Country singer K.T. Oslin is one of the few musicians who can describe their career as a "roller-coaster ride"--and mean it literally.
Back before she became a fast-rising name in country circles by cracking the Top 10 with her " '80s Ladies" single and album, the Arkansas-born, Alabama-reared singer and songwriter was trying to carve out a living doing product commercials. One ad she appeared in for a denture adhesive sent her on an amusement park roller coaster, presumably proving the product's gripping power.
"Some of my commercials . . . , they're the worst," Oslin, 45, said hesitantly from her apartment in New York City. "Most commercials want (women) to be typical Midwest housewives with a plaid shirt and plain hairdo. I tried my best to do that, but I usually looked more like a demented housewife."
Oslin's less-than-gripping career in commercials left her hungry for something more rewarding, and for most of her life that's been music.
In the late '60s she recorded a folk album in a trio with Texas singer-songwriter Guy Clark, who also invited her to sing backup on his debut album in the late '70s. She also recorded a couple of singles in the early '80s under the name Kay T. Oslin (the T. is for Toinette)--neither of which catapulted her to superstardom. In fact, their lack of success sent her back to doing more commercials.
But in the hope that one day music would pay off, she persisted with her singing--she has a soulful, subtly vulnerable vocal-style reminiscent of Jessi Colter. About five years ago she began actively developing the songwriting skills shown in the " '80s Ladies" album's nine songs that she either wrote or co-wrote.
She is especially happy that she was able to come up with some songs with a woman's perspective on relationships in the '80s.
"It's hard to find (those) songs if I don't write them myself," she said. "Most love songs are pretty flowery. I don't write those very well. Anyway, the songs I do are more fun to write. They're certainly more fun to sing."
Because the quick success of the album and singles has caught most people by surprise (her record company and Oslin included), she is only now assembling a band and preparing to tour. But even if it hadn't done well, Oslin would no doubt still be plugging away.
"I don't know how to do anything else," she said. "It's not like I'd always wanted to be an anthropologist and that I could fall back on that if music didn't work out. I'm not interested in doing anything else.
"I'm a Taurus, you know--we're slow . . . but we hang in there."