Musicians Off the Record: 1980s

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1980. Delbert McClinton, Lubbock-born and Fort Worth-raised, scores his first hit with "Giving It Up For Your Love." A multi-genre composer and musician, his work is sought out to complement the music of Emmylou Harris, Wynonna Judd, Vince Gill and Tanya Tucker.

1980. George Jones returns from a hard few years out of performing to pick up a Grammy for "He Stopped Lovin’ Her Today" and went on to have another string of hits through the decade.

1980. Honeysuckle Rose premieres with Willie Nelson as the star. He wins a Grammy for Best Country Song for "On the Road Again," and it becomes a signature song for him.

1980. Cynthia Clawson claims the Grammy for Best Gospel Performance, Contemporary or Inspirational, for The Lord's Prayer.

1980. Roy Orbison teams up with Emmylou Harris on "That Lovin' You Feelin' Again." They win the Grammy for Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal.

1980. Christopher Cross of Austin has a wildly successful first album, especially with the songs "Ride Like the Wind" and "Sailing." The self-titled album is named Album of the Year, while "Sailing" is cited as Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Cross is also named Best New Artist and receives recognition for the Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist for "Sailing," as well.

1980. Mickey Gilley and his Urban Cowboy Band win the Best Country Instrumental Performance for Orange Blossom Special/Hoedown. Gilley and the band can be found in Branson, MO today.

1981. Willie Nelson, Ray Price and Roger Miller team up to record Miller’s melancholy "Old Friends."

1981. George Strait releases his first of many Top Ten hits: "Unwound." As of 2005, he holds the career record for Country Music Awards nominations at 73.

Photo of George Strait
George Strait, © Paul Natkin /used by permission

1982. Clarence Gatemouth Brown wins Best Traditional Blues Recording for Alright Again.

1982. The Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, again goes to Willie Nelson for the rueful "Always On My Mind."

1982. Jennifer Holliday, from Houston, wins a Tony and a Grammy for her performance in Dreamgirls. The song from the show that is behind the Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female, is "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."

1983. ZZ Top releases the mega hit LP Eliminator, supported by a series of distinctive music videos for the smash titles "Gimme All Your Lovin’," "Sharp Dressed Man" and "Legs." Their distinctive image (waist-length beards and sunglasses) complements their mastery of authentic blues. In 2004, the band’s hard-rocking approach to the blues shepherds them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Photo of ZZ Top Bandview larger
ZZ Top Band, © Paul Natkin /used by permission

1983. Always loving the duet, Willie Nelson teams up with Merle Haggard for their first album together, and they have a hit with Pancho and Lefty. The title song is by Texas songwriter Townes van Zandt.

1983. Albert Collins’ album Don’t Lose Your Cool earns him a W. C. Handy Award.

1983. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble debut Texas Flood (produced by John Hammond) to immediate critical acclaim and attention. While some are put off by his hard blues guitar, others take to it with enthusiasm, and it spawns a crossover blues and rock Top 20 hit, "Pride and Joy." Couldn't Stand the Weather and Soul to Soul follow to similar positive reception. Vaughan plays with David Bowie and Jackson Browne and causes quite a stir.

1984. Willie Nelson branches out his duets to Julio Iglesias for another crossover hit. "To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before" went to #5 on the pop chart and #1 on the singles chart.

1984. The Blues Explosion marks the maturity of an interest young white musicians have in traditional African-American blues. Stevie Ray Vaughan is about to become a phenomenon when John Hammond, Vaughan and Double Trouble, Sugar Blue, Koko Taylor and the Blues Machine, Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson and J.B. Hutto and the New Hawks win the Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Recording for Blues Explosion.

1985. Former Eagle Don Henley establishes a singular solo career with his second release, Building the Perfect Beast, which features the Grammy winner in the Best Rock Vocal Performance category, "The Boys of Summer."

