The country music legend talks about her latest album The Essential Janie Fricke, a collection of music that covers her entire career.
Cowboys & Indians: Congratulations on the release of The Essential Janie Fricke, the Sony Legacy collection that covers your entire career so far.
Janie Fricke: It was just amazing to hear the news that they were going to make that available — because just the word “essential” made me flip. I can remember when Elvis Presley came out with an “essential” album. I thought, Hey, if Elvis can do it, now I get to do it. That’s pretty exciting.
C&I: This is a pretty exhaustive compilation. In fact, some of your most loyal fans might not have all of these songs in their music libraries.
Janie: There are definitely songs on there that I didn’t even realize were put out as single recordings. But I was notified by the label that they were all singles. Of course, they’ve also included duets I’ve done with people like Ray Charles, George Jones, and Merle Haggard. Quite a few of those.
C&I: But some fans might be disappointed that they didn’t include any of the commercial jingles you sang early in your career. After all, you were the first person to sing the Red Lobster tune, right?
Janie: [Sings.] “Red Lobster for the seafood lover in you.” [Laughs.] Yes, that’s my claim to fame, singing about fish. Actually, I could write a whole book about that time in my life during the 1960s, when I sang for commercials. In fact — this is so funny — just the other day, I found this little black book I kept back then where I recorded every check I received for those commercials. And let me tell you: Those checks came in frequently and for a long time. I look back and I thank the dear Lord above for providing for me and putting [me] in a business where I was able to gain so much experience by singing in all these different styles.
C&I: Different styles for different advertisers?
Janie: Oh, yes. Some of these clients would come in the control room at the studio and ask me to sound like Aretha Franklin. So I’d put on my soul voice. Then, maybe the next day, someone would ask me to sound like Karen Carpenter. So I’d put on my smooth, easy-listening voice. They each wanted a certain sound, so you had to do that for the commercial.
C&I: But ever since you established yourself as a solo recording artist, you’ve had your greatest success in one distinctive style.
Janie:That’s true, because I have always been a balladeer. And I always love to perform a song that has a lot of heart and soul in it. A song like “It Ain’t Easy Being Easy” or “Tell Me a Lie.” Those are ballads that have a really great story, something you listen to — and you go away thinking, Oh, yeah. I know what that’s like. Or “You Don’t Know Love.” That was one of my favorite ballads. The up-tempo songs are necessary, of course. And we love doing them in our shows. But I’ve always loved the ballads, especially because they give people something that they can latch onto no matter what they’re going through in life.
C&I: OK, we won’t ask who were your favorite duet partners, because that would be like asking a mom to name her favorite child.
Janie: [Laughs.] Thank you.
C&I: But what have been some of your most memorable experiences while recording some of those duets?
Janie: Well, I do remember a lot about working both with Merle Haggard and Ray Charles. I got to share the piano bench with Ray Charles when we recorded “Who Cares,” and he would tell me exactly where he wanted me to sing, and put in little harmony lines. The same with Merle Haggard. Merle wanted me to do harmony lines right where I didn’t expect that I would do them. Every time I interjected a harmony, he would say, “No, not there. Wait.” Then he would show me the next line. [Laughs.] That was unusual.
C&I: You continue to perform in concerts throughout the year. Are there any songs you know you can’t get away with not performing for your fans?
Janie: I have to say “Tell Me a Lie” could be one of those. One night I didn’t sing it, and this lady came through the autograph line after the show and told me she was really upset that I had not done that song. So I told her, “Oh, I’m sorry,” and sang a verse or two for her right there in the autograph line. [Laughs.] And then she was happy.
Illustration: Jonathan Fehr
STREAMING: The Essential Janie Fricke — a 40-song collection of singles recorded by the two-time CMA and ACM Female Vocalist of the Year — is currently available on all digital music service providers for streaming and downloading.
From the May/June 2019 issue.