Originally created 05/16/03

Singer breaks cycle of ballads by doing things his own way



Although his career has been punctuated by a slew of silky, slow-dance hits, crooner Mark Wills never intended on becoming a balladeer.

He just knew he wanted to be country.

Mr. Wills, best known for glossy, romantic ballads such as I Do (Cherish You) and Don't Laugh at Me, grew up absorbing the classic twang of Conway Twitty, George Jones, Ronnie Millsap and Alabama. He said he tries to use their careers as an artistic blueprint.

"It's important for any artist to show their musical influences and diversity," he said during a recent telephone interview. "What I've tried to do, from the beginning, is do what I want to do."

Mr. Wills is a headliner for the annual Hot Southern Night concert Saturday at Lake Olmstead Stadium on Milledge Road. Blake Shelton and Rebecca Lynn Howard also will perform at the concert, a fund-raiser for the Augusta Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Because Mr. Wills had some significant early success with ballads, record companies and radio stations became more interested in hearing his slow, romantic numbers.

"The problem is, when a record company pushes ballads, you are either going to be successful or fall flat on your face," he said. "It's almost a sad sort of thing that I never released any up-tempo songs. But the record company had success with the ballads, so that's what they pushed. An artist needs diversity but they don't always get it."

Mr. Wills said he was fortunate because he was able to break the ballad barrier with his 2002 hit 19 Somethin', an up-tempo ode to cultural and personal progression.

"That was a godsend," he said. "It proved that I could have a hit song that wasn't a ballad. It proved that even though people hadn't heard from me for a while, I could come out with something different and they would respond."

Although an advocate of the Nashville sound, Mr. Wills said it's important to separate himself from the corporate culture that infuses the Tennessee city. He makes his home in Atlanta with his wife and daughters and has only recently taken an apartment in Music City.

"It's been a lot of fun," he said. "I'm almost 30 and I've never had an apartment. I just spend so much time here recording it makes sense. I was paying a fortune for hotel rooms."

Still, he has no plans to relocate.

"I think anytime you are able to get a little distance, it's great," he said. "And when I'm with my wife and girls, I want to be on my own turf."

ON STAGETHE CONCERT: Hot Southern Night, featuring Mark Wills, Blake Shelton and Rebecca Lynn HowardTHE DATE: 8 p.m. SaturdayTHE VENUE: Lake Olmstead Stadium, Milledge RoadTHE COST: $18 in advance, $23 the day of the show. Call (803) 278-4849 or see the Web site tixonline.com.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com