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Janie Fricke

Janie Fricke was one of the most popular female country singers of the '80s, racking up an enviable string of hits and proving herself a versatile vocalist with a flair for ballads. Fricke had a high, clear voice that showed surprising strength and dramatic power, and she enjoyed success as a duet partner with Charlie Rich, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Duncan as well as her own long run of singles. Though her most popular songs were rooted in country, she also had a gift for pop songs, and she could incorporate adult contemporary sounds into her recordings and still let her personality shine. The definitive overview of Fricke's career can be heard on 2019's It Ain't Easy: The Complete Hits, 1981's I Need Someone to Hold Me When I Cry was one of the strongest of her '80s albums, and 2004's The Bluegrass Sessions was a lively acoustic session. Janie Fricke was born in South Whitney, Indiana, on December 19, 1947 and grew up in a family of music lovers. She started singing in the church her family attended, and as a child she first learned to play piano, then guitar. Her first vocal influences were folkies like Joan Baez and Judy Collins as well as thoughtful pop artists such as Rita Coolidge and Dusty Springfield, which informed her repertoire when she started performing at coffeehouses and school events. Fricke attended Indiana University, where she majored in elementary education, and while she loved singing, she didn't believe it could be a viable career for her. That changed, however, when she joined the university's choral group, the Singing Hoosiers, and after a rehearsal, she saw a bulletin board announcement looking for vocalists to record station breaks and commercial jingles for a local radio station. Fricke found she was well-suited for the work, and in time moved up to recording vocals for national ad campaigns, including a popular spot for the Red Lobster restaurant chain. After graduating from college in 1972, she moved to California, but headed to Nashville in 1975, where she joined the Lea Jane Singers, who maintained a busy schedule providing backing vocals for recording sessions. She also kept her hand in commercial work, and became one of Nashville's most successful backing vocalists, lending her voice to studio sessions with Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty, Tanya Tucker, and Al Green. Fricke got her first major exposure in 1976, when producer Billy Sherrill teamed her with Johnny Duncan; she had a memorable vocal cameo on his hit song "Stranger," and the following year she moved-up to co-star status on his Top Five hit "Come a Little Bit Closer." Sherrill signed Fricke as a solo act to Columbia Records, and produced her 1977 debut single, "What're You Doing Tonight," which just missed the Top 20. A collaboration with Charlie Rich (the number one hit "On My Knees") kept Fricke going strong through 1978, but she had a hard time breaking into the Country Top Ten. Sherrill advised her to establish an identity by focusing on one style, and Fricke began to record a generous selection of ballads. 1980's "Down to My Last Broken Heart" became her breakthrough, peaking at number two on the Country charts, and between 1981 and 1986, she would place 15 songs in the Top Ten, seven of which went all the way to number one: "Don't Worry 'Bout Me Baby," "It Ain't Easy Bein' Easy," "Tell Me a Lie," "He's a Heartache (Looking for a Place to Happen)," "Let's Stop Talkin' About It," "Your Heart's Not in It," and "Always Have, Always Will." 1986 also saw the release of her most successful album, Black and White, which was her first LP to reach the top of the Country charts. However, the second single from the album, "When a Woman Cries," only made it to number 20, and it would be her last entry in the Country Top 40. After the release of her 1989 album Labor of Love, Fricke left Columbia Records and she signed with Intersound Records' Branson imprint. Her first release for the label, 1992's Crossroads, was a collection of classic gospel tunes, and 1993's Now and Then found her re-recording several of her older hits. Fricke launched her own JMF label to release 2000's Bouncing Back, and she put out a live album, Live at Billy Bob's Texas, in 2002. Fricke recorded an acoustic album, 2004's The Bluegrass Sessions, that included new recordings of some of her hits as well as interpretations of country classics. She revived her JMF imprint to release an album of fresh material, 2008's Roses & Lace. In the 2010s, Fricke focused on live performing and establishing her own brand of fashion and home decor items, but in 2020 she returned with a self-released seasonal album, A Cowgirl Country Christmas.
© Mark Deming & Steve Huey /TiVo


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