1985. Vikki Carr’s "Simplemente Mujer" wins the Grammy for Best Mexican-American Performance.

1985. Jennifer Holliday says that when she was in school, she was inspired by Barbara Jordan to be a good citizen and a good person, and also to pay close attention to words and the way they are spoken. She wins the Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance for a tribute to another outstanding African-American woman with an outstanding voice, Mahalia Jackson. The song is "Come Sunday" by Duke Ellington.

1985. Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with music and lyrics by Roger Miller, is a smash hit on Broadway. It wins seven Tony Awards, including Miller's for best score. Miller sings several of the songs himself for a solo album, including "Guv'ment" and the magnificent "River in the Rain." He is the only country artist to win a Tony Award.

1985. A quartet of mythic song stylists teams up as The Highwaymen: Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings.

1985. In the middle of a depression that hit independent farmers especially hard, Willie Nelson launches the first Farm Aid, an outdoor concert to raise money to help family farmers.

Photo of Willie Nelson at Farm Aid in 2004view larger
Willie Nelson at Farm Aid in 2004, © Paul Natkin /used by permission

 John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews & Neil Youngview larger
Farm Aid 2005 Board: John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews & Neil Young, © Paul Natkin /used by permission

1986. Buddy Holly is elected posthumously as a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

1986. Flaco Jimenez is awarded Best Mexican-American Performance for Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio. This music harkens back to Jimenez's days playing accordion with his father’s conjunto band and the San Antonio sound.

1986. Glowing reviews and popularity greet Steve Earle’s rockabilly Guitar Town.

1986. The Fabulous Thunderbirds release Tuff Enuff, the first of several more commercial albums. They still sample from zydeco, soul, blues and rock and roll. Tuff Enuff is certified platinum.

1986. Albert Collins shares a Grammy with Johnny Copeland and Robert Cray for Showdown!

1987. Asleep at the Wheel wins the Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance by Orchestra, Group or Soloist for "String of Pars."

1987. Lyle Lovett wins the Grammy for Best Male Vocalist for the 1989 album Lyle Lovett & His Large Band.

Photo of Lyle Lovett in 1988
Photo of Lyle Lovett in 1988, © Paul Natkin /used by permission

1987. Roy Orbison is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

1988. Asleep at the Wheel wins the Best Country Instrumental Performance for "Sugarfoot Rag."

1988. Copperhead Road takes a sharper turn towards rock for Steve Earle. The popular single, also called "Copperhead Road," is targeted exclusively to rock radio instead of to country stations.

1988. Roy Orbison and k.d. lang combine two of the most piercingly clear voices ever recorded to redo his 1961 hit "Cryin’" for the soundtrack of the movie Hiding Out. It wins them the Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocal. A Cinemax TV special titled Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night Live is an acclaimed performance. T-Bone Burnett serves as musical director, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, k.d. lang, Jennifer Warnes and Bonnie Raitt are among the musicians who back him up. A generation after his first hit, Orbison is riding high with new fans. He wins a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male for "Oh, Pretty Woman" from A Black & White Night Live.

1989. The End of the Innocence is a Don Henley masterpiece, resting on the charts almost three years with sales of three million units and the Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male. The single "The End of the Innocence" earns a Grammy, while "Heart of the Matter," "New York Minute," "How Bad Do You Want It?" and "The Last Worthless Evening" are all highly-praised hits. More and more, Henley is involved in environmental issues and launches a campaign to preserve Massachusetts’ Walden Woods in 1990 and the Caddo Lake Institute for ecological education in 1993.

1989.  Terry Bozio unites with Jeff Beck and Tony Hymas to record Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop. The album is so successful it receives a Grammy award for Best Rock Instrumental.

1989. Rodney Crowell releases Diamonds and Dirt, which helps to launch his career commercially. The release produces a steady stream of five number one singles with "It’s Such a Small World," "I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried," "She’s Crazy for Leavin’," "After All This Time" and "Above and Beyond." "After All This Time" brings Crowell a Grammy in the category of best country song.

1989.Stevie Ray Vaughan comes back after a time out to acclaim for In Step, which wins a Grammy award for Best Contemporary