the president of the musician’s union who gave her “great advice.”
“He told me, this is your one shot,” she said. “You should do it because you may never get another one.”
So she did, although she was “afraid the whole time.”
“I was so thankful to have had the opportunity to do it. I think it’s a great blessing. I’d never say I wish I weren’t doing what I am supposed to be doing. Now, it’s just my life, like any other job. God decided this is what I was supposed to be doing.”
And she did it with a vengeance. In addition to Duncan, Fricke sang on recordings by every major country singer at the time, including Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap, Lynn Anderson, Tanya Tucker, Conway Twitty, and Eddie Rabbitt.
On her own, she had a string of hits in the 1970s-80s including Please Help Me I’m Falling, Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby, It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy, Tell Me a Lie, and Let’s Stop Talkin’ About It. She was voted Top Female Vocalist/Artist by the Country Music Association, Academy of Country Music, and Music City News.
Fittingly, Fricke became such a superstar as a soloist, she was asked to sing a duet with Merle Haggard on his 1985 hit Natural High.
Fricke strikes fans as one of those stars you believe could be the 4th grade teacher across the hall. Actually, she could have been. She earned a degree in Elementary Education, after growing up on a farm in Indiana. There, she honed her harmony chops by singing along with Motown songs she heard on the Detroit radio station as well as singing church hymns with her sisters every Sunday.
Her parents were her first music teachers, and the most demanding.
“Mom played piano, dad played a little guitar,” she said. “Mom would prompt us. If it was shrill, that was not good. If it was sharp, that was not good. She was constantly critiquing and helped me form my tonality.”
That is another trait that made her stand out in Nashville–her natural sound. While she characterizes herself as having a “high, light voice,” her mom’s guidance kept her from veering into the “bright, nasally type” often heard in stereotypical country music.
In the end, no one was surprised about her career success, except her.
“I wonder myself how did this happen, where did it come from,” she said. “Just singing in the business; it’s fascinating.”
At her show at the Cailloux Theater, she is looking forward to meeting and greeting new fans. Fricke will play her acoustic guitar and sing with her four-piece band. She wouldn’t reveal what all happens at the show (“it’s a surprise”), but she guarantees it will be “an enjoyable fun time on stage.”
“Tell your readers to come on out to the show, it’s going to be a good time,” she said. “It will be something different, a refreshing evening, and you will enjoy it.”
Janie Fricke and her band perform at the Cailloux Theater, 301 Main, Kerrville, Texas, on September 15, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets and information at www.caillouxtheater.com or by calling 830-896-9393.