Johnny C. asked me whatever happened to country band Highway 101. They had a very short, but very successful run. Being honest, it had been a while since I thought of them, and it was fun to look back. I was a big fan.
This Was An Iconic Pic Of Them
They were founded in 1986, and at the center of it was a very unique and talented singer named Paulette Carlson from Northfield, Minnesota. As a group they were a highly skilled 4 piece band of terrific studio musicians and vocalists (Which means basically, the best) that had a bunch of hits in a very short time, including a few number ones. Fantastic song choices, a slick sound, and a dynamite lead singer (Carlson) with a very distinct voice that really cut through and told you absolutely you were hearing Highway 101. Tough to do then, as country bands were coming out quickly, following the great lead of Alabama. Her voice wasn't perfect, but it was beyond perfect for them. She instantly became a star, and the entire format was taken with her performances on their songs.
Their Debut Single Was A Big Part Of Their Success
They, as much as any act I can remember really benefited from their debut single, The Bed You Made For Me. It raced up to number 4 on the charts, (should have been a #1) but new fans LOVED that song (and her) as it really spoke to a ton of people as a gritty, strong and honest cheatin' song. It was a perfect decision, as the song was endearing to listeners with the stinging subject matter, while others loved the jaggedness of their sound and the decision not to make it a sad ballad, but a song of strength. That single cut through both as a written song, as well as ushering in a new sound that was fresh and exceedingly different. Their debut album Highway 101 was terrific with three more hits, Whiskey, If You Were A Woman, Somewhere Tonight, and Cry, Cry, Cry all big songs and all a part of having them win the CMA for Vocal Group Of The Year 1988.
Very Big Song - Well Written And Perfectly Performed
Many people, including me and those I worked with at that time felt that Carlson's voice was very reminiscent of Pop Icon, Stevie Nicks. Although it was not a perfect match, it had the same tone and timber of Nicks. A few notes lower than most and really edgy. That made Nicks a star years earlier and it was going to make Carlson a star as well. That kind of uniqueness is darn rare. H101 followed up their first album with their second album 101(2). (Do You Love Me), Just Say Yes went number 1, and three more singles all going top 10. They were really flying high, and seemed ready to settle in and dominate for years to come. But it was not to be.
I Loved This Song - Big Hit - They Were Rolling
The next album, Paint The Town was a success, but not like the first two, and then the group was dealt a serious blow. Carlson left the band to go solo in 1990. There have been many speculative reasons why, but none of that matters today and Highway 101 was forever changed. She was replaced by Nikki Nelson. And to no fault of Nelson's, they never really recovered. Carlson's presence and uniqueness was the total centerpiece of their large success, and fans knew it. The music that followed was fine but different, it just wasn't the same to fans and success slowed way down. Fans wanted to hear Carlson sing their hits. Nelson was put in a very, very tough place.
What A GREAT Song!
Observation - Carlson's solo career didn't blossom on the charts, and Highway 101 struggled. In all my decades of being in this format I have never really seen a successful solo career from a lead singer who left a successful band. It has been tried dozens of times and after a song or two it doesn't work out. Fans don't like it when members leave, and many times the magic is lost with the band left behind. And that's what happened to Highway 101. There were many other personnel changes to the band, (including Carlson returning years later) and that went on for many years, but it was never the same.
Early Success - What A Sound
For a few years though Highway 101 was as hot as any country band that came out in a long time. They had a sound, they were young, and they had an energy about them that fans liked. They also had a lot of people cheering for them, me included. I loved their definite, and original sound and the fact they were different. They were apart from, Shenandoah, The Desert Rose Band, Southern Pacific, Confederate Railroad and others. There was a very talented woman out front that gave them a different heartbeat in terms of sound and equally as important the subject matter to sing about. She was different from every other woman on the radio then, and I think one of the best vocalists we've had in many years. What a marriage. That voice, singing country music. It was perfect.
There was a time, be it way too short Highway 101 was the real deal.