The beginning of the '90s looked very promising for BILLY DEAN.

Buoyed by his GQ looks, soothing tenor and smoothly eloquent songwriting , country audiences flocked to embrace the native of Quincy, Florida rocketing his first six single releases into country music's Top 5.

"Somewhere In My Broken Heart" even earned him the Academy Of Country Music Awards for Song Of The Year and Top Male Vocalist in 1992, and Country Music Association Award and Grammy nominations followed.

There didn't seem to be a more fitting candidate for country music aristocracy than Billy Dean. But the title of his first hit, "Only Here For A Little While," threatened to be a prophetic one. Record sales slowed and the torrid album-a-year, tour-til-you-drop pace of country music began taking a toll on both his throat and his marriage.

So Dean did the unthinkable: he ground to a stop.

His throat survived. His marriage didn't, despite the birth of a child. But he has rebounded with a passionate new album entitled It's What I Do, making an important discovery along the way.

Take your time.

"I don't think I was doing anything well," admitted the 34-year-old Dean during a recent promotional trip to Toronto.

"I don't think I was doing my music career any justice. I don't think I was being a good father, a good husband or being good to myself. Overload, I guess. Now, there are really just two good things to worry about -- be a good father, and try to make good music and support my family."

He then cracks a smile.

"You know, some great songs are coming out of this: a style of country music that I love but have never recorded. It's that traditional sounding GEORGE JONES, MERLE HAGGARD, I've-been-rode-hard kind of songs. Although there's this turmoil (of divorce) I'm going through, I'm sure enjoying the creative part of it.

"Thank God I've got that, because it's therapy for me."

Dean says the emotional hubbub suffered during his divorce served as a catalyst for his aggressive performance on It's What I Do.

"I took all that stuff that's bottled up inside you, and just let it come out in the vocal booth," he confesses. "There's a song on this album called `Leavin' Line' and when I heard that song, I was living it at the time. All these feelings surfaced, and I didn't worry about singing on pitch. I just let it flow.

"God, I wish I could learn to do that all the time. I don't think you should do a record until you have something to say. And I had something to say."

The emotional purging has paid off with commercial success. Both "That Girl's Been Spyin' On Me" and the title track of "It's What I Do" have been big hits, and "I Wouldn't Be The Man" is currently scaling the charts.

Dean feels he's rediscovered his passion for music.

"One of the problems was not being able to relate that passion due to the voice problems that I had through touring and overuse," explains Dean. "Having a little break, I came back with the enthusiasm that this album, whether it did well not, I just wanted it to be the best work I had done to date."

It also helped that Dean reunited with TOM SHAPIRO, the songwriting producer responsible for his first two hit albums, Young Man and the self-titled Billy Dean. Having another songwriter around keeps him on his toes.

"I'm real hard on his material, and he's real hard on my material," says Dean. "The rule is to record the best song, no matter who wrote it. I generally dictate the direction we go in, and from that we start choosing the songs accordingly."

In what may be a surprise to Dean fans, the singer only supplied two of his own compositions for It's What I Do.

"Country has some very definite guidelines and restrictions as far as what you can work in their format," he responds. " As a writer, I didn't want to try and confine myself to that. It just so happen that the two songs worked for the direction of this album. Some of the other songs that I wrote probably would have been a little risky, especially after having the time off that I had."

Dean has come to terms with his divorce and says that his life currently is a perfect balance of personal and professional.

"I find myself now a much better father. A much better artist. There's a balance in my life.

"I learned during the time off that I'm not doing it for popularity reasons. I'm not doing it for money. I'm not doing it for momentum or to stay in the Top Ten. Those aren't the right reasons. I'm doing it because I love music, I wanna make good music and I want to continue to learn, to continue to grow, because I believe that the audience deserves that."

Dean, who scuba dives, boats and competes in the NASCAR Little Legends celebrity auto races in his spare time, also has an idea of the kind of album he'd like to make in the future.

"I want to do an acoustic album, a real sparsely produced album where it's just great lyric, great melody, and hopefully, a decent voice to carry it out. I'm waiting for the right time to have enough popularity where if it fails, it won't hurt me.

"That's the album of my dreams," says Dean with a wink of satisfaction.



1990 -- Young Man -- Liberty

1991 -- Billy Dean

1993 -- Fire In The Dark

1994 -- Men'll Be Boys

1994 -- Greatest Hits

1996 -- It's What I Do

1998 -- Real Man


1995 -- Various Artists, Amazing Grace (with Susan Ashton)



THANKS: Beth Waldman, Doug Foley


©1997, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink


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