Jeannie Kendall

Biography Jeannie Kendall

Biography Jeannie Kendall

After years in a duo with her father, the late Royce Kendall, Jeannie Kendall has emerged with her first solo album. It is a splendid debut. Like Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss — in whose spun-crystal vocal league she comfortably ranges — Kendall can transform the simplest lyrics into objects of ethereal grace and beauty.

The album — Jeannie Kendall — features guest performances by some of the most distinctive vocalists in bluegrass and country music, notably Alan Jackson, Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent, Darrin Vincent, Allison Moorer, Steve Gulley (of the group Mountain Heart) and Alison Krauss. Royce Kendall sings on two of the tracks. Krauss’ award-winning band, Union Station, backs Kendall on four others.

Kendall’s choice of songs is masterful “Timeless And True Love,” the tradition-tinged ballad she sings with Alan Jackson, dates back to 1988, when it became the Top 5 debut hit for the McCarters. The breezy and irrepressible “That’s What Your Love Does To Me” is a fresh take on the Holly Dunn chart-topper of the same year. The songs which include Royce Kendall’s vocals, “Train Of Thought” and “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight,” (the old Johnny Bond classic), will acquaint a new generation of country fans with the old Kendalls’ magic.

Born in St. Louis, Jeannie Kendall began singing professionally with her father when she was in her teens. The Kendalls secured their first recording contract in 1970. That same year, they scored their first hit, a cover of John Denver’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane.”

Although they charted four more singles over the next seven years, the Kendalls were making little headway until 1977 when they recorded “Heaven’s Just A Sin Away.” This airy, intense and, for the times, audacious celebration of sensuality rocketed to the top of the country charts and stayed at No. 1 for four consecutive weeks. It also went on to win a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group and a Country Music Association award for Single of the Year.

Demonstrating that “Heaven’s Just A Sin Away” was no fluke, the Kendalls continued to spin out No. 1 and Top 10 hits for the next several years, among them “It Don’t Feel Like Sinnin’ To Me,” “Pittsburgh Stealers,” “Sweet Desire,” “I Had A Lovely Time,” “You’d Make An Angel Wanna Cheat,” “I’m Already Blue,” “Put It Off Until Tomorrow,” “Teach Me To Cheat,” “If You’re Waiting On Me (You’re Backing Up)” and “Thank God For The Radio.”

In 1990, the Kendalls left Nashville in search of more musically hospitable climes. “We toured,” Jeannie Kendall recalls, “and we had a dinner theater at Gulf Shores, Alabama, where we did shows for a couple of years. Then we moved up here [to Arkansas] near Branson, Missouri still planning to tour some. This was much more centrally located than Gulf Shores, and we had a bigger pool of musicians to choose from. It was also closer to some of our relatives.”

The Kendalls signed to Rounder Records in 1998, and were just getting their first album for the label on track when Royce Kendall died. “There was a lag period when I didn’t know what to do,” Kendall says. “We all just sort of had to get ourselves together. It was not an easy thing to figure out. I’d say it was at least a couple of years before I decided where I was at and what I was doing.”

To a great degree, Jeannie Kendall follows the plan envisioned for the original duet project. “We were just going to do a total acoustic album,” Kendall explains, “bluegrass oriented and focusing on vocals, with songs that were more poetic. We sort of wanted to go back to some roots. We had dabbled in [acoustic music] throughout the years, and my dad had sung some bluegrass in the past. So we just thought it would be something different and a good change of pace.”

To produce her album, Kendall turned to Brien Fisher, the man who had produced most of the Kendalls’ hits, Rounder’s musically eclectic Ken Irwin, and Mike Stults, whose song, “The Color Of Her Eyes,” turned out to be one of the album’s most affecting pieces.

Getting the enormously popular Alan Jackson on the record was a coup made easier by the fact that he had said in interviews (and in a personal card to Jeannie) that he was a Kendalls’ fan. He even covered their “Thank God For The Radio” on his 1994 album, Who I Am. “When we got ready to try and finish the album that my dad and I had started,” Kendall says, “I remember saying that we could have some guest singers to help me out. So we had a little ‘wish list,’ and he was at the top of it. We asked him, and he was interested in it. He even chose the song.”

Kendall, who is married to her lead guitarist, Mack Watkins, will resume touring with the release of the album. On some dates, she says, she will use her regular band, Moving Train, and, on others, bluegrass players.

In picking songs for Jeannie Kendall, the singer says she followed the same process she’s always used: “When it comes to songs, I try not to analyze too much. It’s more like, ‘Do I want to hear this song again?’ I figure if I want to hear it again, maybe the fans will too.”

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