Country music had a big moment in the 1990s. As traditional country and pop intertwined thanks to artists like Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Garth Brooks, and Martina McBride, the genre saw an influx of new fans. It is an era that Wide Open Country dubbed “the underrated golden age in country music,” noting that it is a “misunderstood and often unappreciated” time in the genre’s history. While the crossover appeal of some country artists’ music did pull in mainstream audiences, there were some fans who were not into the genre’s sea change. “Because the decade brought a unique and new pop-country sound to Nashville, some may consider the ’90s to be the time of traditional country’s last gasp,” wrote The Boot, “but there’s so much more to the music of this decade than meets the eye.”
Wondering what some of the artists who helped shape country music during the ’90s have been up to since that era? Keep reading to find out.
Ricky Van Shelton left music behind
Country music fans will remember Ricky Van Shelton for his Billboard country music chart smashes, such as 1988’s “I’ll Leave This World Loving You,” 1990’s “I’ve Cried My Last Tear For You,” and 1991’s “I Am a Simple Man.” Van Shelton even teamed up with country legend Dolly Parton for the song “Rockin’ Years,” which was also a chart-topping hit. Van Shelton’s first four albums were certified platinum. He released “Greatest Hits Plus” in 1992 and a year later put out “A Bridge I Didn’t Burn.” However, the latter didn’t experience the same level of success as his previous records.
Behind the scenes, Van Shelton grappled with alcoholism. “The drinking really started to mess up my life,” he told Country Music International in 1994 (via Alan Cackett). “s. “Getting rid of alcohol makes a big difference in somebody’s life. I just don’t do that anymore.” In 2006, he announced he was stepping away from music to spend time with his family. “I need to share with you a very difficult decision that I have reached this week,” he wrote (via Country Standard Time). “I have asked to be released from the performance obligations that have been made for the rest of the year.” According to his website, Van Shelton is staying busy as a licensed pilot and a cattle-raiser.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
LeAnn Rimes is no stranger to tabloid drama
LeAnn Rimes was just a teen when “Blue,” her debut record, reached No. 1 on the Billboard country albums chart. She quickly made the crossover to country-pop with songs like “How Do I Live” and “One Way Ticket (Because I Can),” the latter of which remains her only No. 1 country single. Still, the artist was riding high in her music career, and in 2000 fully made the transition to pop music with her hit “Can’t Fight the Moonlight,” which was featured on the soundtrack for the film “Coyote Ugly” and was certified gold in the United States. Rimes released “Greatest Hits” in 2003, which went platinum.
Sadly, much of her personal life was tarnished by tabloids and her success as a country and pop artist came to fruition. According to MTV News, the artist filed a lawsuit against her father just four years after she released “Blue” for stealing millions, which was eventually settled out of court in 2001. Rimes made headlines again and again for her relationship with Eddie Cibrian and separation from her husband Dean Sheremet. And in 2012, People reported the songstress checked herself into treatment for “anxiety and stress,” and she has since opened up about her healing, even releasing a meditation album in 2020 titled “CHANT: The Human & the Holy.”
In December 2020, she won “The Masked Singer.” A few months later, she teamed up with co-star Aloe Blacc on the song “I Do.”
Paul Brandt is celebrated in Canada
Paul Brandt gave country music fans in the U.S. the 1996 hit “My Heart Has A History,” which reached No. 5 on the Billboard country music chart, and that same year released the song “I Do,” which climbed up to the No. 2 position. According to his website, the success of his two singles led him to become the first male Canadian country artist on the Billboard Top 20 since the ’70s, and his album “Calm Before the Storm” was certified gold in the United States and platinum in Canada.
It appeared that Brandt was finding much more success as a country artist in Canada, and even released a greatest hits album only in that country. In 2002, he started his own music label called Brand-T Records, releasing himself from Warner/Reprise and moved out of Nashville to his hometown of Alberta. He’s gone on to win Album of the Year at the Canadian Country Music Awards multiple times, and as his website notes, he is the most awarded male Canadian country artist in history. Brandt is also a member of both the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and the Western Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
Hearing about an artist walk away from a major record label sounds absurd, but it may have been the best career move Brandt has made, even if that meant hearing less of him in the United States.
