Terri Clark Bucked the System Ten Years Ago, Releases Greatest Hits Album Today (2004)
Originally published in the Sept. 28, 2004 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
A 14-year-old student recently wrote to Terri Clark’s website seeking moral support. The girl’s schoolmates teased her because she wore a cowboy hat and a t-shirt with Terri’s name and face on it. But Terri’s music inspired her to be different, the teen-ager wrote, and she wasn’t going to bow to peer pressure to change.
“When I read that, it really hit me right in the heart,” says Terri, who herself was teased for being a country music lover as a teen in her native rural Canada. “If there’s anything I stand for, it’s that you can be yourself and be successful without conforming to what anybody else thinks you should be.”
As Terri celebrates her tenth year as a star with her first Greatest Hits album, she’s reflecting on what she’s achieved and what she represents. From the start, she has been known for good-time, high-energy songs ripe with sly humor. But as time has passed, she’s also become known as country’s lone cowgirl in a parade of glamorous divas. She’s the one female star who chose Stetson hats, jeans and cowboy boots while her peers bared their navels and squeezed into revealing designer dresses.
“I’ve always been a tomboy,” says the 5-foot-11-inch brunette. “I started wearing a cowboy hat when I was about 15, when I was just performing at spring flings and little fashion shows.”
Her primary influence, her grandparents, were professional musicians, and they wore hats and stage outfits. Terri thought she should, too. “I always wanted to be a country star, so I dressed the way I thought country stars dressed. So the hat’s been there from the beginning, and it’s something I’m very comfortable wearing.”
In 1994, when she signed her recording contract, Terri stood out because of her cowgirl look. She still does today.
“That’s the one message that I think is bigger than my career, bigger than any No. 1 record or award – that you don’t have to be like everyone else to be popular,” she says. “I really think that’s what God put me here to do – to show that it’s OK to be yourself. Sometimes that’s hard. Sometimes it means you get left out of things because you’re different. But if you stick to it, people will begin to respect you for it. I truly believe that’s what happened with me.”
From early hits “Better Things to Do” and “Emotional Girl” to recent smashes “Girls Lie Too” and “I Just Wanna Be Mad,” Terri’s carved an individual sound that stands out from the crowd just as distinctively as her image.
Terri signed with Mercury Records in 1994, but she didn’t release her first album until 1995. Her first two singles, “Better Things to Do” and “When Boy Meets Girl,” cracked the Top 5 – but she didn’t enjoy a No. 1 hit until 1998, when “You’re Easy on the Eyes” spent three weeks atop the charts.
“I’ve always liked to have fun,” says the native of tiny Medicine Hat, Alberta. “My music is a reflection of what I’m like when I’m hanging out with my friends.”
But there’s a sensitive soul underneath – and a lot of life experiences that have flowed alongside the success she’s enjoyed for the last decade.
“There’s something about a greatest-hits package that naturally makes you look back,” says Terri. “I got a little teary-eyed about it, to be honest. It’s a big milestone.“
It’s also made her consider difficult transitions that occurred along the way. “For one thing, I found myself thinking about my marriage going down the tubes and how hard that was for both of us,” she says of her former husband, musician Ted Stevenson. The couple divorced in 1997 after six years of marriage.
“I really have never talked about that a lot. I refused to talk about it at the time. It was just too painful. But now I realize I refused to deal with any of my feelings about it. I just pushed them aside and dived into staying busy with my career. I avoided grieving about the fact that it was over.”
Terri’s realized that in the past she’s avoided difficult emotions by staying busy. “I’m the great pretender,” she says. “I’m great at sweeping things under the rug. That’s one of my great character flaws. I just started looking back over the last 10 years, and there’ve been so many great things. But there’s also been a lot of sacrifices, and a lot of ups and downs.”
However, with the release of Greatest Hits, she feels ready to move on. “I feel like it’s the beginning of a new chapter,” says Terri, citing the honor of becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry, as well as the hits album, as signs that she’s reached a new level in her career. “I feel like I’ve reached a place where I don’t have to worry so much about every little thing.
“I once asked Vince Gill about how he dealt with all the pressure of being an artist. He said that you just have to accept that there’s going to ups and downs, that it’s a roller coaster ride. I think I’m finally ready to accept that now. I’m ready to just hold on and enjoy the ride.”