Lyle Lovett Biography

One of Country Music's Most Eclectic Voices

Lyle Lovett In Concert - Virginia Beach, VA
David A. Beloff / Getty Images

Lyle Pearce Lovett was born on November 1, 1957, in Klein, Texas, a suburb of Houston. He grew up on his family's horse ranch. He didn't become involved with music until attending Texas A&M University in the late '70s where he studied journalism and German. Lovett became good friends with future country star Robert Earl Keen during those years and they wrote "The Front Porch Song" together, then Lovett started writing his own material

He began performing at local clubs and festivals, and after graduating college, he went on to attend graduate school. He continued to write and perform while studying abroad in Germany. It wasn't until he returned to the U.S. in the early '80s that Lovett started to seriously pursue a career in music. He played in clubs around Texas and slowly began working toward his big break. He starred in the Mickey Rooney TV movie "Bill: On His Own" in 1983 and contributed vocals on the Nanci Griffith albums Once in a Very Blue Moon and Last of the True Believers. He also found success as a songwriter. His "If I Were the Woman You Wanted" appears on the former Griffith album.

Lovett's Debut

A demo tape of Lovett's songs made its way to MCA Records in 1984 and the label immediately began drafting a recording contract. Lovett signed with MCA/Curb in 1986 and released his self-titled debut album that year to positive reviews.

The singles "Farther Down the Line," "Cowboy Man," "God Will," "Why I Don't Know" and "Give Back My Heart" all reached the country Top 40. It was clear that Lovett was a country music success, but it was also very obvious that his style didn't rely on the genre entirely even though his sound was rooted in the country.

He pushed the limits of traditional country music with his incorporation of folk, jazz, and pop. 

Lyle Lovett was a success, peaking at No. 14 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, but his sophomore effort, 1987's Pontiac, is what really affirmed his talent. It was decidedly less country than his debut, but it still received rave reviews from country and mainstream critics, making Lovett a crossover success.

Pontiac introduced Lovett to a pop audience. While his success in that market grew, his country audience shrank. "She's No Lady" and "I Loved You Yesterday" was the last of his singles to crack the country Top 30.

Crossover Success

Lovett's country audience may have been dwindling, but that certainly wasn't an indication of his future. Pontiac brought him an entirely new mainstream pop fan base and a loyal following. Lovett stayed true to his eclecticism, assembling a modified big band, His Large Band, which incorporated a range of instruments including guitars, a cello, a piano, a horn section and a backup singer – gospel-trained Francine Reed.

Lyle Lovett and His Large Band was released in early 1989. Critics and fans lauded the album, which eventually went gold. The album was heavily influenced by jazz, R&B, and swing, but it still managed to produce the minor country hit "I Married Her Just Because She Looks Like You." His rendition of Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man" also received a good deal of attention.

Lovett relocated to Los Angeles and spent the next years cutting his fourth effort. He produced Walter Hyatt's King Tears, sang in Leo Kottke's Great Big Boy, and covered "Friend of the Devil" for the Grateful Dead tribute album Deadicated. Then he starred in the Robert Altman film "The Player" in 1992 and met co-star Julia Roberts. The two wed after just three weeks of dating and embarked on a very high-profile yet short-lived marriage.

Lovett's fourth album, Joshua Judges Ruth, was released shortly after "The Player" premiered. The gospel and R&B-heavy album became his most successful release to date. Pop audiences revered the record, making Lovett a mainstream staple, but country music ignored the album entirely.

A New Level of Fame

Lovett was thrust into the spotlight following his marriage to Roberts and he began experiencing a level of fame that he had never experienced before.

He starred in 1993's "Short Cuts," also directed by Robert Altman, and he released I Love Everybody in 1994, a collection of songs he'd written in the '70s and '80s. The album furthered his progression away from country music.

Lovett's newfound fame proved to be a challenging adjustment. After divorcing Roberts in 1995, he backed away from the spotlight. Lovett laid low, writing and occasionally performing. He reemerged in a big way with the 1996 release of The Road to Ensenada, his first true country album since Pontiac. The album performed well on the pop and country charts where it peaked at No. 24 and No. 4 respectively. His country effort did not go unrecognized: The Road to Ensenada earned Lovett a 1996 Grammy Award for Best Country Album.

He followed up with the two-disc Step Inside This House in 1998, which features little-known material written by his favorite songwriters. He also released Live in Texas, his first concert recording, and the soundtrack for the Robert Altman flick "Dr. T & the Women." In 2003, Lovett released Smile, a compilation album of his songs recorded for various film soundtracks, and My Baby Don't Tolerate.

Today

Lovett has since released It's Not Big It's Large in 2007 and Natural Forces in 2009. They peaked at No. 2 and No. 8 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart respectively. After more than 25 years with Curb Records, Lovett fulfilled his contract with the label with Release Me in 2012. He continues to perform steadily.

Lovett's Acting Career

Lovett has achieved great success as a musical artist, but he also has a respectable acting career.

After starring in the Robert Altman films "The Player" and "Short Cuts," he developed a friendship with the director and went on to star in the Altman films "Prêt-à-Porter" in 1994 and "Cookie's Fortune" in 1999. He also starred in the films "The New Guy" in 2002, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" in 2007, and the holiday film "Angels Sing" in 2013. Lovett's TV credits include "Mad About You," "Brothers & Sisters," "Castle," "The Bridge" and "Dharma & Greg."

Discography:

  • Lyle Lovett (1986)
  • Pontiac (1988)
  • Lyle Lovett and His Large Band (1989)
  • Joshua Judges Ruth (1992)
  • I Love Everybody (1994)
  • The Road to Ensenada (1996)
  • Step Inside This House (1998)
  • Live in Texas (1999)
  • Anthology, Vol. 1: Cowboy Man (2001)
  • My Baby Don't Tolerate (2003)
  • Smile (2003)
  • It's Not Big It's Large (2007)
  • Natural Forces (2009)
  • Release Me (2012)

Popular Songs:

  • Download "In My Own Mind"
  • Download "If I Had a Boat"
  • Download "My Baby Don't Tolerate"
  • Download "Natural Forces"
  • Download "She's No Lady"
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Silva, Robert. "Lyle Lovett Biography." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2017, thoughtco.com/lyle-lovett-biography-932493. Silva, Robert. (2017, August 29). Lyle Lovett Biography. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/lyle-lovett-biography-932493 Silva, Robert. "Lyle Lovett Biography." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/lyle-lovett-biography-932493 (accessed November 19, 2017).