Shenandoah's star-studded comeback
The country band Shenandoah stepped on the music scene in 1987 and was founded by Marty Raybon, Ralph Ezell, Stan Thorn, Jim Seales, and Mike McGuire. Their biggest hit came in 1990 with “Next to You, Next to Me” and it peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard country music chart, followed by 1994’s “If Bubba Can Dance (I Can Too),” which also hit No. 1. The ’90s was a great decade for Shenandoah and they went on to record nine studio albums and have had 26 singles on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs. However, the band eventually split, with lead singer Raybon leaving in 1997 and the rest of the members disbanding.
However, Raybon had a change of heart when Rolling Stone confirmed that he was rejoining his band after a 17-year absence. The lead singer admitted that his band had not initially broken up because of “dissension,” and had talked on a number of occasions to regroup. “We feel there is more to be said. So it’s time to reload and fulfill the request of fans who want to see us back together,” Raybon shared.
In 2018, Shenandoah released their record “Reloaded” and as Billboard noted, they managed to hit the top 10 for the first time in years with the song “She Doesn’t Cry Anymore.” In 2020, the band dropped “Every Road,” a record that’s packed with duets with stars like Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Ashley McBryde, Brad Paisley, and Blake Shelton.
Aaron Tippin is keeping busy with his other passions
Aaron Tippin was unlike other country stars of the ’90s because of his pro-America songs like “You’ve Got to Stand for Something” and “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagles Fly,” and his unforgettable resonant baritone vocals. In total, Tippin had nine top ten Billboard hits and continued to find success with five records certified gold and his second album, “Read Between the Lines,” reaching platinum status.
Unfortunately, Tippin’s music wasn’t resonating with everyone and he didn’t find the same success in the 2000s as he did in the ’90s. He created his own record label, Nippit Records, in 2006, and put out a few more records on both his label and Country Crossing Records, which featured the album “In Overdrive,” a collection of songs about driving trucks, but he wasn’t gaining the same popularity as he once did.
However, not finding success again did not stop Tippin from exploring other passions. The country star is a certified flight instructor and a power plant mechanic, with his own landing strip on his farm, according to Aviation Pros. Oh, and he still plays shows here and there, too. “I’m having more fun today than I ever had,” he told Holy City Sinner in 2020. “The good Lord has been kind to me. To still be performing and active in country music is a blessing for me. I don’t take any of my journey for granted.”
Sammy Kershaw is writing his autobiography
Sammy Kershaw had an impressive career as a country singer after releasing his 1991 debut album “Don’t Go Near the Water,” which produced hits like “Cadillac Style,” “Yard Sale,” and “I Can’t Reach Her Anymore.” His debut album would reach platinum certification, and his second album, “Haunted Heart,” would give him his only No. 1 song on the Billboard country music chart with “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful.”
Kershaw would sell over 5 million albums with six gold and three platinum albums, but by the late ’90s and early 2000s, his songs were beginning to fall on the Billboard charts. According to The Boot, the country star filed for bankruptcy in 2009, with Kershaw admitting, “My advice is to do everything you can to avoid bankruptcy because it is a tough thing to get over.” Kershaw had also gone through four divorces by then, with his fourth marriage to country singer Lorrie Morgan lasting from 2001 to 2007. Since then, things seem to be going well for the country star as he welcomed his fifth child (he is also the father to four adult children) with girlfriend Mendy Gregory, on September 11, 2019, and was keeping busy by going on tour, according to People.
Kershaw’s experience on the road and creating country hits has also led him to write his very own autobiography. According to his website, he is “putting the finishing touches on his long-awaited biography – which promises to be as juicy as a bowl of the gumbo he loves to prepare in his Louisiana home!”
You can catch Ty England in concert
The name Ty England may ring a bell to many country music fans who remember him as part of Garth Brooks’ band in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Soon enough he decided to become a solo country star, signing a deal with RCA. His self-titled debut album gave fans the 1995 country hit “Should’ve Asked Her Faster” and it reached No. 3 on the Billboard country music chart. England released “Two Ways To Fall” a year later, which produced the Billboard chart-friendly single “Irresistible You.” He would switch labels at the end of the decade, telling CMT that it was his longtime friend Garth Brooks who helped him create a new record. “He said, ‘Buddy, I feel like you didn’t get the shot you deserved, so if you want another chance at this I’m willing to try and help you get it,'” England shared.
