Joe Galante was head of RCA’s Nashville division in the ’80s when K.T. Oslin, who died earlier this week at 78, signed with the label. He shares some of his favorite memories of working with the trailblazing artist.
Harold Shedd had produced K.T. Oslin‘s record and he came in and played three songs in the old days when we had cassettes. He didn’t have a picture. Traditionally you have the bio and picture. He had a paragraph about her.
We set up a lunch at Maude’s Courtyard. I remember walking in with [fellow executives] Phran [Schwartz] and Mark Wright. I remember thinking when I saw K.T., “Holy sh*t. This is not an ingenue, this is a woman.” Within the first couple of minutes, it was just love. I really did fall in love. That personality was so disarming, probably because of all the time she’d spent on touring companies and Broadway. She’d worked her ass off to get that meeting. This was her last chance and it was fortunate for both of us. She was 43 when we signed her.
We got her a place to live. Phran helped with her wardrobe and got her signature 3/4-length glove thing going. We got her hair cut. She hadn’t had the funds to do that. At her heart she was a folk hippie.
She went on tour with Clint Black. She would sing and tell stories and that was the essence of who she was: the stories. She had a wicked sense of humor. At any moment you’d end up peeing you pants and if you were drinking, it got even funnier. She’d lived life. She’d attempted love on several occasions and never really found the right guy. She built a family around her. We were always together around holidays.
We were at KNIX (in Phoenix) and doing a show in town. “’80’s Ladies’ was 4:45 long and people didn’t like anything over 3:30 and the [sing-song] tag at the end drove radio guys crazy, but it was an important part of the song. We were sitting on the bus and Buck Owens, who owned KNIX, got on the bus. He said, “I love the song. I love the show.” He turned to the KNIX PD and said, “Are we getting great response on this record?” And K.T. said, “You’re not playing it.” He said, “K.T., I promise you it will be on by the end of the day.” And it was and it just kept building from there.
In 1988, she became the first-ever female songwriter winner in the category at the CMA Awards for “80’s Ladies.” I think her comment was “I appreciate this award. It signifies that you think I have a brain.” To her, those songs were novels in four minutes and I give her credit in so many ways. She didn’t have kids but part of “80’s Ladies” is channeling that experience and looking at kids you’ve birthed and seeing you in them. She was an observer in life. I would have been thrilled if she’d continued to write in these times because I think what she would have said would have been important. She didn’t care about blowback.
She’d remind me she wasn’t a 22-year old chippie. Most new artists say “if you want me to stand on the street corner and sing, I’ll do it.” She’d say ‘nope.’
We had our annual party on the General Jackson boat during Country Radio Seminar. It was always an acoustic show. That was part of the drama of the show. It was intimate. K.T. was working on the second album. K.T. was furious about the show. She said, “I’m coming out on the piano and I haven’t had to do that in years. Godd**mit, I’ll do one song.” She comes out, the room goes crazy. She sings the first verse of “Hold Me,” then says “You’re going to have to listen for it later down the road for the rest of it” and walks off. Everybody wanted to know what was in the chorus, but she didn’t do it for that. She did it to say to me, “I did it, that’s it… I’ve paid my dues.”
Don’t get me wrong, she shined anytime she was on stage. She had the training. She was in the same class with people like Dolly and Reba. They were entertainers, there’s a narrative they’re portraying in their stage and songs. She was great for the format, and great for artists who were that age.
She had that setback when you’re no longer relevant in the format, but you’re still relevant. She played The Franklin (Tenn.) Theater five or six years ago. Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark came. She just felt so important and grateful that here was this young talent that were rising stars and they cared about her. It was about their love for what she did.
Even when she was at the [retirement and assisted living facility] The Trace, she’d bring out her boom box and sing for the residents. That was her thing, she wanted to keep entertaining. She needed stimulation. She had a remarkable memory and she’d have more details than I did. K.T. was a little different, that’s what made her stand out. She will be remembered for the music for countless decades, but she also had a spirit that made you smile. I don’t know anyone who ever met her that if you bring up their time with her, they don’t smile. I think about her and I smile.
– As told to Melinda Newman