Ricky Van Shelton is one of country music’s most beloved male stars. He rose to stardom in the mid-’80s before the emergence of crossover sensations like Garth Brooks. He was a good-looking, clean-cut Southern boy who brought respectability to country without selling out to pop or easy-listening trends. He had the crooning voice of a country-pop ballad stylist, but also incorporated elements of rock and classic honky tonk.
Van Shelton was born in tiny Grit, Virginia. His deeply religious parents forbade secular music in the family home, but he and his siblings sang with their local church choir. During his teens, friends introduced him to rock and blues. He also began singing in a bluegrass band. The experience energized him and he started to take country music seriously.
In 1984, he moved to Nashville to pursue his dream of becoming a professional singer. After years of playing area clubs for beer money, his perseverance paid off. A local newspaper columnist heard a demo tape and helped him arrange a showcase at a Nashville club. Columbia Records A&R man Steve Buckingham was sufficiently impressed and signed Shelton to a contract.
His first album, Wild-Eyed Dream, was a huge hit and launched Shelton into instant superstardom. His next two albums also topped the charts and all of his singles went to number one on the country chart. By the early ’90s, however, alcohol was starting to seriously derail his career. His record sales dipped and tensions with his label led to his departure from Columbia a couple of years later. In the meantime, he busied himself with a series of children’s books centered on the character Quacker the Duck that he had begun several years earlier.