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Published: Sunday, 9/5/2004

Dreams are coming true for country's Terri Clark

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Hello, this is Terri Clark.

Then, nothing but silence, until she breaks through the static and promises to call right back.

Five minutes, 10 minutes. Finally, the phone rings again.

Sorry about that. The antenna fell off my cell phone, and I couldn t get the hotel to let me use a phone. They wanted a credit card.

In Lake Tahoe, it doesn t matter if you have the No. 1 song on the country charts, which Clark does, or whether you just sold 63,000 copies of your album, Greatest Hits 1994 - 2004, which Clark did. You gotta have that credit card to use the phone.

Funny story, but an even funnier thing is that Clark wouldn t have it any other way. She loves the road. She loves jumping from town to town, meeting new people, making new friends. This is Terri Clark s dream.

At the age of 13, in her Medicine Hat, Alberta, home, she happened to catch a Barbara Mandrell television special and fell in love with country music.

That was the beginning of my obsessive period, she says with a laugh.

Clark has a great sense of humor. She's witty and beautiful, too. She turned down Playboy's offer to be on the cover of the May issue.

And she's so full of energy - listening to her gush about country music is like listening to a teenage girl talk excitedly about the cute boy in her homeroom. Her sentences are delivered in a rapid-fire manner, broken only by slight pauses to suck in some air or to let out a burst of laughter.

"I joined the Reba McEntire fan club. I'd go to school wearing Reba shirts, and my biology teacher would ask 'What's a Reba?' I'd fall asleep at night listening to her and Ricky Skaggs on my headset," Clark says. "Then I got into Patsy Cline, some of her edgy stuff.

"That's what I'm attracted to - the less slick and polished stuff."

It was the Patsy and Reba stuff she would sing at talent contests in Medicine Hat when she was a teenager - the talent contests where they would keep her in the alley behind the bars before sneaking her inside when it was her turn because she was too young to legally be inside. And she would usually win, and people would tell her mother, Linda, that she had to take this girl to Nashville.

At the age of 18, in 1987, Terri was living with her grandmother in Ontario, selling muffins at a cafeteria and still dreaming about Nashville.

"You know what it's like at grandma's house. You'll be there eating, and she'll ask if you want another helping. You'll say no, and she'll pile it on," Clark says with a laugh.

Her mother's friend Pat came out to visit one day. When she left, she called Linda.

"She said, 'We gotta get this girl out of here. She's depressed, and she's getting fat.' "

That was when Pat, Linda, and Terri decided to load up the Honda Civic with a guitar and "lots of hairspray," and make the 12-hour trip to Nashville.

"When we got to the border, the border guard said, 'Where are you ladies headed?' Pat rolled down the window and said, 'We're going to the Grand Ole Opry.' "

They pulled into Nashville and booked a room on Trinity Lane at the Motel 6 "in not exactly the nicest part of town. But we went to the Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium - all the touristy things. I was going ga-ga."

Then the three Canadian tourists came upon Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, a well-known Nashville bar made famous in Loretta Lynn's Coal Miner's Daughter, which "I saw about 18 times," Clark says.

She eventually got up the courage to ask the manager if she could sing a couple of songs. The crowd loved her, and the manager asked her to sing three days a week from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

A week and a half later, Linda and Pat rolled out of Nashville with one less passenger. Terri found a place to stay, got a bus pass, and rode it to Tootsie's three days a week, her guitar tied to her wrist out of fear someone would try to steal it.

Of course any dream has its ups and downs, and Clark's is no different. She kicked around Nashville for five years before signing a publishing deal in 1992.

"They paid me $350 a week to write songs. That was the most money I'd ever seen," she says. Two years later, Clark signed a recording contract at Mercury Records.

Fast forward 10 years, and Clark is at that hotel in Lake Tahoe, getting ready for a sold-out show with Toby Keith, laughing as she looks back and remembers the first time she heard herself on the radio.

"I was in Albuquerque, and I met this DJ, and he told me to go back to my hotel room and listen to the radio, and he would play my song at 9 o'clock. I heard it on this little clock radio and started jumping up and down on the bed and hit my head on the ceiling. It was like, 'God, I'm on the radio.' Then it was like, 'God, I hope I'll be on it again.' "

With her ascent to No. 1 of her single, "Girls Lie Too," she is the only woman in the last three years to have two No. 1 songs. "I Just Wanna Be Mad" hit the top spot in February, 2003. The "Greatest Hits" album is doing great. It includes "Girls Lie Too" and all of her other hits since signing her deal in 1994.

In October, she's planning on releasing the first single off her next studio album, which hasn't been scheduled yet but could hit shelves at the beginning of the year if the single takes off like Clark is expecting it to.

In June, she achieved another lifetime dream when she was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. On hand to witness it were her mother and her mother's friend, Pat.

She jokes that "now I'll still have somewhere to play when I'm 85," but it was an emotional night for her, and backstage she had tears in her eyes as she thanked the Opry for letting her join, and she vowed to teach upcoming artists the importance of the Opry and country tradition.

"I was elated. It was a surreal moment. There's no bigger honor than being inducted in the Opry," she says. "My career seems to be nudging up. It wasn't like I exploded on the scene and have nowhere else to go. There's still somewhere for me to go. That prospect is very exciting to me."

For once during the interview, she quits joking to talk about her plans for the next 10 years.

"I'd like to find a better balance in my personal life. I'd like to meet someone and have a kid before my biological clock runs out. I've been thinking about that more and more," she says before returning to the quips.

"And my mom's been helping me think about it, too. She's like Chinese water torture."

For now, though, all of her life's a bit surreal to her - the Opry, the No. 1 singles, the "Greatest Hits" album, touring with Toby Keith. Earlier in the morning in Lake Tahoe, two girls had chased her down the street, shouting "TERRRII!"

"I still get amazed at meet-and-greets that these little girls will start hyperventilating when they meet me. The other day I asked my manager, Greg, what that was all about. He said, 'Terri, remember how it was for you when you thought about Reba? It's the same thing for these girls. To them, you are the most important thing in their worlds.' "

Last week, it was announced that Clark is a finalist for the Country Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year award. The winner will be announced at the awards show on Nov. 9. One of Clark's competitors for the award? Reba McEntire.

"I can barely form complete sentences around Reba," she says with a chuckle. "But I'm getting better."

Terri Clark and Darryl Worley will be performing at the Fulton County Fair, just north of Wauseon on State Rt. 108, tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. Tickets on the track are $22, and grandstand seating is $20 and $18. Tickets can be purchased by calling 419-335-7469 or online at www.fultoncountyfair.com. They can also be purchased at the fairgrounds box office.

Contact Brian Dugger at: bdugger@theblade.com or 419-724-6183.



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