Juice Newton - Whatever Happened To.....

First Published in Country Music International – October 1998

Flaxen-haired Juice Newton enjoyed a run of pop and country hits in the eearly 1980s before changing fashions and the lure of raising a family saw her take a leave of absence towards the end of the decade. Now she’s back with a brand new album.

One of the five most successful crossover female vocalists of the 1980s, in all, Juice Newton scored seven Top 40 pop hits (on Capitol) between 1981 and 1983, three of those were also Number Ones on the adult contemporary chart. She also had 16 hits (some on RCA) in the Country Top 40 chart between 1979 and 1989, including the Number Ones The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known), You Make Me Want To Make You Mine, Hurt, and Both To Each Other, a duet with the late Eddie Rabbitt.

Marriage, raising a family and the rise of the neo-traditionalist country movement of the late 1980s saw her record sales plummet, though she has continued to record quality albums and make regular TV and concert appearances. She says that her success in country music was completely unexpected, as she had never really considered herself a country artist.

“I was never even exposed to country music as a kid,” she explains. “but club owners would tell me that I had an accent that suited country music. So to get the jobs, I went out and bought Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee records and learnt the songs. I found I had a knack for it.”

Born in Lakehurst, New Jersey, the daughter of a Navy man, Juice (a family nickname that has stuck), grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and started to play guitar and sing folk songs in her early teens. “Many of my friends played music,” she remembers, “and I wanted to be a part of that group. For them music was a hobby, but I decided that I wanted to make it my career.”

At college in North Carolina, she started working in local bars, some nights waiting on tables and others taking to the stage with her guitar and entertaining. In the late 1960s, she moved to northern California, where she attended Foothill College and met her longtime musical partner, Otha Young. At first she performed in local folk clubs, then, combining her folk interest with rock’n’roll, formed an electric band with Young called Dixie Peach.

A move with Young to Los Angeles in 1975 led to Juice and Otha forming a new band called Juice Newton And Silver Spur. They signed a recording deal with RCA and released their self-titled debut album, a mixture of country, rock and pop which spawned a minor country hit in Love Is A Word in 1976. Two years later Juice and the band moved on to Capitol Records. That same year the Carpenters had a Top 10 country hit with her Sweet, Sweet Smile.

After COME TO ME, the first album for the new label, was completed, Juice disbanded Silver Spur, opting to work as a solo artist. By the beginning of 1980 she was making inroads into the country charts with Sunshine and Let’s Keep It That Way. It was at this time that she first met and worked with Richard Landis,  a staff producer at Capitol in Los Angeles. Under his guidance her major breakthrough came with the album simply titled JUICE, which produced two big pop-country crossover hits, Angel Of The Morning and Queen Of Hearts. 

Her next single, The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known), written by Otha Young in the mid-1970s, also made the pop Top 10 and shot to Number One on the country charts. Juice started picking up several awards, including Grammys for Angel and Break It To Me Gently, while her breakthrough album, JUICE, was certified platinum, followed by the gold QUIET LIES and a gold greatest hits album. She then moved back to RCA, dominating the country charts with a revival of Hurt, Old Flame, Both To Each Other (Friends And Lovers), Cheap Love, a Del Shannon song, What Can I Do With My Heart and Tell Me True, her last Top 10 hit in 1988.

More recently, she has reunited with Landis in the Nashville studios to record THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS, her first new album in more than eight years. Newton admits that she would love a second crack at it, but being older and wiser, is sensible enough not to pin her hopes too high. “I’m very blessed,” she says. “My kids and my husband are healthy; I have a car, I have a job. But it would be a kick in the pants for it to happen all over.”

THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS features new recordings of several of her old hits, but she is quick to point out that these new versions are not direct copies. “I was very aware that you can’t recreate the past, and we had no desire to make a carbon copy,” she says. “The core of what a writer created is still there, but there’s always a different interpretation. We relied more on my physical reading of the songs and less on production. We leaned it out and made it more real. That’s the way we looked at these tunes.”

There are also some new songs, the best being When I Get Over You, an acoustic folk-pop ode to eternal love. Newton first heard the song at a benefit last year featuring Vanguard recording act Venice, which includes four sons of The Lennon Sisters. “I heard that song and related to it immediately as a musician and on a personal level,” Newton says.

The new album, even if it doesn’t produce any big radio hits, has brought a new focus on Newton’s career and enabled her to get out on the road for the most extensive touring she has undertaken in almost a decade. “I love to work, to perform,” she enthuses. “I can’t wait to be out and do that. It’s a real giving situation. I’m ecstatic and appreciative of the opportunity.”