How Reba McEntire Fought Mercury Records To Record Her First Hit

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Reba McEntire once remarked that you need three bones to make it in life, “A wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone.” And this is something she took to heart. Because without goals, a sense of humor, and some grit, she wouldn’t be where she is today. She’s had such an illustrious career, it’s easy to think McEntire was always on top. In truth, it was a long struggle of almost decade, draggling quite a few failures with her along the way.

Her Wishbone

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Reba McEntire (photo from Focus)

McEntire’s career seemed to have an auspicious start. She was barrel racing on the rodeo circuit, and often performed that National Anthem. At the 1974 National Rodeo Finals, Red Steagall heard her sing. He was so taken with her voice, he took her to Nashville, where she eventually signed with Mercury Records. From there, the rest should just be history, right?

Actually, McEntire’s career didn’t break through right away. She had a few top ten hits, such as “Today All Over Again” and “I’m Not That Lonely Yet,” but she had also had some flops. It wasn’t until 1983 that she had her big hit, “Can’t Even Get the Blues.”

Her Backbone

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Reba McEntire (photo from Nash Country Daily)

Written by Tom Damphier and Rick Carnes, the track went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs charts. The single was by no mean McEntire’s first release. In fact, it was her 14th single.

It’s difficult to imagine having 13 songs that didn’t do much and persevering anyway. What’s more is that McEntire’s first hit almost wasn’t– she had to fight to be able to record “Can’t Even Get the Blues.”

According to the Boot, Mercury Records was planning for Jacky Ward (another Mercury artist) to record “Can’t Even Get the Blues.” McEntire took her case to producer Jerry Kennedy. She wanted to include in on her new album, Unlimited. Kennedy agreed that McEntire had the better voice, and agreed to let her record it. It became the final song on that album.

Once McEntire had success, she kept the momentum. She immediately released another No. 1, “You’re the First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving.” However, considering the struggle she had had with Mercury, she left the label. And according to Taste of Country, she also didn’t want to go in the pop-country direction Mercury was trying to taking her. 

Her Funny Bone

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Reba McEntire (photo from Billboard)

Of course, there are country artists who immediately meet with success. Stars such as Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan had such big hits right out of the gate. Those stories certainly have a fairy-tale appeal.

But McEntire’s story is appealing in a much more American way. It champions effort, hard work, and determination. And it reminds us that things aren’t always as they appear. Because looking at her now, one would never guess how hard Reba climbed to get to the top. And in her view from the top, she certainly has to look back and smile.

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