DAVE'S DIARY - 21 SEPTEMBER 2005 - FAITH HILL

FAITH - TOP OF THE HILL

"We've got barefoot ladies and tricked out Mercedes" - Sunshine And Summertime - John Rich-Rodney Clawson-Kylie Sackley.

Mississippi minstrel Faith Hill competes with singing spouse Tim McGraw in movies and on radio, TV and charts. Faith Hill's music and acting career has taken her all over the world from modern, swanky Seattle hotels to exotic Caribbean resorts.

McGraw won wide praise for his major role with Billy Bob Thornton in acclaimed movie Friday Night Lights and Hill appeared in Stepford Wives with Nicole Kidman, Glen Close and Bette Midler.

Although Hill, 37, and McGraw, 38, cancelled a joint 2002 Australian promo tour because of terrorism threats in the aftermath of September 11 she has strong local links.

Faith cut expatriate Port Douglas singer-songwriter Kylie Sackley's song Sunshine And Summertime on her sixth album Fireflies.

Sackley, 23, wrote the song with John Rich of Big & Rich who also penned Hill's recent hit Mississippi Girl.

The latter day Nashville writer also wrote Texan temptress Leann Rimes top #5 U.S. hit Nothing 'Bout Love Makes Sense.

Kylie collaborated on it with former Pure Prairie League singer Gary Burr and Joel Feeney for Rimes 12th album, This Time, that sold 100,000 copies in its first week.

But it's Hill who is now earning Sackley lucrative royalties - Fireflies upstaged This Time by selling 329,000 copies on debut as it topped pop and country charts.

The mother of three daughters has sold 25 million plus albums in a recording career that began long after she fled her ironically named hometown Star.

Hill alienated country fans when she released pop flavoured disc Cry but won them back on Fireflies.

FIREFLIES

"Well, it's a long way from Star, Mississippi/ to the big stage I'm singin' on tonight."
Mississippi Girl - John Rich-Adam Shoenfeld

Hill regains country credibility with her new disc that features three songs by Rich including the hit Mississippi Girl.

The unashamed, mandolin driven celebration of her small town roots is a deliberate ploy to reclaim fans who fled in her pulp pop pilgrimage.

It works - in Georgia Middleman penned fiddle and steel driven shotgun wedding parody Dearly Beloved and Lori McKenna's cheating saga Stealing Kisses.

"As he's putting the ring on her/he's checking out the bridesmaids/ thinking that he might take the maid of honor's honor."

The Rich-Vicky McGehee penned Like We Never Loved At All - a tear-jerking duet with McGraw - has now reached #31as the disc's second single.

Equally evocative is bluegrass singer Darrell Scott's We've Got Nothing But Love To Prove, replete with anti-war message but missing from the 14-track sleeve listing.

"We fight for peace and die for our freedom," Hill sings.

Hill's lunge for country cred includes Rhonda Vincent harmonies on I Ain't Gonna Take It Anymore and Willis on fantasy fuelled McKenna penned title track.

The singer enlists Brett Warren for her cut of The Warrens tune The Lucky One and an orchestra drenches the vivid, melodramatic hidden track finale Paris.

1999 NU COUNTRY interview

FROM STAR TO STARDOM

"It's the way you love me/ it's a feeling like this/ it's centrifugal motion/ it's perpetual bliss." - This Kiss - Robin Lerner-Annie Roboff-Beth Nielsen Chapman.

Faith Hill was destined for fame when she grew up in aptly named Mississippi town Star after being born in nearby Jackson.

But it wasn't a champagne and caviar childhood.

Faith was one of 14 children and was adopted when she was just a week old.

The chart-topping actress, wed to fellow country star Tim McGraw, graduated from gospel singing to pop stardom after a tobacco stained initiation.

Hill, mother of three, has vivid memories of sharing a stage as a 16 year old with a "tobacco spit" contest in the neighbouring town of Raleigh.

"It was really funny," Hill revealed in a call from her Nashville home as she tried to stem a coughing fit.

"They had this contest where people come from all over the country to spit tobacco. And they measure the distance of the spit. They chew the tobacco and then spit it as far as they can. That's how they decide the tobacco spitter of the year."

But, as with all cultural events in the south, there are rules and regulations to ensure a level playing field.

"Some of them take their teeth out and some have teeth missing when they take the stage," Hill said, "it would be disastrous if their teeth went further than the tobacco, oh my God, no."

THIS KISS

Hill, a major star for six years in the U.S. with album sales exceeding eight million, broke here with This Kiss - a Top 5 smash.

Australian commercial radio followed in the footsteps of its American mentor and belatedly played This Kiss.

This prompted her record company Warner to re-release Faith's third album Love Will Always Win with three bonus tracks - two versions of Let Me Let Go (including one from movie Message In A Bottle) and previous album title track It Matters To Me.

