The year 1987 turned out to be a life-changing one for K.T. Oslin. The Arkansas native hit the top 40 of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with “Wall of Tears,” her debut single for RCA Records. By year’s end, thanks to the success of “80’s Ladies,” she would be one of the biggest — if most unlikely — stars in the country format.
At the time of her signing with the label, she was already in her mid-40s — far from the younger “New Traditionalist” movement personified by such acts as Randy Travis, Reba McEntire and Patty Loveless. She credits longtime RCA label chief Joe Galante with her success.
“I thought it was my last chance at doing anything in this business, which was all that I knew how to do,” she said. ?”I would have ended up selling gloves at Macy’s if it weren’t for Joe Galante. I was so naïve about the business. You can’t know about it unless you’re in it. You don’t take a course in it. You can’t know it unless you’re there. I thought, ‘Here is my last shot,’ and that was scary. I was almost 50 years old, but I didn’t let myself think it was impossible.”
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Oslin has just released Simply, her first studio album in 14 years. When asked of her whereabouts since her commercial peak of 1987-1992, she stated, “I went to my house, and I just kind of stayed there. There were a number of reasons. Some of them were personal. Some of them were medical. Some were business-related. The business started changing very rapidly there about the third or fourth year into my deal. It got younger and younger, and I didn’t want to fight it. I couldn’t get rest, and the job just was getting to be where it wasn’t fun. If this business becomes where it’s not fun, you’re doomed. So I asked my businesspeople if I had enough money to quit, and they said I did, so that’s what I did.”
Oslin also put her pen down as well. “Do You Think About Me,” included on the album, is the first all-new composition of hers in over two decades. “I don’t write like I used to,” she said. “I used to just thump it out, but I may never do that again. I don’t write them unless I think they are going to be real good.”
However, she said she still loves the creative process of recording — although it has changed somewhat. “I don’t know anything about the technical end of it. That’s all very mysterious and new to me. We made this album in the basement of my bass player in three days for next to nothing. Originally, the thought behind this album was that I wanted to do some singing again and I wanted to do some dates. So I thought, ‘Let’s make a record.’ I had some changes I wanted to make that might be a little interesting.”
One song that she changed up a little bit was “Hold Me,” a No. 1 hit from 1989. “I just thought it should be a little more relaxed. It just seemed to be trying too hard the first time. We didn’t change it that much, and I enjoyed singing it again. It’s a beautiful song, one that I’m very proud of. Originally, I thought it was a duet, but the more I thought about it, I thought, ‘Who am I going to sing it with?’ I’m so not like a country singer, so I decided to speak what would be sung in a duet. I think that made it interesting.”
Though she was touring and recording with artists like Alabama, and topping the charts time and again in the 1980s, she says she kept a very realistic view of success. “The whole time, I remember winning my first Grammy and thinking, ‘It won’t last forever. It could be over tomorrow, so have a good time today with it, save your money.’ It was easy in some ways and hard in others. I went out to do my first opening-act gig having won a Grammy the night before and getting a gold album. I was an opening act — what is this about? It’s a very complex business, and not one for sissies.”
Simply closes with a recut of “80’s Ladies,” a song people still talk about to this day. “That’s the one I still hear the most about, and that’s great. I still love that song. It spoke for a lot of people. I don’t know how I managed to write it, but it was a great song.”
Also an important aspect of the song was the award-winning video, which pulled on a few heartstrings, ending with two friends visiting another’s grave following a class reunion. “I never understood why the friend had to die,” she said with a laugh. “I had a funny line when I won an award from the ACMs: I said I was so excited when they said I was going to a video. I could imagine myself sprawled against the hood of a Lincoln Continental wearing designer dresses — instead I’m in a graveyard wearing my own damn clothes and crying over a dead girlfriend! What’s that about? All of the videos back then were so glamorous, but people still talk about it…so I guess we did something right.”