When Canadian chanteuse Terri Clark went to Nashville at 17 she tied her guitar to her wrist so she wouldn't lose it if mugged.

Now, 19 years later, the towering troubadour is hanging on tight to guitar and songs that made her one of Canada's hottest exports.

Clark has co-produced two of her five albums but it's her dynamic delivery on her turbo tonking country that won worldwide acclaim.

The singer harvests hay from heartbreak and tills freedom in songs from the lost highway that drove her from the tiny town of Medicine Hat, Alberta, to country mecca Nashville.

Clark, now 35, has raked over ashes of divorce - her own and those of friends and peers - to inject her music with a cool credibility.

And Terri bared her heart, soul and humour in an exclusive interview on the eve of her belated Australian debut tour to promote her fifth album Pain To Kill in January, 2004.
Terri Clark

The singer, backed by an eight-piece band featuring pedal steel and fiddle, will perform songs dating back to her self-titled 1995 debut disc.

Clark was born in Montreal but moved to Calgary with her mother and sister after her parents' divorce when she was eight.

They later settled in Medicine Hat - north of the Montana border.


Clark writes most of her hits but chose two Australian songs on third album How I Feel - she topped charts with Now That I Found You - penned by Sydney writers Vanessa Corish and Paul Begaud and sidekick J D Martin.

And she finished her album with Unsung Hero - one of many Tina Arena songs cut by American country stars.

"Now That I Found You was a pop song," Terri told Nu Country on the eve of her first Australian tour in January.

"I'm pretty traditional country so it was a real leap for me musically. It was a neat thing and sold a lot of records for me."


Unsung Hero had a different flight path.

"My manager heard the song and really liked it," Clark said, "it's a real tribute to heroes, people who stand behind others and don't always get all the credit. Real unsung heroes. I like the sentiment a lot."

Kentuckian fireball Wynonna Judd also earned healthy royalties for Arena, cutting three Tina tunes after The Judds split when her mother Naomi suffered hepatitis.

She recorded Heaven Help My Heart on 1996 disc Revelations, Love's Funny That Way on The Other Side (1997) and Lost Without You on New Day Dawning (2000.)


The story of Clark reads easily in her life journals released as her book Phases & Stages - the same title as Shotgun Willie Nelson's epic 1974 album.

"I took all my journal entries off my web page and put them in a book," Clark says, "it's a good look at reality from the 23 hours a day I'm not on stage."

Not in the journal is how her mum took knobs off a family TV to prevent her watching country star Barbara Mandrell's TV series as a child.

But mum accompanied her to Nashville when she was 17 in her first bid for stardom.
Clark, standing tall at 5 ft 10 in, worked for tips at famed Tootsie's Orchid Lounge near the Ryman Auditorium (home of the Grand Ole Opry on Lower Broadway.

"I got a shoe lace and tied my guitar to my wrist," Clark revealed, "Lower Broadway was a kind of a combat zone back then. It was pretty rough, a lot of police patrolling it but it wasn't the safest place for an 18 year old girl to be by myself, I was also afraid someone would snatch my guitar. There were a lot of people sleeping in planters, you would see an arm come out. I tied my guitar to my wrist because I figured if they wanted my guitar that bad they would have to take me with it."


Clark retained her guitar and sanity while she sold boots during the day and sang for her supper at night.

She also wrote songs and cut demos for major stars before she cut her self-titled debut disc in 1995 with 10 of her original songs.

They included assertive hits Better Things To Do, If I Were You, Suddenly Single, When Boy Meets Girl and the wry Was There A Girl On Your Boys' Night Out?

She also covered Is Fort Worth Worth It? penned by her co-writers Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters.

There were eight originals on second album Just The Same in 1996 - it primed a hit flood.
Emotional Girl, Twang Thang, Keeper Of The Flame and a revamp of the late Warren Zevon hit Poor, Poor Pitiful Me - previously a smash for Linda Ronstadt.


Although Clark is renowned for turbo tonking songs she exorcised divorce from fiddler Ted Stevenson whom she wed in 1990.