Faith's version of the Bert Bern-Jerry Ragavoy tune Piece Of My Heart - an historic hit for the late Janis Joplin - also replaced My Wild Frontier on the re-release.

Although Hill didn't write This Kiss she identifies with the sentiments after wedding her second husband Tim - son of former baseball star Tug McGraw - on October 6, 1996, in Rayville, Louisiana.

"I hate cynical people who say their first kisses are nothing special," Hill revealed, "my first kiss with Tim was perfect, exactly as it should be. I love kissing."

The singers have both kissed stardom with a flourish but Hill couldn't name which of the song's three writers - Beth Nielsen Chapman, Annie Roboff and Robin Lerner - described kissing in the lyric "it's centrifugal motion/ it's perpetual bliss."

The writers - a widow, divorcee and a single woman - wrote the song on a beach.

"I just don't which one came up with centrifugal motion," Hill confessed.

TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL

"Well, I spent a few weeks in California/ they put my face on the big movie screen/ but that don't mean I've forgotten where I came from/ that's just me chasing dreams." - Mississippi Girl - John Rich-Adam Shoenfeld.

Hill has no qualms about discussing sweet serendipity that accompanied her success and led to acting roles in Touched By An Angel and Promised Land.

Faith, her elder daughter Gracie and the late country queen Tammy Wynette were all born on May 5 - three generations apart.

"Cinco de Mayo, of course this virtually guarantees greatness for Gracie," says Hill, "that's what Tammy said, too."

Hill performed Tammy's tune Til I Can Make It On My Own on tribute disc, Tammy Wynette Remembered.

But shortly after this interview country star George Jones, 67 - one of Tammy's five ex-husbands - was critically injured when his sports ute hit a bridge near his Nashville home.

Hill sang in church from the age of three, fronted her first band at 17 and spent almost a year with the Steele Family gospel group at 18.

Although Hill left home for Nashville at 19 she toiled for five years as a waitress, tee shirt salesperson and publishing company receptionist before being discovered at the Bluebird Café - the music venue that prompted the final River Phoenix movie Thing Called Love.

When she debuted on top of the country charts for four weeks with Wild One in 1994 she equalled the 30-year-old record of Connie Smith with Once A Day.

Although she has since had five No 1 hits and performed to a 3.5 billion TV audience at the Atlanta Olympics it took six months for This Kiss to earn airplay and sales here.

"I guess we're lucky and I'm so delighted the song is doing so well in Australia," Hill said.

"I'm just so happy everyone there is loving the song. I hope I get the chance real soon to come down and play it for you live."

GRETCHEN PETERS

That enabled Hill to dig deeper into her catalogue that included an animated version of Gretchen Peters second album title track The Secret Of Life and a revamp of the Bekka Bramlett and Billy Burnette tune Better Day.


Tim McGraw
Hill and McGraw have long been popular enough in the U.S. to headline their own concerts but it's more likely a joint tour would bring them here.

"We much prefer to tour together," Hill added, "it's much more fun."

The duo had a No 1 with It's Your Love and joined forces again for Just To Hear You Say That You Love Me on her third album Faith.

Their popularity here was catalysed by CMT video exposure and community radio airplay before This Kiss was picked by commercial radio.

But there was two major set-backs - she had a three month convalescence after surgery to remove an enlarged blood vessel from her vocal chords in 1994.

And she split with then Liberty Records chief Scott Hendricks after they became engaged on Valentine's Day, 1995.

Ms Hill was previously married to publisher Daniel Hill and retained her married name when she began performing and recording.

Now, movies and TV are the cement in Hill's ascent of the sales mountain.

EARLY MOVIES

Her version of Let Me Let Go is in Kevin Costner-Paul Newman movie Message In A Bottle.

She landed Somewhere Down The Road on the Prince Of Egypt tribute album and performs Since I Laid Eyes On You in the Disney movie Mr Wrong.

"David Foster, who produced Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston, was doing the music for Message In A Bottle," Hill explained.

"He knew my version of Let Me Let Go and fell in love with the song. He thought it was perfect for the movie, he felt it needed to be slowed down so we went back in the studio and re-cut the song."

Hill also appeared in Touched By An Angel with Richard Thomas who played Hank Williams Jr in The Living Proof and was a star of The Waltons.

"I made that movie just after I had my first daughter," Hill recalled, "I was off the road from touring. It was fun. I played the estranged wife of Thomas's character. The story carried over into Promised Land. The first acting bug I had was in the fourth grade when I played Aunt Polly in Tom Sawyer."

Hill's education was much more fruitful than that of father Ted - one of 14 children who didn't learn to read and write at school.

In May 1996 Warner Bros Records and Time Warner launched the Faith Hill Family Literacy Project, designed to help combat illiteracy worldwide.

"It's my dream that some day everyone will be able to read," says Hill, "unfortunately my dad had to leave school to help support his family."

Luckily, Faith has engendered hope for all those less fortunate and they won't have to live on charity if they follow in her slipstream.


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