By Tom Gardner
The Associated Press
Folks dropping quarters into the slot machines in Sparks, Nev., earlier this year were oblivious to Terri Clark as she strolled across the casino floor.
Some might have seen her perform the previous night at the 800-seat showroom at John Ascuaga's Nugget. Or maybe they had tickets for tonight's show.
But the 5-foot-10 country singer, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt instead of her trademark cowboy hat, Western garb and duster, is just another face in the crowd.
IF YOU GO
Who: Terri Clark with Kellie Coffey
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Cincinnati Zoo
How much: $27 and $30 at Ticketmaster outlets, phone (513) 562-4949 and online at www.ticketmaster.com
"It's the hat," Clark said. "The hat and the clothes. Without those, they don't notice me."
The 34-year-old Clark grew up in a musical family in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. "My mom taught me my first three chords when I was 9. We sang a lot of family harmony - Everly Brothers, folk music," she recalled.
Clark moved to Nashville when she was 18, landing a job playing for tips at a place called Tootsie's. She also waited tables, sold boots, blocked cowboy hats and "did whatever I could to make ends meet."
During this time, she met and married musician Ted Stevenson; the couple have since divorced.
She landed an audition at Mercury Records in 1994. "I brought my guitar and I went in to sing. The next day, they offered me a record deal. I couldn't believe it. All I wanted was a chance, so it was really good to get one."
Clark capitalized with hits such as "Better Things to Do," "You're Easy on the Eyes," "A Little Gasoline" and her spin on Warren Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me."
Her latest album, Pain to Kill, released in January, landed on Billboard's country album chart at the No. 5 spot, with first-week sales doubling those of any of her four previous albums.
The first single, "I Just Wanna Be Mad," put her in the Top 5 for the first time in four years.
At a point in her concert where the artist usually goes offstage and lets the band play something, Clark - a triple Canadian Country Music entertainer of the year - sends the band into the wings and performs an acoustic set that twangs and rocks, then mellows out with some folk and blues.
"This is how it started. Me and my guitar on a stool somewhere. I'm not going to stand up there and be boring."
How did a girl from Canada end up in Nashville?
Alberta's like a big country music place. Lotta cowboys out there.
Was it hard to be away from your family at such a young age?
The first two years were really hard. I was 2,000 miles away from home and I didn't know anybody. I was playing for tips down on Music Row as well as the beer gardens. I would go there between my Tootsie's gigs. I took the city bus. I lived on about $100 a week.
Your previous album, "Fearless," was favored more by critics than consumers. What happened?
It was a very, very personal album for me. It was a thing I had to do at that time and it was a stepping stone to Pain to Kill. I had to get that out of my system and I was ready to rock again.
After writing and producing much of "Fearless," you let others handle most of the songwriting and production on "Pain to Kill." Are you happy with the result?
I think it's what I was doing before and Fearless all wrapped up in one, only there's a new layer, a new dimension in all of it. This is an album of being hit between the eyes with things. It's about dealing with struggles and pain and anguish and good times and coming up shining in the end.
Some of the lines in the title song on "Pain to Kill" seem autobiographical. Do you worry about being vulnerable?
I've grown as a person in the past eight years. Been to a lot of places, shook a lot of hands, met a lot of people, been through a divorce. Met friends that maybe
weren't so genuine.
I don't think there's anything wrong with being vulnerable. You have to be vulnerable at some point to fall in love and trust people and to have a life. When you're younger, you feel a lot more invincible. I think vulnerability's a part of the growth process.
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