Doug Stone's country is rooted in good songs and the zing of Zappa

June 24, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

A lot of younger country stars like to talk about the difference rock bands made in their musical life, from Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Eagles to Kiss. But Doug Stone may be the first country star to have been influenced by Frank Zappa.

"I really wasn't a big concertgoer when I was younger," Stone says, over the phone from a tour stop in Virginia. "But every now and then I would go out to see Maynard Ferguson, Frank Zappa, Christopher Cross -- those kind of concerts. Because I like that style of music, too. It's just that I sing country.

"So anyway, every time I went to a Frank Zappa concert, I knew I was going to get new music, something that he was working on in the studio at the time. It would [have me] waiting for the next album. So I give people a little new music every time we do a show. Every time I'm doing a new album, I try to stick one or two songs in the show that are going to be on the next album, just to give them a sneak preview."

Surprised? That's OK, because even Stone admits that what he does onstage isn't at all like what those who know him only from recordings might expect. Granted, it's not as totally out-there as Zappa's shows were, but at the same time, neither is it as predictable as some country concerts are.

"My show is real up, contrary to what people might think if they haven't been to one," he says. "I've had numerous people come up to me after the show and say: 'You know, I wasn't expecting this. I was expecting you to stand there and sing your ballads and be a real romantic kind of guy, and all like that.'

"But there's a closet comedian trying to get out of me, and I have a great time onstage. I never know what I'm going to say, and I have stuck my foot in my mouth a few times."

Well, between songs, maybe. But when Stone shifts from talking to singing, he rarely makes a misstep. Since releasing his first single, "Pine Box," in 1990, Stone has topped the country charts 10 times and has seldom slipped below the Top Five.

What's his secret? His good looks and smooth voice may have something to do with it, but as far as Stone is concerned, it's all in the songs. "You've got to do songs that you like yourself, because that's what makes you who you are," he says. "Conway Twitty said it best: It's the song.

"Really, your songs and your voice do speak for themselves. I'm different from everybody else in that I play songs that I like, and they play songs that they like. And I have heard a lot of songs that would have fit me, like John Michael [Montgomery]'s 'I Swear' and 'Don't Take the Girl' by Tim McGraw. That is a great song. I remember when I first heard it, I thought, 'Oh, this is a dippy song,' but as the song progressed into the whole, full meaning of it I was like, 'Oh.' Right now, it's my favorite song."

Of course, finding the right song isn't necessarily that easy. "I listen to tons of music," he admits, but even some of the good songs he hears aren't necessarily suited to what he wants to do. "There was a song Pam Tillis did, 'I'll Love You Forever If I Want To,' " he says. "I had that song thrown at me when I first came HTC out. I said: 'Yeah, it's a great song. But to me, it sounds like a woman's song.' So I didn't touch it."

So he kept looking. "I look continuously," he says, adding that it hardly matters to him how the song is presented on the demo tape, or whether it seems obviously suited to his style. "It's really the song that stands out," he explains. "When I hear the song, I don't usually think about if I can sing it or not; I just say, 'Hey, that's a great song, and we'll do the best we can with it.'

Listen to 'Love'

To hear excerpts from Doug Stone's current album, "More Love," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6140 after you hear the greeting.

In concert

What: Tangier Sound Country Music Festival, featuring Ricky Van Shelton, Pam Tillis, Doug Stone, Daron Norwood, Shenandoah, Victoria Shaw and McBride and the Ride

When: Saturday; gates open at 8 a.m., music starts at 11

Where: Crisfield

Tickets: $24 in advance, $28 at the gate; $5 for children under 10

Call: (800) 521-9189 or (410) 651-2968 for tickets and information

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