Today’s Guest: Cristy Lane, inspirational singer, One Day At A Time
(NOTE: This interview with singer Cristy Lane was originally published on June 29, 1985. — Bob Andelman)
It sounds like perfect fodder for a TV movie of the week.
A moderately successful country singer from East Peoria, Ill., is dissatisfied with the way the record company is handling her career. At her husband/manager’s suggestion, she takes a chance and strikes out on her own, selling inspirational records via a massive television campaign.
Drama builds when the husband is convicted of racketeering and spends eight months in a federal prison.
The turning point of this true story comes when the 40-year-old mother of three sells millions of records and lives happily ever after.
Cristy Lane is the singer under discussion and she has led an interesting if sometimes turbulent — life.
CRISTY LANE interview excerpt: “I think the romance has gone out of the songs. Too many negative-type lyrics are out for my way of thinking. I try to stick with songs that have a nice message to them and don’t leave people feeling depressed.”
HERS IS A career that was never planned and almost didn’t happen.
“I got married right out of high school,” the now 45-year-old singer explained last week in a telephone interview. “That was all that was on my mind. I had three children right in a row” I didn’t really hate thought it f a singing career at that time. I used to envy the gals on television that were singing but for me to go out and do it on my own, I never had that ambition.
“My husband (Lee Stoller) heard me singing in the kitchen and he thought there was talent there. We were married about five years before he heard me sing. I was just the type of person that kept it to myself. He just happened to hear me one day and this is the result. It was an accident.”
Lane was 24 when she first began pursuing a musical career. While she worked in clubs and small concert halls, her husband began the long and arduous chore of shopping Lane’s tapes to record companies.
“I went through a lot of depressed years,” she said, “and my children went through a bad time because they had so many babysitters. There’s a tremendous amount of emotional upheaval that we went through because I had not really thought about having a career. I’m out in a nightclub at night, my kids are home with a babysitter and I had a lot of guilt feelings. I had to come to grips with that. It was a very difficult time.
“I went (to) the Mayo Clinic because I was having a lot of stomach problems,” she continued. “I just didn’t know if it was worth all the stuff we were going through for me to have a singing career. They checked me inside and out. I had, probably, the beginnings of an ulcer. They said I (had to) come to grips with my feelings about having a career and guilt feelings toward my children. I did a lot of soul searching for about a year. I decided that in order to see if I could make it, ‘I was going to sacrifice. And that’s what I did.’”
WHAT DID Cristy Lane give up to pursue her career? “Oh, I think my children. The years they grew up. I missed out on a lot of that,” she said. Her children are now 24, 23 and 22. “l thought, maybe they would hold a lot of that stuff against us. But it looks like they’re come to grips with everything. As they got older they said they were glad that I had the courage to try.”
In 1975, “We happened to hit on a song called ‘Let Me Down Easy’ and it took off,” she recalled. “After all those years, I was suddenly discovered.”
But it wasn’t until May 2, 1979 that the country world took real notice of Cristy Lane. That’s the day she beat out tough competition Bonnie Tyler and Charly McClain to become the Academy of Country Music’s “best new female vocalist.”
“Best new” anything is a curious enough award but Lane was 39 when she won. “I never felt 39,” she said. “I don’t think about age. I just take each day as it comes, have a good time and try not to think about it . . . even though I am getting older.”
That one-day-at-a-time philosophy led to Lane’s next plateau.
SHE RELEASED an album and song called One Day at a Time (on Liberty Records) and it did quite well, selling roughly half a million copies. Despite the success, Lane got the impression the record company wasn’t doing their best for her.
“They wouldn’t push the country product, the gospel product, they weren’t stocking stores,” she claimed. “People would come up after the shows and say, ‘Where can we get your records?’ We’d go back to the record label and say, are you really stocking these records? And they’d say yeah, but they weren’t. After five years, we decided not to re-sign.”
Instead, Lee Stoller wanted to form his own company to sell his wife’s records. The difference would be a direct mail marketing approach via television. Lane agreed the idea had merit and they began with a new campaign for One Day at a Time.
“I saw the success that Slim Whitman had and he evidently was doing something right by reaching people like that,” Lane said. “It was just something that we hoped would take off – and if it hadn’t worked out, well, we probably would have gone to something else.”
CRISTY LANE interview excerpt: “I went through a lot of depressed years and my children went through a bad time because they had so many babysitters. There’s a tremendous amount of emotional upheaval that we went through because I had not really thought about having a career. I’m out in a nightclub at night, my kids are home with a babysitter and I had a lot of guilt feelings. I had to come to grips with that. It was a very difficult time.”
Lane went on to sell almost 2-million additional copies of the inspirational One Day and quickly became an industry unto herself. A handful of additional albums followed and met with significant success. Cristy Lane’s Greatest Hits and a Christmas album have each sold 500,000 discs via video sales.
“I had a few top 10 records when I was in the country field,” Lane said, “but I didn’t do much television because I was on the road all the time. I guess they started connecting the name with the face. ‘Oh, I like that song, I didn’t know it was you. “This way, they kind of found out who I was.”
IN 1982, amidst Cristy’s growing television sales, the Associated Press reported prosecution claims that her husband had “turned $10,000 to $20,000 over to public officials in order to obtain a franchise for a fundraising business.” He was convicted of racketeering and sentenced to three years in Maxwell Federal Prison Camp, time which was later reduced to eight months and 20 days.
“After he got out, we took a week’s vacation to Florida, laid around and talked,” Lane said. “Then we got right back to business and it was like he’d never been gone . . . Nobody’s ever said anything derogatory. They’ve been very nice to us. Lee doesn’t feel ashamed at all and swears up and down that he was innocent and I believe he was innocent. It was just one of those things that happens.”
Stoller said in a telephone interview that the demographics on his wife’s market and appeal go across the board. “The large majority,” he described, “is 35-plus. She also catches the young teens, all the way up to the grandparents . . . We even advertised on ESPN, on all-news (cable channel) – it seems anywhere there’s people, she sells.”
The singer’s husband has even gotten in on the act with a biography of their life, not surprisingly entitled One Day at a Time. Since the first of the year, the book has sold half a million copies.
Coming in two weeks is the Cristy Lane doll – believe it or not.
“The kids really pick up on her,” said Stoller. “I think it’s the tone of her voice to the little ears. It’s a friendly voice . . . If that (doll) hits, it could be an absolute smash.”
LANE RELEASED a new two-record set last week, Harbor Lights, a collection of old love songs, and the inspirational Footprints.
The tunes on Harbor Lights include the title song, “Fascination,” “Danny Boy” and the old Doris Day , chestnut, “Que Sera Sera.”
“They were songs that I remembered from childhood that I kept in my head as I grew up,” she explained, noting nobody seems to write like that anymore. “I think the romance has gone out of the songs. Too many negative-type lyrics are out for my way of thinking. I try to stick with songs that have a nice message to them and don’t leave people feeling depressed.”
Even so, Lane admitted an occasional awkward moment over the blatantly emotional sell of her records, using testimonials from people who have been touched by her music. “It does bother me at times. But I feel if it can help one person or two people get through a bad situation, we’ve helped in some way.
“I think that (‘One Day At A Time’) kind of tells ‘em in a roundabout way that the answer is in the Bible and in God,” she added. “I’m a very religious person. I try to do my best every day that I live . . . What I get from the letters people write to me – and I get hundreds a week – is that (the song) turned them back toward their relationship with God.”