England would record “Highways & Dance Halls” under Capitol Records. The album, which was produced by Brooks, saw moderate success: The track “I Drove Her to Dallas” was the only song to crack Billboard’s country chart, and it peaked at No. 53.
The country star wouldn’t record another album until 2007’s “Alive & Well and Livin’ the Dream,” but Wide Open Country reported that his two singles did not chart. England continues to hold concerts and perform at festivals.
Lila McCann went back to school
Lila McCann was only 15 years old when she found success in the world of country music with her song “Down Came A Blackbird.” Her self-titled debut album also gave fans the hit song “I Wanna Fall in Love,” which found its way to the Billboard country chart’s No. 3 position in 1998. Her second album, “Something in the Air,” yielded several big singles, including “With You,” which reached No. 9 on the country chart and No. 41 on the Hot 100.
While she was a country breakout star, McCann also had to make some very tough decisions on whether or not she would go forward with her career or finish school. She told MTV News in 2000 that she picked education, sharing, “I had the opportunity four years ago to go out and tour with the first record or stay in school. I chose to stay in school and finish with my schooling. I’m really glad I did.”
In 2001, she released “Complete,” a record that earned her four stars from AllMusic. “Fresh out of high school, Lila McCann has a promising career in her future, especially if she continues to grow as an artist as she has done with Complete,” the outlet wrote at the time. While she did put out a few more singles in the ’00s, she wouldn’t drop her fourth album, “Paint This Town,” until 2017. When she isn’t making music, she’s working in real estate.
Deana Carter's second album couldn't top her debut record
Every country music lover knows the song “Strawberry Wine” sung by Deana Carter. The song was off her 1996 record “Did I Shave My Legs For This?” and saw massive success as it peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard country music chart and won Song of the Year at the 1997 Country Music Association Awards. According to Rolling Stone, the artist’s album sold more than five million copies since its debut and is one of the best-selling albums of all time from a female country singer.
After the release of “Strawberry Wine,” Carter continued to see her songs hit the No.1 spot, including “We Danced Away” and “How Do I Get There.” However, her second album would not be as successful as her first, and neither would her other songs, with Carter telling Rolling Stone, “We were trying to achieve the same amount. I was working my rear off on the road, trying to write and record another record that was gonna top that record. The saddest thing is there wasn’t the time.”
Carter did reveal to Nashville Scene that it was Garth Brooks over at Capital Records that might have done her in. The songstress shared that the record label was not pushing out her second album as well as she had hoped, even though it was certified gold. She also admitted that Capitol was “sacrificing her songs” to allow Brooks more airtime. In 2013, she formed her own record label, Little Nugget Records, and released “Southern Way of Life.” She also cowrote Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter’s Grammy-nominated song “You and Tequila.”
Bryan White raised money on Kickstarter for an album
Bryan White entered the country scene in 1994 when he was signed to Asylum Records, releasing his first song “Eugene You Genius” off of his self-titled record. While the song failed to chart, his next song “Look At Me Now” peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard country music chart. Soon White landed his two No. 1 hits: “Someone Else’s Star” and “Rebecca Lyn.” Those songs helped White reach platinum certification by the RIAA.
White would go on to have a successful sophomore album that featured the songs “I’m Not Supposed To Love You Anymore” and “So Much for Pretending,” tracks that would also reach the top of the Billboard chart. However, as the ’90s were coming to a close, White’s third and fourth albums did not perform as well as his first two did. Eventually, he left music behind, according to Wide Open Country. It wasn’t until 2006 that he put out a Christmas EP, and in 2009, he dropped an album titled “Dustbowl Dreams.” In 2014, he released a Kickstarter-funded collection of songs called “Shine.”
What’s more, he has written songs for other major country artists like LeAnn Rimes and Sawyer Brown. Fans can still check out his website to see him perform across the U.S.
