With Tim McGraw and Faith Hill teaming this weekend for their first collaborative show at Rupp Arena since 2006, we got to thinking: Given the level of commercial popularity the two still command (they are, literally, the McGraw-Hill of corporate country music), how do they resemble and compare to country couples of the past?
To find out, some digging was in order. What we found were 10 other famed twosomes dating back nearly 50 years. Some were couples in real life. Others were strictly business about romance. In a few cases, death didn’t even part the collaborative spirit.
Lexington has seen most of these duos at one point of another, as well as a few that didn’t quite go the distance. Place Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert in that column. Both made a point of crashing each other’s shows here on a regular basis before they married (and subsequently divorced).
McGraw and Hill were married in 1996 and have three daughters, one collaborative album and three co-headlining tours together — four, if you count a 2012 jaunt in Australia. Their relationship was also documented in the 2017 Showtime documentary “Tim & Faith: Soul2Soul.”
So before the McGraw-Hill Soul2Soul Tour heats things up at Rupp on Saturday, check out the many ways country couples have hit the heartstrings through the decades.
George Jones and Tammy Wynette
This was the couple that wrote the book on country couple duets and then burned it. They were married for six years but created their wildest hits — “Golden Ring” and especially “Southern California” after their divorce in 1975. Alternatively classy, campy and corny (often intentionally so), George and Tammy embodied the Billy Sherrill production age where presenting country duets as an onstage soap opera was the glorious norm.
Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn
Close personally but not romantically, Twitty and Lynn cut 11 albums over a 16 year period that ended in 1988. Their first five singles together all became No. 1 hits, (a pack that included and “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” and “As Soon As I Hang Up the Phone”). Twitty and Lynn went for the pathos, too, but when their chemistry was at its peak, as on 1971’s “After the Fire is Gone,” their vocal command was riveting.
Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash
The Cashs were less of a hitmaking duo (although “Jackson” remains a classic) as an alliance. June wrote “Ring of Fire,” one of her husband’s richest hits, and remained his onstage partner throughout their respective careers. From a sublime performance at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum in 1995 to the devastating video filmed for an equally sobering version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” in 2002, the two were inseparable.
Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton
The relationship between Wagoner and Parton was essentially teacher-student. Parton was largely Wagoner’s protégé as their partnership took root in 1968 and lasted through his popular television show. The two cut 13 albums together but the most enduring hit to emerge from their alliance came when Parton wrote and a recorded a farewell tune to Wagoner upon embarking on a solo career – “I Will Always Love You.”
Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris
Corporate Nashville has done its best through the years to pretend Parsons never existed, but a 45 year legacy forged by his most famed protégé and performance partner, Harris, has forever enshrined his importance and influence. Again, this was not a “couple” in any traditional sense without any hit duets to speak of, but their harmonizing on the brilliant “GP” and “Grievous Angel” albums ushered in a new country era.
Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter
Jennings was better known for outlaw duets with the likes of Willie Nelson and collaborative sets with the all-star Highwaymen than for records with wife Colter. Ironically, it was the outlaw movement that produced the couple’s biggest hit, a cover of “Suspicious Minds.” Cut in 1970, it was reissued along with re-released tracks by Jennings, Nelson and others on the hit 1976 compilation “Wanted! The Outlaws.”
Kenny Rogers and Dottie West
Rogers’ list of duet partners was extensive, running from pop stylists (Sheena Easton, Kim Carnes) to country/bluegrass favorites (Alison Krauss, Holly Dunn). The crossover 1983 smash “Islands in the Stream” forever defined a collaboration with Dolly Parton. But a string of overlooked singles with West, highlighted by 1978’s “Every Time Two Fools Collide,” typified his most authentically country alliance.
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood
The Brooks and Yearwood country dynasty hasn’t always been reflected on the charts. Yearwood has also cut tunes with Aaron Neville, Chris Isaak and Don Henley. But despite joint hits like “In Another’s Eyes,” which was recorded long before Brooks and Yearwood married in 2005, the couple has been a collaborative unit as a touring force onstage as well as in domestically inclined retirement offstage.
Vince Gill and Amy Grant
Gill and Grant were royalty within different genres — country and Christian pop respectively — before they ever met. After marriages (ironically, both to fellow artists within their genres) collapsed, they married in 2000. Curiously, their duet work is reflected mostly by 1994’s “House of Love.” Gill has also cut singles with Rosanne Cash and Reba McEntire while Grant has recorded with James Taylor and Keb’ Mo’.
Keith Whitley and Lorrie Morgan
The marriage between Kentucky native Whitley and Morgan came less than three years before Whitley’s death at age 34 from alcohol poisoning. As such, their hit duet, “’Til a Tear Becomes a Rose,” matched a 1987 demo from Whitley with a 1990 vocal from Morgan. It eventually earned a Grammy nomination. Morgan has also overseen several performance and recording tributes to her late husband.