CATCHING UP WITH...KATHY MATTEA

Singer and songwriter Kathy Mattea was thrilled to become a commercial star - and just as happy to give it all up.

"I did it," declares Kathy Mattea. "I rose to the height of my industry, and did it singing songs that I still really love."

That she did - Kathy had 16 Top 10 hits, including "Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses," "Burnin' Old Memories," "Life as We Knew It" and "Goin' Gone." She also received five CMA Awards and a couple of Grammys along the way. By every measurable standard, she was a star.

"I was so glad to have it," she says. "I think there's some part of me that has a sense of peace because I know that I got my back wheels over the top."

The native of Cross Lane, W.Va., actually came to Nashville in the late '70s to be a songwriter. But music executives took note of her as a singer instead, and in 1986 she made a splash with the No. 3 "Love at the Five & Dime." The hits kept coming for a decade, but Kathy discovered that fame came with a price.

"When you're at the height of your success, there's not a lot of open space in your life," she recalls. "I remember thinking, 'Gosh, everything I'm doing is so much fun, I wish I could spread it over 15 years instead of it having to be all right now.' I couldn't savor it."

Eventually, Kathy stepped away from mainstream country and into the folky, Celtictinged sound of her most recent album, 2002's Roses. She also took more time for the things in life that matter most.

"I got to be there for my dad when he was dying of cancer," she notes. "I spent some incredible time with him. My mom has Alzheimer's, so I try to show up on her doorstep and sit on the couch with her feet on my lap."

She also recently started work on a new CD. Kathy, who lives in Nashville with her husband, songwriter Jon Vezner, has found a balance in her life that she doesn't want to give up.

"In the last few years, it's gotten really, really sweet," she says. "I can go and work hard for a while, and then spend time with my family and friends and feed my soul a little bit."

- NICK KREWEN

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