"I bet it all looks like it came quickly and that it would change my life, but it really didn't," insists singer Janie Fricke, referring to an impressive string of country music hits and awards that have come her way since she began recording on her own in Nashville in 1977.
The former Indiana farm girl, who performs tonight at the Patriot Center, says that while she has had both good and bad times, success as a singer was something she experienced very early on.
"Even when I was a kid my mother would have me singing in places and I felt a sense of success even back then," she says. "I couldn't have been more than 6 or 8 years old so it's always something I knew about . . . I guess that's how I keep things in perspective. The kind of success I've enjoyed recently certainly wasn't something I went looking for."
No argument there. In fact, if Fricke, who for years was content to be a jingle singer in Memphis, ever gets around to writing her autobiography, it could well be subtitled, "How to Succeed in Country Music Without Really Trying."
As a kid growing up on a 400-acre farm in the country's heartland, Fricke picked up a few pointers from her mother on piano and her father on guitar. Hymns and folk songs were a big part of family entertainment, and by the time Fricke went off to Indiana University in the late '60s, she had already developed a solo act, singing the folk songs of Judy Collins or Joan Baez at coffeehouses on campus.
"I was never much of a political person but I would learn a lot of their songs off their albums," says Fricke, calling from her home in Lancaster, Tex., where she lives with her husband and manager Randy Jackson.
In time she received her degree in elementary education from Indiana University, but not before dropping out of college twice to try her hand at singing radio jingles and commercials in both Memphis and Dallas. Studio work, she found, couldn't have been more gratifying.
"Oh, I loved it," she says. "It was a lot of fun and I didn't care who they wanted me to sound like, I tried to do it. If they wanted me to sing like Aretha Franklin, I'd put on my soul shoes and run on down there."
Soon Fricke was singing not only radio jingles but also national commercials for Coke, Coors, Pizza Hut and United Airlines, among other well-known companies. She still does occasional commercial spots, and features a medley of them in concert. "It was great training," she confirms, "a chance to see how you can blend with other voices. I never had an idea that I'd move on to a recording career by myself. I was happy doing just what I was doing."
But in the early '70s, Fricke moved to Los Angeles with hopes of repeating her success as a jingle singer on the West Coast. This time she flopped. "Nobody would call me and I sat around getting depressed all the time," she says. "So I had to leave and move back to Memphis and start all over again."
"A big step backwards" is how Fricke describes her return to Memphis, but she soon found herself in demand again, not only singing commercials but also working as a background vocalist for such artists as Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, Eddie Rabbitt and Crystal Gayle.
Fricke's big break came when she recorded a song with Johnny Duncan called "Stranger," later a No. 1 hit on the country charts. Ironically, Fricke insisted that her name not appear on the record ("I didn't want my fellow jingle singers to become jealous"), but the absence of a credit only piqued the interest of radio programmers and disc jockeys.
She was signed to a recording contract of her own in 1977 and was voted "top new female vocalist" by leading trade publications on the strength of her first few albums. Since then, thanks to songs like "It Ain't Easy," "He's a Heartache" and "Tell Me a Lie," her voice has become almost as familiar on the radio as some of the jingles she has sung.
For all her success, the correct pronunciation of Fricke's name -- it's frick-ee -- continues to elude numerous presenters at country music award shows, and the singer aims to do something about it. On her next album, due out this summer and tentatively titled, "Black and White," Fricke says she'll make things easier on everybody.
"We decided that since people like Phil Collins from England and Charlie Daniels can't pronounce my name -- they always say Frick -- we'd spell it 'Frickie' on the new album. That'll teach them."
Will the name change be permanent?
"Oh, we'll probably only use that spelling for an album or two, but you never know. With us, you never can tell."