Chely Wright believed coming out hurt her career
After Chely Wright dropped her first album, she earned an Academy of Country Music Award and the sky seemed to be the limit. However, “Right in the Middle of It,” her followup album, was not a commercial success, according to AllMusic. The country artist left her record company behind and signed with MCA Nashville, releasing “Let Me In.” The album’s lead single, “Shut Up and Drive,” went to No. 14 on the Billboard country music chart. Wright found greater success with her fourth album, “Single White Female,” which produced her first No.1 hit on the Billboard chart with the same name in 1999.
Wright would go on to release a total of eight studio albums, and her 2001 record “Never Love You Enough” reached the top 10 of the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. As AllMusic noted, she took a brief hiatus after her sixth album.
In 2010, Wright came out as a lesbian. At the time, Wright told People, “Nothing in my life has been more magical than the moment I decided to come out.” However, Wright revealed to Auto Straddle that she believed her decision to share her sexual orientation affected her career negatively. “In coming out, I had a feeling that it would diminish my wage earning, and that feeling was correct,” she said. “And, I’m fine with that.” Since coming out, Wright has been a strong voice in the LGBTQ+ community and in 2011, married gay rights activist Lauren Blitzer.
David Lee Murphy got back in the spotlight with Kenny Chesney
David Lee Murphy started making country hits in 1995 with the release of his song “Dust on the Bottle” which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard country music chart while his second record “Gettin’ Out the Good Stuff” would produce the 1996 hit “Every Time I Get You Around,” which peaked at the No. 2 spot. It wasn’t until 2004 that the country star would have his next big hit with “Loco,” and as The Country Daily noted, he went on to find a lot of success as a songwriter.
Murphy found a passion for songwriting and has penned several hits for his fellow country singers, such as Jason Aldean’s “Big Green Tractor,” Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not,” and “Blake Shelton’s “The More I Drink.” In 2018, pal Kenny Chesney convinced him to create another record. “I wanted to record songs of mine that people haven’t heard before, that are new,” Murphy shared on his website. “We wanted to make the kind of album that you listen to if you were camping or out on a lake, fishing. Or sitting anywhere, just having a good time.”
That year, “No Zip Code” was born and produced the hit song, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” which featured Chesney. The song became Murphy’s second hit to reach the No.1 position on the Billboard Country Airplay chart.
Joe Diffie died from complications related to Covid-19
Joe Diffie had a huge career in country music that began in the ’90s when he released his debut album “A Thousand Winding Roads.” His first single, “Home,” reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard country music list, and he would go on to have five No. 1 songs and 17 Top 10s on the chart. He was one country star of the ’90s that continued to create hit after hit with songs like “If You Want Me To,” “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die),” and “If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets).”
Diffie never stopped singing country music and continued to create records well into the 2000s, even though his songs would not reach the same positions on the Billboard chart as they did in the ’90s — but that’s not to say his legacy waned. As AllMusic noted, Diffie was referenced in Jason Aldean’s hit “1994.” He told Taste of Country he ” was stunned” by the song, adding that it was “pretty flattering they went that far with it.” He also went on tour with ’90s country stars Sammy Kershaw and Aaron Tippin.
On March 29, 2020, Diffie died due to complications related to Covid-19.
Pam Tillis stayed in showbiz
Being the daughter of legendary country singer Mel Tillis, Pam Tillis was born to sing country and found major success in the ’90s. While Pam was creating records well before the decade, it wasn’t until her 1995 song “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)” that she saw instant fame after it peaked at the No.1 spot on the Billboard country music chart. While it was her only No.1 hit, Pam would go on to have 13 Top 10 hits on the Billboard chart throughout her singing career.
In 1993, Pam found herself acting when she landed a role on an episode on “L.A. Law,” and would act again in the late ’90s when she appeared on crossover episodes of “Promised Land” and “Diagnosis: Murder.” The country star even had a stint on Broadway in 1999 when she starred in “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.”
However, Pam didn’t give up on music altogether and in 2013 paired up with country singer Lorrie Morgan for the “Dos Divas” album and went on tour. She also released a solo studio album in 2020.
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