Clark now finds it easier to write about other divorces but not in 1998 when she sourced third disc How I Feel.

"I think an entire album, How I Feel came out of my divorce," Clark confessed, "it was also about moving on."

She wrote That's Me Not Loving You, That's How I Feel, Not Getting Over You, Till I Get There, Getting Even With The Blues and You're Easy On The Eye.

She also cut Kim Richey's I'm Alright and Leslie Satcher-Melba Montgomery-Larry Cordle tune, Cure For The Common Heartache.

"Fearless was another soul searching journey for me," Clark said of her fourth album, "it was much more introspective."

But now, with fifth album Pain To Kill producing hits I Just Wanna Be Mad, I Wanna Do It All and Three Mississippi, she's keen to break in Australia.


"I have a nice house and car and a great life," says Clark, "I feel very happy and blessed. I spent my 20's being married. I'm enjoying my freedom now. I'm happily single."

Her liberation was reflected in a recent interview when she said: "music and sex, really, are the most powerful things. There are no words to really describe how they feel. You can never really get enough of either - and how would you live without them. You can't."

I Just Wanna Be Mad was on hold for Kentucky star John Michael Montgomery before Clark topped chats with it.

"Three Mississippi was on hold for every female artist in town before I cut it," she says, "Faith, LeAnn, Sara Evans, Kelly Coffey and Martina McBride had it but I recorded it."
So has Terri missed out on songs that could have been hits for her?

"I once passed on Guys Do It All The Time - the song that became a big hit for Mindy McCready," Terri confessed, "I never regretted passing on a hit that became really huge. I had just done Better Things To Do. It was a similar song."

So how does Clark choose songs for her albums?

"Sometimes I record the best songs for me," the singer revealed. "If I can't find a song that beats mine I'll cut mine. There are a lot of great songs in Nashville but it's very hard to find a real gem, it's like finding a needle in a haystack.


And it was divorce, but not Clark's own, that inspired two tunes on Pain To Kill.
"The One You Love is very strong, about definite truths in life," Clark said of a song she wrote about a friend whose sister had leukaemia while going through divorce from a husband with a drinking problem.

"It's very sad, not always pretty, about the hard things in life. It's not easy to sit back and watch somebody suffer, even if it's under their own hand. That song came really fast - it took just two hours to write - the songs that are a gift from God always come really fast. It's so effortless and easy, the song is meant to be, one of those."

And it came much faster than Better Than You.

"Better Than You was about the same friend going through divorce," Clark said, "she started dating again. She got an online dating service, met this guy and went out to dinner and he was a real jerk. I was telling my co-writer about it and we wrote it. I think friends are afraid to tell me about their lives, afraid it will turn up on their next album."


But Clark hasn't yet harvested a bust for drunk driving, offers to pose for Playboy and many injuries in song.

"I tend to be a little accident prone," says Clark, "I was riding around a rodeo arena in a convertible and this woman leaned out and grabbed my arm, tried to pull me out of the car and dislocated my shoulder. I also had a fractured cheekbone when I was hit in the face with a baseball at a celebrity game in 1998."

But what about the broken toe she later suffered?

"That was Tequila," joked Clark who joined peers Deana Carter, Wynonna Judd, Marty Stuart, Trace Adkins and Glenn Campbell in the neon for drinking and driving.

"That was a night I was out with my record label president and we just had a couple of glasses of wine and got pulled over," says Clark, "the wanted me to take a breathalyser test and I wouldn't take it. In Tennessee if you don't take it they automatically put you under arrest. It got dropped to reckless driving after that. I never did get a DUI. That is good. They didn't lock me up. They were nice but didn't want me to tell anyone that they were nice to me. They said don't tell anyone we were nice to you. They didn't put me behind bars, maybe if put behind bars I would write a gaol song."


Clark is considering a Playboy pictorial after being voted second behind fellow Canadian Shania Twain in a readers' poll.

"I'm pondering the thought. It was a poll they ran and they called my publicist and asked if I would be willing to pose even if I finished second to Shania. I would have to bring a few guitars."

