"When I was a little girl up in Canada, just me and my guitar, dreaming about country music...I had no idea what it would be like, feel like – And I don't think I could've imagined this: the thrills, the scares, the way music really is life if you give yourself to it. I never ever even thought about a Greatest Hits...How could I? And yet, ten years later, here it is – every bit of a decade that is my life."
When Terri Clark was sighing and dying of excitement in her bedroom and watching the country music awards in her basement in Medicine Hat, Alberta, she had no way of knowing her dream of being a country star would ever come true. And even when Clark found herself on the streets of Music City as an 18-year old wide-eyed girl with a big voice and bigger dreams, it was a world that was a universe away from anything she might've imagined.
"But I had this dream... and it was bigger than whatever fear there might've been," concedes the kohl-eyed beauty. "And the fact that I was pretty naive probably helped too, because as dangerous as I knew the world was, I had no clue. It's one thing to drag drunks out of Tootsies with the bartender 'cause there's no one else to help or have your guitar tied to your wrist on the bus so no one steals it, but that's the right-in-your-face stuff that you know will pass... And that gives you a focus, so you don't think about the bigger dangers.
"Because when I got down here, when I was playing for tips at Tootsies, working at Boot Country, playing the beer garden at Gilley's and anything else I could think of to get closer to the music, the only thing I could see was this dream. I didn't exactly know what it meant or how to get it – except that I wanted to make people feel the way people like Reba McEntire and The Judds made me feel. I was sure that was what I was supposed to do."
When "Better Things To Do" came out of the chute, Terri Clark was off. Like lightning in a bottle, she was a hard country singer whose entire life had revolved around her clock radio, talent contests where she'd have to wait in the ally behind the bar to find out how she'd done because she was too young to be in the club legally, the vast plains of Northern Canada, the endless miles of highway taking you anywhere – and the lure of a dream that was tear-stained waltzes and rowdy kick-out-the-lights good times.
"I was in Albuquerque to shoot the video for 'Better Things To Do,' and we'd had dinner with some of the people from the radio station. The guy who was going on the air told me to go back to the room – and he'd play the single for me," Clark says, remembering the moment when she broke through the first layer of her dream. "There was a tiny clock radio in the hotel room and suddenly, I heard my voice coming through it, just like all those nights falling asleep in my room with that little clock radio – only it was ME! I started jumping up and down on the bed, ended up hitting my head on the ceiling – screaming and feeling all the energy in my body!
"After all those beer-soaked Tootsies' shifts, the bus rides to lower Broad(way), figuring out how to get the bills paid, how to keep dreaming, get one more door open – or at least not have another one close in my face, the frustration and not knowing, in that moment, it was all for everything. And 10 years later, you know, that's still the case."
Along the way, Clark racked up an impressive string of hit records – the weeping empowerment in the ashes "A Little Gasoline," the anguished cherish-what-you-have buckle polisher "If I Were You," the sassy torture of knowing better, but thinking it's almost worth it "Easy On The Eyes," the growing recognition the one who hurts you isn't worth it "Every Time I Cry," the raucous declaration of who-I-am "Emotional Girl" and the swinging for the bleachers gusto of "I Wanna Do It All" – developed a reputation as a to-the-wall, hurl-it-against-the-sky live performer. She's toured with many of her idols – George Strait, Brooks & Dunn, George Jones, Vince Gill and, yes, Reba McEntire on her way to being named the Canadian Country Music Association's fan-voted Entertainer of the Year four times.
What drives that connection is Clark's willingness to reach into the obvious for the deeper truth, the real life bottom line. For close to three years, Clark was the only woman in country music to have a #1 with her hard-charging "I Just Wanna Be Mad," a song embracing the notion that working through your annoyance can only strengthen a true relationship – a sentiment perhaps never voiced in a genre that often reduces love to falling in, out or apart.
"Look, music has always been there for me... Seriously, the best love affair of my life," acknowledges the guitar slinger/singer/songwriter. "I've put it before a lot of things that maybe I shouldn't have, but I couldn't help it because it runs so deep inside me. And truly, my guitar and writing songs have been a comfort to me always: when a relationship wasn't working out the way I'd hoped, or I couldn't find a friend to talk to. Even when I was a kid in Canada and the kids teased me at school 'cause I wasn't like they were or I wasn't getting along with my stepfather, whatever... That guitar and those chords were always there to tell my truth to."
With her willingness to acknowledge that life and relationships are complicated, even as she runs straight into the arms of any good time that rears its grinning head, Terri Clark stalks the balance beam of life. The good times that make the hard times worth it, the challenges that make you stronger, smarter, better able to appreciate what you have – and not feel so tugged upon by what you don't.
