By Bob Andelman
Originally published December 8, 1983
Country-pop songstress Juice Newton has had uncanny success in the last three years picking material that cut perfectly across many lines of musical styles and formats, placing no less than six songs in upper chart berths.
A slight twang and nasal delivery are part of her secret, her name contributes-“Juice,” and there is that sallow essence of star about her.
Miss Newton would rather not do interviews, or so it seemed at the time of this one. Also transparent was a preference for writers who already know everything there is to know about her and who think she is above responding to questions on whatever subjects are left.
Finding the correct section in a record store to pick out Miss Newton’s albums is one of the quirks of her fame. Pop? Country? Rock? Vocals? None of the above?
Confusion in the racks is not necessarily negative, though. “lt’s a plus for me,” Miss Newton said. The diversity of her work is “exciting, interesting-it keeps the band innovative, at least at our level, in our minds, and it keeps us interested.”
JUICE NEWTON interview excerpt: “‘Love’s Been A Little Bit Hard On Me’ is a fun song. We heard it in a batch of tapes and tried it out live before we recorded it, the same way we tried ‘Queen of Hearts.”‘ It had a good audience response and we enjoyed playing it. lt’s not necessarily a heavy message song, it’s just fun to sing and play.”
From the earliest days when she was fronting the Silver Spur country band more than a decade ago, Juice has had a professional and personal alliance with Otha Young. Young, the writer of “The Sweetest Thing” and leader of Newton’s band, is also a forceful onstage presence, ensuring her uninterrupted performance.
“We were living in the same town and we were musicians and we started working together the way hundreds and thousands of musicians,” Miss Newton, recalls, in a manner that suggests the hundred-thousandth time it has been so done. “lt developed into a solid working partnership and we’ve made eight albums together. We’ve worked together so long, it’s a definite partnership.”
Miss Newton, who recently switched from Capitol to RCA and will go into the studio for the new company in January, spent several months in 1983 touring with Alabama on the Salem Spirit Tour.
“We had an excellent response,” she said. “The audience response has been very generous. I think a lot of our audience crosses over and is compatible.”
She became quite irked when asked if there wasn’t a conflict of health interest in being supported by a cigarette manufacturer while encouraging contributions to the National Kidney Foundation on her latest album, “Dirty Looks.”
“No,” she said emphatically, there was no disparity. “l don’t think so. You don’t know and I don’t know so that means I don’t think so.”
Maybe the two are unconnected, but further confusing the issue was a huge disclaimer banner hanging above the stage of the Salem Spirit Tour. That sign reprinted the Surgeon General’s warning about the potential dangers of smoking. lt faces the audience, however, and not the Per- formers, so maybe Juice didn’t see it.
Cover versions of songs made popular bv other artists in other areas are typically hits again under Young’s direction and Miss Newton’s forceful vocals. “Angel of the Morning” was a sensation in 1967 and “Tell Her No” (from Dirty Looks) was big not long after that, not to mention her breakthrough hit “Queen of Hearts” recorded, unsuccessfully. by Dave Edmunds the year before. “The Sweetest Thing” became a moneymaker the second time Miss Newton recorded it: the song was originally released by Silver Spur.
“We’ve never gotten a lot of songs from people we’ve known except for Otha,” she said. “They come in from different publishing houses, some from totally unknown artists, like “Dirty Looks” (Van Stephenson and Dave Robbins). You don’t discriminate, you just listen to songs and songs. Hopefully you pick out ten or eleven songs that suit the project, your personality, that you feel suit your image.”
The remainder of this interview was spent discussing Miss Newton’s comments on particular songs several of her hits and a few from Dirty Looks.
“Love’s Been A Little Bit Hard On Me.” “That’s a fun song. We heard it in a batch of tapes and tried it out live before we recorded it, the same way we tried “Queen of Hearts.” lt had a good audience response and we enjoyed playing it. lt’s not necessarily a heavy message song, it’s just fun to sing and play.”
“Queen of Hearts.” “That’s got a little more substance to it. I know the person it’s written about, so it has a little more meaning for me.”
“ln the Heart of the Night.” “An interesting song, a little more intricate than some of our straight-ahead country-pop or country songs.”
“The Sweetest Thing.” “We just knew the song had hit potential. lt did not get the attention from the label that it warranted so We decided to re-cut the song. We had to talk our producer into doing it-he didn’t think it was all that good a song. Otha wrote that song – we felt it had real merit.”
“Angel of the Morning.” “Steve Mayer brought us the song when we were already in the studio. I really didn’t like the song. I wasn’t that aware of it. Of course, you listen to the original, to see if there’s something on there that you want to include in your own interpretation. lf you don’t think you can make a better record than the original, you shouldn’t touch it.”
“Dirty Looks.” “A pop rock song. To be honest, it’s not doing as well as we’d hoped. The reason is we’re changing labels. There’s a period of confusion when that happens and I’m not convinced the company as a whole was determined to give this album a whole lot of attention.”
“Keeping Me On My Toes.” “A country shuffle tune. We added horns to it. We do it in the headline version of our show. It needs a smaller hall where you can get the intimacy of the vocals.”
“Twenty Years Ago.” “It’s about people’s tendency to look back and re-evaluate events that have happened and realize the consequences of those events and how they may affect their future.”
When Juice Newton, at some point in the future, looks back on this time in her life, she may still view writers as a pesky annoyance, but will know that the quality of her work and performance managed to lodge her name in at least a small chapter of a music history book.”