In the spring of 1986, the Sweethearts Of The Rodeo took country music by storm. Although the Sweethearts, sisters Janis Gill and Kristine Arnold, had paid nearly 20 years of dues for their "overnight" success, when it finally hit, it was, as Janis recalls, "like a jet airplane taking off, with us just hanging onto the wings for dear life."
With their first two albums spawning seven consecutive Top 10 hits, the Sweethearts filled country airwaves for the most of the latter 80's with classics like "Midnight Girl/Sunset Town," "Chains of Gold," "Satisfy You" and "Blue To The Bone."
But the Sweethearts' glittering success had an adverse flipside that only gradually began to show itself. While they coped for a while with the pressure of recording, touring and the constant self-promotion that's required to stay on top, Janis and Kristine began to find themselves boxed into the sound and image that had worked so well for them.
"We went through the whole range of negative emotions: fear, anger, sadness, desperation," says Kristine. "We almost broke up at one point. Being sisters helped us weather that and continue to believe in what we do. Because we got through all the despair, we began to realize that there's a lot more to our music than just hit radio records. We resurfaced and realized there's another whole world of music that has nothing to do with any of that, and that's what we decided to pursue."
What the Sweethearts resurfaced with was a new record label, Sugar Hill, and a creative freedom unlike anything they had ever known before. But rather than reinventing themselves for their Sugar Hill debut, "Rodeo Waltz", they returned to their roots.
"When we started putting together "Rodeo Waltz", we began looking at songs we'd been singing for 20 years or longer....songs we had never even brought up the notion of recording because they were nothing mainstream country radio would touch," Kristine says. " It was rediscovering a whole world of songs and wonderful memories, not only of what we used to perform, but how much we and the audiences loved it. We were downright giddy in the studio at times."
With "Beautiful Lies", the Sweethearts' follow-up Sugar Hill release, they continue their new tradition of recording music for themselves and their fans. Produced by Janis (who also wrote or co-wrote four of the tracks) "Beautiful Lies" is being hailed by some industry insiders as their best record ever, and the title track has become an instant Americana Top-Ten hit.
The Sweethearts Of The Rodeo have added bluegrass and folk festivals to their touring schedule now, while still maintaining a strong fan base from their years at the top of the country charts. They perform now with a small acoustic band as well as doing occasional duo dates that include both their newer repertoire and acoustic reworkings of their chart hits.
"We were looking for a niche -- a place where we could continue with our audience-- and that's what we've found." says Kristine.
"The trade-off in possible Gold and Platinum sales with a smaller label is worth the creative freedom we've found a thousandfold," says Janis. "It was almost funny. there were people in Nashville who would come up and pat me on the back and offer sympathy when we left the major label. We're just so happy where we are now. We went from grief and desperation to the most joyous projects we've ever done."
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