Guest Author - Kathy Lyngholm
Sixteen years ago this week, Keith Whitley scored his first number one hit with "Don't Close Your Eyes", less than a year later he was dead from an alcohol overdose. His impact is still felt in country music today. Many of the big stars of today have said that Keith Whitley has had an influence on them.
Born in Kentucky in 1955, Keith sang in local shows at 4, on the radio at 8 and by 14, he had met and started singing with Ricky Skaggs. He and Ricky joined the Clinch Mountain Boys band at 15 when Ralph Stanley discovered them. After singing and recording with the Clinch Mountain Boys off and on for 8 years he left and in 1979 joined The New South. The group recorded 3 albums with Keith as the lead singer between 1979 and 1982. J.D. Crowe has been reported to have said that Keith was already showing signs of having problems with alcohol at the time he was recording with The New South. In 1983, Keith made his was to Nashville and was hired as a songwriter by Tree. In 1984, he was signed as a recording artist by RCA. During this time, he made his way by singing demos of songs that were later hits for George Strait and Randy Travis.
1985 proved to be the year that Keith Whitley started to make his move. He had a hit "Miami My Amy" and had other top 10 hits in 86-87. He married Lorrie Morgan in 1986 and they had a son Jesse in 1987. Just a year after that, Keith was on top of the world with his number 1 hit "Don't Close Your Eyes", it was labeled country musics hit of the year. He also scored big with "When You Say Nothing At All" and "I'm No Stranger to the Rain". Unfortunately, Keith didn't live long enough to see "I'm No Stranger to the Rain" hit number one. After his death, he also had hits with "I Wonder Do You Think of Me" and "It Ain't Nothin'".
I remember hearing Keith Whitley for the first time on the radio and getting chills, he had one of those voices that brought a song to life. I used to have all of his CD's in my collection, but it seems like someone wanted them more than I did, because they are gone. I am determined to replace them as soon as I can, no country music CD collection is complete without this talented stars contributions. I also remember when Alison Krauss released "When You Say Nothing At All", the radio stations would take her version and Keiths version and make it into a duet, it was a beautiful song done that way. I wish he had lived long enough to have actually done it live.