Juice Newton bio continued:
“I'd never done a duets project,” Newton says of the record's origins. “I called various people I knew and asked them: Are there songs you've thought about recording? It could be your song or somebody else's. The point was to let them pick songs they were interested in. I wanted it to be fun for them and take the pressure off. Though the pressure was on me to learn the tunes!”
She took that pressure in stride, as she has throughout her career, but the challenges were considerable: Working in multiple keys with singers known for wildly different styles, all while endeavoring to create distinctive versions of beloved material like “You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'” (which she sings with Manchester), “Still the One,” “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” (both with Morris), “Up Where We Belong,” “Without You” (both with Campbell), “These Dreams” (with Seals), “The Biggest Part of Me” (with Valli), “Take It to the Limit” (with Meisner, the song's author) and two songs by and with Nelson, “Funny How Time Slips Away” and “Touch Me.”
“For me, it was like making three records,” she says of the collection's musical and logistical difficulty level. “These singers are so wonderful and unique – I really wanted to be on my game. I lived with my headphones on, studying the songs and preparing my interpretations.” By the time she entered the studio, however, Newton was ready to wield her painter's brush like a master, as evidenced by the emotional force of her vocal delivery – whether she's punching the soaring high notes of “Without You” withCampbell, trading the silken phrases of “Funny How Time Slips Away” with Nelson, or putting an evocatively feminine spin on “Lovin' Feelin'” with righteous sister Manchester.
Some of the memories evoked by the album's title are bittersweet, notably the passing of Seals, who was best known as one half of the duo England Dan and John Ford Coley. “That was so sad,” she says of his departure. “He was really a cool singer, and just a big presence in the room. He had a unique way of singing; he'd guide himself with his hands, directing his mental target where he wanted to hit the note.” The project is also shadowed by the loss of Newton's longtime collaborator, Otha Young, in 2009. Her soulful work on the project is both a loving tribute to these and other fallen comrades and a testament to her own resilient spirit.
Born in New Jersey and raised in Virginia, Judith Kay Newton first picked up the guitar as an adolescent, inspired by the Byrds, Bob Dylan and folk artists like Tom Rush and Ian & Sylvia. By age 13 she was performing professionally (for the extravagant sum of $10), curving her small hand around the wide neck of her nylon-stringed axe and assaying folk and country tunes with her already impressive voice . Before long she'd partnered with some older teen musicians. “I'd written some songs but they weren't very good,” she recalls, “so I mostly focused on my singing.” She would return to songwriting later, though, with some powerful results.
She, Otha Young and Tom Kealey formed the country-leaning group Silver Spur; they were signed and relocated to Los Angeles in short order, releasing their debut LP on RCA Records in 1975. By the time they moved to Capitol Records a few years later it was as Juice Newton and Silver Spur. In her capacity as a solo artist, she saw action on the charts with songs like “It's a Heartache,” “Let's Keep It That Way” and “Sunshine,” among others. Meanwhile, the Newton-Young composition “Sweet, Sweet Smile” became a hit for pop icons the Carpenters in 1978.
But it was with 1981's Juice that the singer exploded into the mainstream, thanks to the enormous hits “Angel of the Morning,” “Queen of Hearts” and #1 country smash “The Sweetest Thing (I've Ever Known).” Delivering tearful, wall-of-sound pop, sprightly country-rock and everything in between with crystalline tone and infectious energy, Newton brought a sparkling authenticity to an era dominated by artifice. Juice went platinum and became an international monster, “The Sweetest Thing” spent 18 weeks in the Top 40, and Juice Newton earned two Grammy nominations for Best Female Vocalist.
Her 1982 album, Quiet Lies, was certified gold within months and spawned the hits “Love's Been a Little Bit Hard on Me” (which scored Newton another Best Pop Female Vocalist Grammy nomination) and “Break It to Me Gently” (#1 AC, #2 Country, #11 Pop), which landed her a Grammy statuette for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Among the other nominees in that category: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash. The disc also featured “Heart of the Night” (#4 AC, #25 Pop). She added a Country Music Award for Best New Female Artist, back-to-back Billboard Female Album Artist of the Year honors and Australian Music Media's #1 International Country Artist win to her trophy cabinet.
The next few years brought such hits as “Tell Her No,” “Dirty Looks,” “Stranger at My Door,” “A Little Love” and “Restless Heart,” among others, and afforded Newton the opportunity to explore her rock side. But by 1985 she'd rededicated herself to the country-steeped sound that shaped her as an artist. #1 hits like “You Make Me Want to Make You Mine,” “Hurt,” Young's “What Can I Do With My Heart” and “Both to Each Other (Friends and Lovers),” a duet with Eddie Rabbitt, aided her dominance of the format. She rounded out the decade with charting singles “Tell Me True,” “First Time Caller” and “When Love Comes Around the Bend.”
But the business was changing, and she spent much of the '90s on hiatus from music, raising her kids in San Diego, though she toured occasionally. Still, she contributed to an all-star tribute to French chanteuse Edith Piaf and released the albums The Trouble With Angelsand American Girl, the latter featuring songs by Newton, Young, Tom Petty and others.
The first years of the 21st Century saw the release of Every Road Leads Back to You and American Girl Vol. II, and Newton demonstrated her continued ability to shine in a new pop landscape by appearing on the 2005 TV specialHit Me Baby One More Time and being voted a viewer favorite.
In 2007 she issued The Gift of Christmas, which she subsequently augmented with several new tracks, including new collaborations with Andre Mayeux, the keyboardist in her band, the Regenr8rs. The holiday collection also boasts a special version of Otha Young's “For Believers,” which Newton had first recorded in 1983; sadly, her 37-year collaboration with the songwriter and musician came to end when he died of lymphoma in 2009.
With Duets: Friends & Memories, Juice Newton not only honors that extraordinary musical partnership – and the many great memories her career has spawned – but shows why she remains one of contemporary pop's singular treasures. And as she prepared to hit the road in support of Duets and began writing a new batch of songs, her fans prepared for some thrilling new brushstrokes.