Clint Black stands his ground on songwriting

Clint Black doesn’t have writer’s block. But he does find his writing blocked.

Black is one of the singers who powered country’s big boom in the 1990s. But if you wonder why he hasn’t had a new album out since 2005, it’s not that he hasn’t been writing songs. The 50-year-old singer, who brings an acoustic-leaning band to The Smith Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday, says he has “about four to five albums worth of material” stockpiled. But the key to why none of it has been released lies in the hyphenated “singer-songwriter.”

“What I learned is they were very excited to sign me and put out my records, but not if I was writing. … They just wanted to pick songs they thought could be hits and get me to record them” he says. “So they loved me the singer, but were not interested in me, the songwriter.”

This isn’t news in Nashville, where stars of all generations have grown used to pitting their own songwriting against those submitted by outside writers.

Black is cowboy stubborn though. “I guess they hadn’t read my bio. I guess they didn’t realized I write all my own songs, or maybe they thought they could change that.

“The one thing I did learn is my convictions are strong and my principles are well-founded,” he adds. “No amount of enticement or success is going to change who I am.”

His argument for not fixing what isn’t broken?

“Twenty-two No. 1s, 31 Top 10s, 20 million records sold and it’s just not good enough (for the labels). It’s good enough for me.”

Until that stand-off is resolved — or until Black starts self-distributing his music — he has worked the other side of the fence, expanding his songwriting horizons. He wrote the theme song for Tonka’s “Chuck &Friends” kid-vid movie, “Big Air Dare.”

And he visited downtown’s former Reed Whipple Center in spring 2012, after writing music for a workshop version of “Aussie Adventure,” a planned arena show that allows live horses to be woven into a Broadway-style musical.

That project stalled, and Las Vegas-based producer Michael Gill says it is being reworked into a version that doesn’t include Black’s contributions, in an effort “to reach a wider demographic and a more contemporary country/pop sound.”

Regardless, Black says, “I guess I’ve learned how to do songwriting as a craft, and inspiration happens within that. There are so many subjects to write about.”

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Black’s breakthrough album, “Killin’ Time,” and his first Las Vegas show at the Thomas &Mack Center, co-billed with Dwight Yoakam that September.

Instead of following the prevailing gimmick of playing that album start to finish, Black visits The Smith Center with an acoustic ensemble that lends itself to storytelling and talking about his career. “Those things just work better” in an acoustic forum, he says. “It’s more like a backyard show.”

Last year he went out with three sidemen, including longtime songwriting collaborator Hayden Nicholas. “I broke out some of my old acoustics I hadn’t used in years, the 12-string I used to play in clubs all the time (and) the Martin D-45 I bought right when I got my first big check from RCA.”

This year’s edition adds a fifth band member but still keeps the volume low enough to feature three-part harmonies. “You’re sitting at a table with four people having a conversation, and everyone gets to say a little more than when you’re sitting with eight people,” he says.

One person you aren’t likely to see at Thursday’s show is Dennis Rodman, Black’s nemesis from their 2009 turn on Donald Trump’s reality-game show “Celebrity Apprentice.” Black says it didn’t surprise him when Rodman visited North Korea as a guest of Kim Jong-Un.

“Hitler and Goebbels did the same thing,” he says. “You try to align yourself with people who can help to put the face on your politics: ‘Look, I’m a friendly guy.’ It’s an age-old tale.

“It’s not a shocker,” he adds. “The shock is when someone goes to be seen with these tyrants. It’s not a shocker that the tyrants welcome them in.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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