ERNEST’s Influences By Osmosis

CIRCA 1975: Country musician T.G. Sheppard poses for a portrait wearing a cowboy hat in circa 1975. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

While ’90s country seems all the rage, ERNEST reached a little further into country’s roots to create a lane that – for now – is all his own. Drawing on the slightly more aware, slightly more in-their-feelings male country singers of the ’80s, the Nashville-born hitmaker and artist started absorbing what was becoming “Country Gold” as a kid without even realizing. So here’s a Field Guide to Country Men of the ’80s who echo on Flower Shops (The Album).

They didn’t always get the girl. They knew what they wanted. They weren’t afraid to be real – or own her needs, or their faults. It was a more dynamic, complicated way to come at what was once a genre for 30- to 60-year-olds, which showed in the writing. That complexity that defined Merle Haggard, Keith Whitley, George Jones, Willie Nelson and Alabama can also be found here.

Conway Twitty
If “Hello Darlin’” crowned a rock(abilly) beginning, Twitty’s real strength was as an articulator of romantic need, the wages of desire, loss and getting down. With his deeply sonorous voice and pompadour, “Linda On My Mind,” “I’d Love To Lay You Down,” “You’ve Never Been This Far Before,” a remake of Eric Clapton’s “Slowhand,” “Goodbye Time” and “She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind” created a tension and release that made him country’s answer to Barry White.

Earl Thomas Conley
The bearded songwriter with the earthy voice owned the grey area between availability and satisfaction – often with horn punctuations – to the delight of ‘80s female country fans. “Somewhere Between Right and Wrong,” “Your Love’s on the Line,” and “Holding Her and Loving You” say it all.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
They’d had pop hits (“Mr. Bojangles,” “Make A Little Magic”), but their ‘80s country success defined the heartbreak kid country ERNEST explores. Whether the aching “Modern Day Romance,”  or player’s lament “Shot Full of Love,” they emerged as men who were aware, aching and reckoning.

Ronnie Milsap
“Almost Like A Song” suggested a tenderness for the R&B-informed future Country Music Hall of Famer. The vehement “Stranger In My House” expressed the cuckold’s torment, while the soul-steeped “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It For The World,” “A Woman In Love” and “Still Losing You” gave his country a Motown edge.

Lee Greenwood
A former blackjack dealer at Vegas’ Stardust, the dusky-throated Greenwood mapped romantic promise and complications with “Ring On Her Finger (Time On Her Hands),” “Touch & Go Crazy,” “It Turns Me Inside Out” and “Somebody’s Gonna Love You” before defining patriotic glory with “God Bless the U.S.A.”

Steve Wariner (the early years)
“Lonely Women Make Good Lovers,” “Midnight Fire,” “Don’t Your Memory Ever Sleep At Night,” “One Good Night Deserves Another,” “Overnight Sensation” with Barbara Mandrell and “Some Fools Never Learn” explain why the former Dottie West sideman/Chet Atkins-endorsed guitarist came out of the chute hot.  

Rodney Crowell:
The credible entry in the inamorata sweepstakes, Crowell was an alum of Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band when he released the Tony Brown-produced Diamonds & Dirt, the first country album to produce five No.1s. The shuffling “I Know You’re Married,” the run-in “It’s Such A Small World” with then-wife Rosanne Cash, Buck Owens’ “Above & Beyond” and the Grammy-winning pledge “After All This Time” made him the poet heartthrob.

Razzy Bailey
Known for his trucker’s revel about getting back to the woman he wanted, “Midnight Hauler,” Bailey scored five No. 1s as the ‘80s dawned. If he knew “Friends” could turn to romance, he was more heat-seeking missile with “Lovin’ Up A Storm,” “I Keep Comin’ Back” and the lingering memories of “She Left Love All Over Me.”

Kenny Rogers
The silver fox following his country-flecked pop success, Rogers was the Mack Daddy of  housewives. Whether telling stories like “The Gambler” or “Coward of the County,” crooning love songs “Lady,” “She Believes in Me” or “Love The World Away,” or duets of “Islands In The Stream” with Dolly Parton, “We’ve Got Tonight” with Sheena Easton, “Don’t Fall In Love with a Dreamer” with Kim Carnes, as well as “Morning Desire” and “Daytime Friends,” Rogers was a Bermuda Triangle of sensuality.

T.G. Sheppard
The former RCA Memphis promo man who worked for Elvis offered one of 20th century country’s sexiest moments with the sultry “Slow Burn.” Another Members Only jacket clad lothario, Sheppard went for the G-Spot with “I Loved ’Em Every One,” the gospel “Do You Wanna Go To Heaven,” “I’ll Be Coming Back For More,” “Last Cheaters Waltz,” “Fakin’ Love” and yes, a redux of Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around And Fell In Love.” 

Country Gold: ERNEST Creates A Sound All His Own