A Country Singer and Songwriter
Whose Time Has Come
By PHIL SWEETLAND
NASHVILLE – Toni Staples, who looks like a movie star and sings like an angel, is poised to give Music Row
and country radio a breath of fresh air that both could certainly use these days.
Her pure voice, often compared to Alison Krauss, one of country and bluegrass’s most admired singers, is also richly flavored with a confidence and an attitude inspired by Wanda Jackson, the pioneering female country-rockabilly star.
But Toni’s charisma and vocal mastery are only a part of Staples’s musical package. Songwriting, with a love for traditional country combined with a real feel for more contemporary country radio, is the other hugely important component. Even as an elementary school kid, little Toni did a book report on Dolly Parton that focused not on Dolly’s singing or acting fame, but on her gift of writing songs.
“I was enthralled with her songwriting, more than just the big hair,” Toni tells us in a telephone conversation from her country home outside Nashville.
That writing is featured all over Toni’s powerhouse new album, Her Haggard Heart, a collection of eight original songs and two covers, due out in fall. Her first single, “Here to Hold Me” will be released in August.
“I’m able to track my songs with brilliant musicians in Nashville,” she says.
Staples’s earlier EP, My Proud Soldier, had a smaller number of songs but created a great deal of buzz.
Toni arrived in Music City, by way of Missouri. She got busy writing songs, playing writers nights, and she snagged one of the most interesting jobs in her life, working as a tour guide at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“I got a whole education while I was there,” Toni recalls. “I met a lot of cool people, and got to know Wanda Jackson’s music. It was a good time to be at the Hall. You just never know who you will run into. I had coffee with Little Jimmy Dickens in the break room one day.”
It's at the Hall of Fame that Toni realized, " If you stay true to yourself in this business that there is a fan for every artist and an artist for every fan."
She was excited getting a song called “Deeper” put on hold for Martina McBride, and felt the heartbreak when it wasn’t cut. But neither that nor anything else could stop Toni from continuing to write and sing heart-felt songs, and hone her unique sound and persona.
Her strong faith has always been a firm foundation throughout the ups and downs of the music business and everyday life.
Staples’s whole process of developing a musical style began back home, where her dad would play Eddie Rabbitt’s wonderfully catchy country hits. Toni was a fan of Patty Loveless, and the whole family loved watching Hee Haw.
Another significant event happened when Toni was teaching in Missouri. Leona Williams came to Toni’s school. Leona was a country singer and songwriter who charted nine Billboard country singles herself, and was married to Merle Haggard from 1978-83.
“Leona was there to talk about her days in Branson and that's when I realized there were other songwriters who really do this for a living,” Toni said. “ I was inspired to move to Nashville and share my songs with the world.”
One of her songs that has proved to be an inspiration to folks all over the world is “My Proud Soldier,” which she and Don Robertson wrote. “That was one that you just write like a stream of consciousness, with very little editing,” Toni says of the ballad about a little boy whose father is a soldier. The song is a tribute to honor all soldiers. It’s an emotional song,” she says. “A lot of people tear up when they hear it.”
In March, she was invited to perform “My Proud Soldier” at a very special event at the Franklin Theatre, the
celebration of the formation of the new Nashville Chapter of the Joshua Chamberlain Society.
The Society is a non-profit organization, largely made up of volunteers, which raises money to fund the
“adoption” of local Middle Tennessee Wounded Military Heroes . . . “One at a Time . . . for life.”
Toni feels a special bond with military families that started when she performed with the band “Laredo” that
toured Army bases all over the East Coast.
After the “My Proud Soldier” single and video were released, out of the blue Toni received an email
from a man who served two tours of duty in Iraq. The soldier turned out to be a brother of Toni’s, someone she had never known existed before, who was serving at the time she wrote the song.
“There are constantly little omens that the song is bigger than you are - that continue to happen with this
song,” she says.
The new album features several songs destined to also impact fans and radio in big, big ways. “Her
Haggard Heart” combines a very contemporary story of a complicated romance with the traditional
country stylings Toni loves so well.
“Big Iron Skillet” is a marvelous cover of Wanda Jackson’s outspoken 1969 hit, with Toni paying huge
respect to Wanda’s original version but adding lots of new twists and personal Staples touches.
“Don’t Promise Me The Moon” is a haunting ballad about a woman who wants her man to deliver on
the earlier pledges he made, many of which remain unfulfilled.
Shawn Camp and Randy Scruggs’s “Lonesome Too” is given an exciting new life by Toni and her A-list
One of the fun numbers on the new album is “God Bless The Cowgirl,” which is sort of like a George
Strait-style hit that’s written and sung by a woman instead of Strait.
Superstar artists of the stature of Strait or Tim McGraw are no strangers to Toni and her husband. Her
husband Billy worked sound on Tim’s tours and those of many other top country radio stars for over a
decade. They are a very strong music couple.
So with a wondrous new album and a lifetime of preparation leading up to this musical moment, Toni
Staples is perfectly positioned to impact country radio, Music Row, and fans everywhere this year.
April 25, 2014