By Nick Krewen



For DEANA CARTER, success is sweeter than her chart-topping hit single "Strawberry Wine."

It's the light at the end of the tunnel for the 30-year-old Nashville singer and songwriter, whose career for the past five years has dangled dangerously over the precipice of internal record company politics, executive shuffles and false starts.

She survived, and the persistence has paid off handsomely: her debut album Did I Shave My Legs For This? is selling like hotcakes, firmly nestled in Billboard Magazine's Top Five Country Albums chart just behind veteran stalwarts ALAN JACKSON, REBA McENTIRE and teenage singing sensation LeANN RIMES.

"Finally!" sighed Carter recently as she sank into the sofa in her downtown hotel suite, her wholesome beauty complemented by a simple white pullover and blue jeans.

"It's wonderful, you know! It's so overwhelming that you get a little paranoid because you're thinking, `Now I have to maintain this level of excellence.' But I wouldn't trade it for anything."

In town recently to tape a segment of Today's Country, the nationally syndicated hour-long radio program to be aired Sunday, December 8 on CISS-FM ( 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.), Carter may be a country newcomer but she's no novice.

Her dad, FRED CARTER JR., was a charter member of RONNIE HAWKINS' HAWKS, eventually establishing himself as Nashville's premiere session guitarist for a who's who of pop and country stars. SIMON & GARFUNKEL, BOB DYLAN, MARTY ROBBINS and RAY PRICE among others were frequent houseguests.

"I remember standing in my den, looking up at a guy tuning his guitar and going, 'Man, that's a weird name. Gordon Lightfoot. Is that your real name?' Carter chuckles.

"Or I'm sitting in my living room and RANDY TRAVIS -- who was RANDY RAY at the time -- is warming up to sing these demos, and you'd think, `Damn, he can sing.' You're aware that you're hearing stuff that people will never hear."

As much as Carter admits her habitat made her appreciate the "artist-writer," she says she also took it for granted.

"When I was in high school, I never wanted to hang out. I always wanted to be with my friends."

That didn't prevent her from making the record company rounds at 17, although she felt intimated by her father's reputation.

"There was a lot of pressure," she admits in her soft, feminine Southern accent.

"The first thing people expected of me was that I'd be a virtuoso on the guitar, which I'm not. I have a great feel, and a great sense of melody. It was tough breaking the molds that other people set for you."

Discouraged by the slamming of doors, she chose an alternate career. Abhorred by her grandmother's poor living conditions at a nursing home, Carter enrolled at the University Of Tennessee for a Bachelor of Science Degree as a rehabilitation therapist for stroke and head injury victims.

Six years later, she graduated and worked at the Tennessee Christian Medical Centre. Carter lasted only a year.

"I had a patient die, and I couldn't take that," she explains. "I also got into the nooks and crannies of how hospitals and insurance companies are in bed together, and the patient is the least concern. I got pissed off about it."

A succession of odd jobs ranging from waitressing to toilet scrubbing eventually led back to Carter knocking on Nashville record company doors. Liberty -- later Capitol Nashville -- answered with a contract in 1991.

Deana Carter is philosophical about her journey.

"I was really hard-headed about wanting to earn it, and not wanting it handed to me," she admits. "I rejected a lot of help that I should have accepted, and that's why it took me so long. But I don't think I'd feel as confident about things if I had taken another path. If I hadn't lived all these songs, experienced starvation, and being broke -- all the stuff that I had been through, then I couldn't be the artist that I was meant to be. It was just the path I had to take to get to this place."

Blessed with a voice that combines the spunk of LYNN ANDERSON, the sugar of SKEETER DAVIS and the spice of DONNA FARGO, Deana Carter says Did I Shave My Legs For This? is autobiographical.

"There's a lot of purging for me, a lot of musical therapy and I'm really proud of that," says Carter. "I'm okay with exposing my emotions, because that's what keeps it real."



1995 -- Did I Shave My Legs For This? -- Capitol

1998 -- Everything's Gonna Be All Right



1998 -- Various Artists, Touched By An Angel -- The Album -- Columbia

1998 -- Various Artists, Hope Floats



1999 -- Paul Brandt, That's The Truth



1996 -- "Strawberry Wine" (2 weeks)

1996 -- "We Danced Anyway" (2 weeks)

1997 -- "How Do I Get There"



1997 -- Single Of The Year, Country Music Association - "Strawberry Wine"

1997 -- Song Of The Year, Country Music Association -- "Strawberry Wine"


THANKS: Lesley Taylor, Liz McEleheran

© 1996, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink



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