"It's hard for my friends and my family to understand this thing that I do... but I was never the little girl dreaming of a white picket fence and 2.3 kids, a yellow dog and a prince on a white horse sweeping me off my feet...," she laughs. "I used to see those buses with the pictures on the side, and I'd pray that I could have one of those. A band and a bus – that's what I wanted. I didn't know how or why or what I'd do with it; just that I did."
"But that's the power of dreams: they can come true. Ten years later, that's what I've got – 13 people on a bus, pulling a trailer, touring pretty much non stop. But you know these people I travel the road with, they're precious to me, a big part of my life – and the people who come out to see us, who live these songs every day wherever they are, that's the biggest part of it. Because I really try to make music that can hit people the way the music I was listening to on that little clock radio in my room hit me."
With a throaty undulating alto that can tear the top off a song or hold up a faltering moment in all its glory, Clark has done more than touch people. Her gift has inspired countless people – right down to being asked by the Canadian Special Olympics Committee to adopt her "No Fear" as their theme song – and taken her places she'd always dreamed of. Conquering Europe, Australia, Billy Bob's and becoming one of the perennial Female Vocalist of the Year nominees for the Academy of Country Music, Terri Clark's kind of country is just that; country, straight-up and hard-hitting.
"It's funny looking back," she acknowledges. "I got really lucky that my label took a chance on me. They didn't send me to image consultants – and even though most girls like to dress up and be pretty, they knew it wasn't for me. Just like they knew my kind of country was the deep-gut bucket stuff. Plugged-in, sure, and revved-up... but just country. So they let me wear t-shirts and jeans, never made a move on my cowboy hat."
"They knew it was who I am – even then, they recognized there was only so far we could go before I became someone I wasn't supposed to be. And the other side is true, too. It's not like you can strap on a guitar, plop on a hat and turn into Terri Clark. Long before I left Canada, that was who I was... and even when I did my songwriter record, they knew that. They realized that looking at the Fearless cover, I was still wearing my hat, because that's the bottom line for me. Even when I'm settled in, I'm still out there, somewhere free, too."
Terri Clark is about moving beyond what can into what could be. She's a lover of dreams, an empowerer of people, a good time waiting to happen, a shoulder to cry on when necessary and a bolster when needed. But more than anything, she embodies the traditions and "something real" that is the essence of true country music.
"Listening to the album, realizing all the places this music has taken me... all the stories people have told me about these songs... it just blows my mind, and is so humbling," Clark admits quietly, "Even more than an award or a tour or a moment on the radio. I think music has been a vehicle for me to show people that their dreams can come true – because really I am not that different than they are."
The more you dream, the more people can catch and hang on. The further you're willing to reach, the more you're able to embrace. For the girl whose grandparents supported five children playing honky tonks in Canada, that dream meant not only allowing her 88 year-old grandfather Gauthier to play twin fiddles on "Faded Love" on the Grand Ole Opry this spring, but to be the first Canadian woman asked to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry – an honor she accepted in a Manuel jacket that exploded with rhinestones and a tear in her eye.
And if Terri Clark's Greatest Hits means anything – beyond the obvious soundtrack to her fans' lives – it's the notion that by being who you are – uncompromised, unburnished, unrelenting – you are your most potent truth and the greatest gift you can give the rest of us. If it means saying "no" to the cover of Playboy, even as a representative of a true grit feminine ideal, then it also means throwing your soul open to the universe and seeing where the music will take you next.
As USA Today deemed the ravishing power vocalist, "an unrepentant honky tonker in an era of divas," The Washington Post proclaimed, "it's refreshing to find a tough-talking cowgirl still keeping it rootsy and real" and The New York Post effusively raved, "no honky tonk angel – just an earthy woman who sings about living life to the max... refreshingly full of twang and bang," Terri Clark keeps her eyes on the horizon. If People says, "Misery has never sounded quite as appealing" and The Miami Herald recognizes her evolution as an artist with "her finest performances yet" of Pain To Kill, then she knows she's going in the right direction.
"This is almost like a person," she concedes, worried about how that sounds. "It's something that takes your life and leads you forward. When you've got this music in your blood, you don't get to turn it off... It's a life, it's an immersion that reaches far beyond any kind of normal constraint, and even when it's hard, you just surrender 'cause there's no other way."
"Looking back on 10 years, all these songs, all those fan's faces, though, you know, what could've been better? I can't think of anything I'd trade for it... and that's when you know every bumpy road's worth it."
--- from the official Terri Clark website