In February 1989, the New Jersey-born, Texas-raised guitar picker, singer and harmonica ace Clint Black released his debut single, “A Better Man.” By mid-June, the song had become his first No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, ushering in the release of his debut album Killin’ Time.
Black’s debut single established him as part of what would be called country music’s heralded “Class of ’89,” a group of artists who each had their first major hits that year–the cowboy-hatted triumvirate of Black, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson, but also Travis Tritt and Mary Chapin Carpenter. This group led the way in an era that would usher country music into an unprecedented era of sales and influence.
In addition to “A Better Man,” Killin’ Time spurred Hot Country Songs chart leaders “Nobody’s Home” and “Walkin’ Away” and the title track, as well as a top 5 hit “Nothing’s News.” The album ultimately attained triple platinum status, while Black earned Billboard’s country song of the year in both 1989 (with “A Better Man”) and 1990 (“Nobody’s Home”). “A Better Man” garnered a Grammy nomination for best country song and Killin’ Time, for best country vocal performance, male.
In 2024, Black’s Killin’ Time – The 35th Anniversary World Tour will honor the album’s more than three decades of influence in shaping country music’s sonic landscape. Initiating with two already sold-out shows at Nashville’s vaunted Ryman Auditorium on Feb. 16 and 17 (and having just added a third and final night at the Ryman on Feb. 18) Black’s tour will feature the Grammy winner playing his debut album live from start to finish, heightened by some of his more than a dozen Hot Country Songs No. 1s, such as “When My Ship Comes In,” “A Good Run of Bad Luck,” and “Nothin’ But the Taillights.”
“We’ve played some songs that we haven’t played in 35 years during some shows recently,” Billboard tells Billboard. “We’ll play some songs at soundcheck and put in stuff like ‘Winding Down’ and ‘Straight From the Factory.’ Two of the guys in my band played on that album, so it’s fun to go back and remember it. Sometimes we had to think, ‘Who played that part?’ and things drift over time, they migrate. We’ve pulled some back to their origins. I think I’m singing these songs better now than I did, but pretty much it’s going to be like the record.”
Earlier this year, Black was honored with the Academy of Country Music Awards’ ACM Poet’s Award, an accolade that recognizes a songwriter or artist-writer’s significant writing contributions to country music. Even on his debut album, Black was already constructing his case as an artist whose vocal and instrumental capabilities were paralleled by his songwriting caliber. Black has written or co-written nearly all of his hit songs, with several of them, including his Grammy-nominated collaboration with Wynonna, “A Bad Goodbye,” and his duet with his wife Lisa Hartman Black, “When I Said I Do,” being solo writes.
“I set out to do that,” Black says. “I grew up reading liner notes and I wanted to know who was writing something I loved. I wasn’t trying to make any kind of statement, but I thought I could do it. And I saw an interview with Reba where she said she listened to about a thousand songs every time she wanted to make an album of 10 songs. That was terrifying to me. I thought, ‘Man, that’s a hard job. I’d rather do this other hard job and not have to go looking for songs.’ And I knew if I was successful in writing my own songs, I was going to need a lot of songs, if I was putting out an album every 18 months or so. I started writing a lot of songs, so that every time I had to make an album, I had at least 30 songs written that I wanted to record.”
One such solo write on the record, “Nothing’s News,” was born of that desire to prove his talent as a song crafter to his father. Black recalls his father “believed in me as a singer, but as a songwriter? Not so much. He told me I hadn’t done enough living to write real country songs, really, so I ran home and wrote ‘Nothing’s News’ to prove him wrong.”
Beginning with the songs that proliferate Killin’ Time, Black also forged what would become a decades-long association with fellow musician-writer Hayden Nicholas, whose contributions to Black’s music have been essential, from guitar work to co-writing hits including “No Time to Kill,” “Like the Rain,” “When My Ship Comes In” and “Summer’s Comin’.” Killin’ Time’s title track was born of a discussion with Nicholas.
“We were on our way to a gig and talking about how long it was taking the first single to come out,” he recalls. “He said, ‘The big wheel’s turning slowly,’ and I said, ‘Well I hope it starts turning soon, because this killing time is killing me.’ And we looked at each other and knew we had a song.”
Black recalls recording Killin’ Time in Houston, though he and Nicholas later traveled to Nashville to record overdubs—a trip that led to one of Black’s fondest “Nashville stories” from that early era.
“I was in Nashville for an extended time for the first time ever, and one of my producers, James Stroud, had loaned me his car. It was a Porsche,” Black recalls. “One day, he told me, ‘If you get me a gold record for this album, I’ll give you that car.’ He ended up having to sell the Porsche and then he bought himself a newer Porsche after that. The album was double platinum by then, and word got out that he had promised me a Porsche. So he did, in front of ASCAP, we have a photo of him handing me the keys and standing in front of that car. We would go on to give that car back and forth over the years — he has it now,” Black recalls.
Like many artists who launched in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, Black has felt the impact of the resurgent popularity of ‘90s country sounds. He points to the genre-spanning web of influences among the era’s artists, producers and label execs as a key factor.
“I think that the fidelity of music in Nashville all really rose to state of the art,” Black says. “You had all these budding engineers and rising producers and artists who loved all the country stuff, but were also influenced by the great classic rock, blues and jazz. For me, it was Bob Seger, and all that great James Taylor and Jimmy Buffett music. You had all these people coming up in country music that had this huge wealth of great standards to rise to. As the lyricists and melodies came into their own, and the A&R and the record companies, all of it combined. It was a perfect storm on every front in country music that made it as good or better than anything else out there.”
In tandem with the tour, Black will release a vinyl reissue of Killin’ Time in partnership with Sony Music and Vinyl Me Please. The special reissue will be on 180g Brown Galaxy vinyl with new lacquers cut by AIR Mastering’s Barry Grint and will ship in May 2024.
See below for the initial slate of tour dates for the tour.
Feb. 16, 2024 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium
Feb. 17, 2024 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium
Feb. 18, 2024 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium
Feb. 23, 2024 – Durant, OK – Choctaw Casino
Feb. 24, 2024 – San Antonio, TX – San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo
Feb. 29, 2024 – Roanoke, VA – Berglund Performing Arts Center
March 1, 2024 – Roanoke Rapids, NC – Weldon Mills Theater
March 2, 2024 – Cherokee, NC – Harrah’s Cherokee Event Center
March 23, 2024 – Lancaster, PA – American Music Theatre
March 24, 2024 – Nashville, IN – Brown County Performing Arts Center
April 6, 2024 – Carlton, MN – Black Bear Casino Resort
April 21, 2024 – Georgetown, TX – Two Step Inn Fest
April 26, 2024 – Chandler, AZ – Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino
April 28, 2024 – Indio, CA – Stagecoach
June 13, 2024 – Abbotsford, BC – Abbotsford Arena
June 14, 2024 – Penticton, BC – South Okanagan Arena
June 15, 2024 – Prince George, BC – CN Arena
June 16, 2024 – Dawson Creek, BC – Ovintiv Arena
June 19, 2024 – Lethbridge, AB – ENMAX Arena
June 21, 2024 – Edmonton, AB – Winspear Centre
June 22, 2024 – Strathmore, AB – Strathmore Stampede
June 25, 2024 – Saskatoon, SK – SaskTel Arena
June 27, 2024 – Moose Jaw, SK – Moose Jaw Arena
July 11, 2024 – New Salem, ND – ND Country Fe