Kathy Mattea was born in Cross Lane, W.V., on June 21, 1959. She received classical voice training starting in junior high but also took up guitar when she discovered folk music. In 1976, while in college at West Virginia University, she joined the bluegrass band Pennsboro and two years later dropped out of school to move to Nashville.
She worked odd jobs and waited tables while honing her songwriting, and in 1983, she landed a deal with Mercury on the strength of her demo tape. Her self-titled debut was released in 1984, and the follow-up From My Heart appeared the following year. None of the singles from either record managed to reach the Top 20. However, her third effort, 1986's folky Walk the Way the Wind Blows, proved to be her critical and commercial breakthrough. Her cover of Nanci Griffith's "Love at the Five and Dime" was her first Top 5 hit, and the record produced three other Top 10 hits. Her 1987 album Untasted Honey offered two No. 1 country hits, "Goin' Gone" and her signature hit, "Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses." The latter won the 1988 Country Music Association's (CMA) Single of the Year Award.
Mattea's 1989 album Willow in the Wind brought two more No. 1 hits, "Come from the Heart" and "Burnin' Old Memories," as well as "She Came from Fort Worth." She won a Grammy® for another of the album's tracks, "Where've You Been," and also captured the CMA's female vocalist trophies in 1989 and 1990.
Seeking to keep her music fresh by returning to its roots, Mattea made several trips to Scotland in the early '90s, studying the links between country music and traditional Scottish folk. Her own music kept getting "rootsier" and more eclectic, as 1991's ambitious Time Passes By featured Emmylou Harris, the Roches and Scottish singer/songwriter Dougie MacLean. The album's title track and "A Few Good Things Remain" both hit the Top 10. She subsequently had throat surgery but recovered fully to record 1992's Lonesome Standard Time. She attempted a more commercial sound for 1993's Walking Away a Winner, whose title track reached the Top 5. The same year, she also issued the gospel-oriented Christmas record Good News, which won a Grammy.
After a hiatus, Mattea returned in 1997 with Love Travels, which balanced her folk and mainstream country leanings. She won a CMA award for the video for "455 Rocket." In 2000, she released The Innocent Years then moved to the Narada label for the eclectic 2002 album Roses and the 2003 Christmas album Joy for Christmas Day.
Mattea’s new direction couldn’t have taken her further from her old way of doing things. Where once she was pitched songs by Music Row writers, now she collects the generations-old and new but old-in-soul tunes that move her at folk gatherings, and rounds out her repertoire through extensive research.
There just isn’t a template for a career like Kathy Mattea’s. Her mainstream accomplishments have already earned her a place in the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, and, never one to tread water creatively, she’s made her gracefully daring leap into the roots-honoring trad folk world, especially with her latest release Calling Me Home. “To be a complete novice at something after you’ve been singing for three or four decades, to feel that humility of ‘I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to pull this off again,’ it’s a great gift,” she shares. “A lot of times people go through their whole lives and never get to that place.”
And it’s a very good place for Mattea to be. “I feel like I just made the album of my life; I articulated something I was put here to say. It’s my childhood and life experience of a sense of place and culture and history and family, and of all the music that I’ve learned and all I’ve learned performing all rolled into one thing.
Calling Me Home