Clark appears on tribute discs to the Louvin Brothers and Patsy Cline - she duetted with Vince Gill on the Louvin Brothers disc.

"On the Louvin Bros I did Can't Keep You In Love With Me with Vince Gill," Clark said, "Carl Jackson - producer of the Louvin Brothers tribute has been a friend of mine for 14 years. He was an early believer in me when I was selling boots for a living. He played on a very earl demo I did. He had known Vince for a long time, he got Vince to sing on demo I did in 1991. It's come full circle, He discovered Bobbie Cryner."


Cryner, a prolific writer, impacted here with her Patsy Cline tribute song Daddy Laid The Blues On Me - a highlight of her two nineties albums.

Bobbie, kindred spirit of Clark, also earned healthy royalties from Real Live Woman - her divorce fuelled title track of Georgian singer Trisha Yearwood's ninth album in 2000.

Cryner, a divorcee, left a tape of the song in the Yearwood letter box shortly after Trisha, then 35, split with second husband Robert Reynolds - bassist for The Mavericks.

The California born, Kansas raised singer, now 38, also wrote evocative Nobody Love, Nobody Gets Hurt - the title track of Suzy Bogguss's eighth album in 1998.

Bogguss, 46 and an Illinois born singer with a metal smith degree, burst into tears when she put the Cryner demo into the tape deck in her car before choosing it as a single and title track.

And the punch line - Cryner sued Clark's benefactor Jackson over rights to "unexploited songs" from her rich writing catalogue.

A bridge of sorts over troubled waters to Clark's appearance on a Patsy Cline tribute disc, it you will excuse the diversion.


Clark also used her road band on Walking After Midnight on Remembering Patsy Cline.

"We recorded Walking After Midnight," says Clark proudly, "I took my road band in. Kevin Post, my bandleader, plays pedal steel and guitar too. He is a songwriter, we wrote a song with Tom Shapiro and did a demo but it was not up to par. My fiddle player Jenee Keener is only 20. She's a baby. She's from Springvale Arkansas. Kevin found her when she was playing for Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time. Bluegrass doesn't pay as well as mainstream country roadwork does so she joined me. She was studying violin at Belmont College."

Which means Jenee will have played the Cordle-Larry Shell song Murder On Music Row that parodied Nashville and became a big hit for Alan Jackson and George Strait.


Clark also enthuses about links with mentor Emmylou Harris after she cut the Susanna Clark-Carlene Carter song Easy From Now On for her fourth album Fearless in 2000.

It was originally on Harris's 1978 album Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town.

"Beth Neilsen Chapman brought the song to my attention," Clark recalled, "Emmylou came and sang on it. It was a really neat experience for me to be in the presence of someone that legendary, sitting there singing with my voice. I have been lucky to have those artists sing on my records - Alison Krauss, Vince, Ricky Skaggs, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Emmylou."


Equally stimulating was a collaboration with writer Carol Brown that produced new disc finale God And Me - a televangelism parody.

"It was like 'nice to meet you, what are your religious beliefs?' and we just sat down and wrote the song," says Clark.

Clark is already working on the theme for her sixth album that may have influences from her Australian tour.

"I like mainly writing for myself as I'm on the road a lot," she revealed, "I'm not a writer who writes all the time. I'm very project oriented so I start writing songs for an album when it's coming up. The theme comes in easily if I'm in a happy go lucky mood at the beginning. I have to think ahead, have a plan and make sure the stars all line up. It's good to get ahead."

Don't miss Terri Clark and her hot band down under in 2004.

For Victorians it's well worth the trip to Geelong to help the town fund an AFL flag.

And if you wish to help long suffering Wimmera wheat and sheep farmers such as PBS FM Acid Country host David Heard fight drought, take a longer drive to Horsham.


Thursday January 22 and Friday January 23 - West Tamworth Leagues Club.
January 24 - Empire Theatre - Toowoomba.
January 25- Jupiters Casino - Gold Coast.
January 28 - Evan Theatre, Penrith.
January 29 - Canberra Theatre.
January 30 - Costa Hall - Geelong.
January 31 - Horsham Town Hall.

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