Country Music on Late Night TV: 1990

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A spot as a musical guest on late-night TV was not only a token of “making it” but it also exposed performers to national audiences, resulting in increased ticket and album sales. In 1990, country music was riding the neo-traditional wave with fresh new sounds from Clint Black, Travis Tritt, and Garth Brooks, while progressive acts like Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, and Roseanne Cash continued to dominate. With radio slowly starting to turn from legendary acts, a handful still made regular TV appearances. Four television programs: The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Late Night with David Letterman, Arsenio Hall Show, and the Pat Sajak Show all featured country artists in 1990.

In this series, I’ll uncover all of the appearances by made country artists throughout the year. I’ll track how many shows featured country artists, plus who made the most late-night appearances.


Shows Featuring the most country artists


The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson

At the top of the decade, Johnny Carson remained king with the most performances by country artists with 27 total.

January

  • 4 - KT Oslin

  • 10 - Larry Gaitlin

  • 31 - Highway 101

February

  • 2 - Kathy Mattea

  • 23 - Restless Heart

March

  • 7 - Ray Price - “For the Good Times”

  • 14 - Randy Travis

  • 22 - Lyle Lovett

April

“I remember I was a nervous wreck, but Johnny was so gracious to me. I got to go over and sit on the couch and talk to him. Johnny always reminded me a lot of my dad, and I told him that off-camera. I was just so honored and humbled to be on the show.” -  Medium /photo getty images

“I remember I was a nervous wreck, but Johnny was so gracious to me. I got to go over and sit on the couch and talk to him. Johnny always reminded me a lot of my dad, and I told him that off-camera. I was just so honored and humbled to be on the show.” - Medium/photo getty images

  • 17 - Lorrie Morgan - “Dear Me”

  • 20 - Desert Rose Band

  • 24 - Ricky Van Shelton

  • 26 - Clint Black

July

  • 10 - Lyle Lovett

  • 11 - Travis Tritt

  • 17 - Reba McEntire

  • 24 - Patty Loveless

August

  • 10 - Asleep at the Wheel

September

  • 6 - KT Oslin

Photo: getty images

Photo: getty images

October

  • 16 - Garth Brooks

  • 30 - Patty Loveless

November

  • 1 - Gary Morris

KT Oslin - Barry Manilow
Dwight-Yoakam-Tonight-Show-1990

December

  • 5 - Randy Travis

  • 14 - Dolly Parton

  • 17 - Roseanne Cash

  • 18 - KT Oslin + Barry Manilow - “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

  • 31 - Dwight Yoakam


Late Night with David Letterman

David Letterman has always championed the outer edges of country music, beginning with his NBC stance and later carried those same country, alt, and bluegrass sounds to his classic CBS show.

May

  • 23 - Ricky Skaggs

July

  • 11 - Waylon Jennings

  • 20 - Steve Earle - “The Other Kind”

August

  • 16 - Lyle Lovett

October

  • 4 - Carlene Carter

  • 23 - Randy Travis + Tammy Wynette

November

  • 16 - Mary Chapin Carpenter

  • 21 - Roseanne Cash

  • 30 - Dwight Yoakam

December

  • 18 - Texas Tornadoes

  • 20 - Dolly Parton


Pat Sajak Show

The short-lived show aired on CBS from January 1989 to April 1990. Pat’s ties to country music include working at famed Nashville radio station WSM, home of the Grand Ole Opry.

  • February 14 - Eddy Arnold

  • March 8 - Highway 101

  • April 3 - Steve Wariner

  • April 10 - Mickey Gilley


The Arsenio Hall Show

The show scored some of the biggest and legendary names in country music during its run on the Fox Network. While the first season had a consistent and regular spotlight on country artists, the second season didn’t showcase a country act until four months into the season.

January

  • 23 - Charlie Daniels Band - “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” + “Simple Man”

February

  • 8 - Lyle Lovett - “Here I Am”

  • 14 - KT Oslin - “Hold Me”

March

  • 22 - Kris Kristofferson

April

  • 24 - Randy Travis & BB King - “Waiting on the Light To Change”

May

  • 21 - Dolly Parton

June

  • 12 - Reba McEntire

  • 20 - Barbara Mandrell

July

  • 26 - The Judds

August

  • 20 - Emmylou Harris

November

  • 29 - Reba McEntire - “Rumor Has It”

December

12 - KT Oslin


That wraps up the first year of country music’s biggest decade. With 56 total performances, country music would see some of it’s brightest stars make a splash with national audiences. Which country artist made the most appearances on late-night TV in 1990? KT Oslin. She was 46 when she scored her first big hits in the late 80s, but her age wasn’t the only thing that had people talking. KT spoke to a generation of women who resonated with her songs; she became the first woman to EVER win Song of the Year from the CMA. Her personality, her frank remarks, her talent - it’s no wonder why everyone wanted to book her for their show.

Most Late-Night Performances