Carlisle, Bob (Contemporary Musicians)
Carlisle jokes about Butterfly Kisses, his 1997 album with the hit song of the same name, making him an overnight sensation. The album was first released in 1996 as Shades of Grace for the Christian Contemporary market and only later garnered Grammy and Country Music Association Award nominations. "This overnight sensation," Carlisle told TV Guide, "was about 23 years in the making."
A singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Bob Carlisle began performing in clubs during the 1970s. He gained a reputation as a session musician in the early 1980s, doing background vocals for other recording artists and groups, including Barry Manilow, REO Speedwagon, Juice Newton, Motley Crue, and Poison. In 1984, he formed The Allies with Randy Thomas and Sam Scott. The group performed together for nine years and released six albums. He released two solo albums with Sparrow Records, Bob Carlisle in 1993 and The Hope Of A Man in 1994. He finally won national attention in 1997 with Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace), an album on Jive Records that went double platinum (two million units sold). Ironically "Butterfly Kisses" had been written as a gift for his daughter Brooke's sixteenth birthday and was a song Carlisle had never intended to record.
A strong family man, Carlisle's family origins were influential on his music. He tells a story about his seventh birthday when his dad took him to Montgomery Ward's and allowed the birthday boy to pick out anything he wanted. After giving the matter some thought, Carlisle selected a guitar. Afterwards his father let him take guitar lessons as well. This was the beginning of Carlisle's lifelong passion for music. He learned how to play guitar and read music; eventually he even learned arranging and orchestration.
Carlisle has a variety of musical roots. R & B was one early influence, with Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and James Brown among his favorites. He grew up around bluegrass and down-home country music. His father, a dealer in acoustic musical instruments, often allowed Carlisle to jam with his buddies; musical greats like guitarist Doc Watson and dobro player Tut Taylor.
Disillusion with Christian Music Scene
As a teen, Carlisle became interested in the music of the Jesus movement in Southern California. He joined his first band, Good News, when he was sixteen. His next group was Psalm 150 where he first met Randy Thomas, with whom he would later collaborate on many songs. Psalm 150 made one album. Eventually, however, Carlisle became disillusioned with the opportunities of the Christian music scene to make a living.
After high school, Carlisle was offered a college music scholarship but turned it down to keep performing. In the late 1970s he married his wife, Jacque. They had two children together, a daughter Brooke and a son Evan. It was then that Carlisle established himself as a well paidsession musician, doing background vocals for many artists and groups. At the same time, he was learning the ropes of record production and he also had a regular gig at Rosie's, a club in Los Angeles.
In 1984, Carlisle once again found himself unhappy with his work. The Christian singer hated the clubs and bars he was playing. One night, in the middle of a show, he walked offstage in disgust and prayed for guidance. Within a week, Sam Scott and his old friend Randy Thomas, who had been singing with the Sweet Comfort Band, a Christian group, invited Carlisle to become a vocalist for a new band called The Allies. This was the answer to Carlisle's prayers. The Allies soon signed with Light Records. They stayed together nine years and recorded six albums together.
Became Solo Artist
The Allies were based in Colton, California, but played most of their gigs in venues east of the Rocky Mountains. They soon realized that a move to Nashville made sense. After the group broke up, Carlisle stayed in Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue his career as a Contemporary Christian artist and songwriter. "Why'd You Come In Here Lookin' Like That," a song Carlisle and Randy Thomas co-wrote, was a hit for Dolly Parton and its success bolstered Carlisle's confidence in his songwriting talents.
His first solo album, Bob Carlisle, was released on the Sparrow label in 1993 and not much later his second Sparrow album, The Hope of a Man, came out. Carlisle was released from his Sparrow contract in 1994 and when Diadem President George King offered him a contract, Carlisle figured he had nothing to lose. At that point he changed his entire attitude toward music. "I decided to just write music out of my heart and soul, " he told Audrey T. Hingley of Christian Reader, "and quit chasing musical success." That decision resulted in the successful Shades of Grace, released on Diadem in 1996. The album featured the Christian hit single, "Mighty Love," and the surprise hit, "Butterfly Kisses."
"Butterfly Kisses" was Carlisle's first big success as an artist. It was also the song that enabled him to cross over from Christian contemporary to pop music. Jive Records repackaged Shades of Grace for a mainstream audience in 1997 and in July of that year, Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace) went double platinum. After having been number one on the contemporary Christian charts almost one year, "Butterfly Kisses" was a surprise hit on the Billboard charts during 1997. It remained in the number one spot on Billboard's Top 200 Album Chart for seven weeks and made its mark on pop and country charts as well.
Carlisle's songs characteristically contain simple messages and are delivered with his expressive vocals. His lyrics and heartfelt emotion often express his strong connection to family values. Many songs on Butterfly Kisses also express Carlisle's feelings towards other members of his family. "You Must Have Been An Angel," for example, is a love song to his wife, Jacque. In "Man Of His Word," Carlisle sings about his parents. "Butterfly Kisses" is a highly personal song of his love and appreciation for his daughter, Brooke. Carlisle wrote the song after looking through some photos of his daughter that had been taken over the years. At the time she was almost sixteen and Carlisle realized that Brooke would be leaving home before long. He chronicled his wistful nostalgia in his song that contains vignettes of her life from early childhood to the time she would become a bride. Carlisle's wife later persuaded him to play "Butterfly Kisses," which he never meant to record, for George King, who in turn convinced Carlisle to include it on his Shades of Grace album.
"Butterfly Kisses" radio play elicited an incredible response. Two veteran radio programmers, Roger Christian of WMJQ of Buffalo, New York and Joe Hann of WRCH of Hartford, Connecticut, each with over 20 years radio experience, noted that the demand for the song was unlike anything they had ever known. Carlisle produced a remixed country version of "Butterfly Kisses," and two additional country versions were released soon after the original, one by the Raybon Brothers and another by Jeff Carson. For a while it was the battle of "Butterfly Kisses" as the three versions simultaneously competed on the country radio hit charts. Carlisle's album sales were fueled by his appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show and her endorsement of Butterfly Kisses.
Panned By Many Critics
Critics were almost universally puzzled by the song's popularity. Time's reviewer called it "syrupy enough to serve with waffles." Heather Bird of the Toronto Sun called it "silly, vapid, saccharin." While Kieran Grant, also of the Toronto Sun, noted Carlisle's "sincerity," but thought the tune "insipid and instantly forgettable...." On a positive note, WallStreet Journal reviewer, Andrew Peyton Thomas, observed that "Butterfly Kisses" was so immensely popular because it was "genuine... a rare song ... destined to become a classic."
In spite of the mixed reviews, Carlisle's fans seemed to have no reservations about "Butterfly Kisses." Carlisle delivered a song that touched the hearts of many with his candid expression of love for his daughter. The song inspired countless reconciliations between estranged parents and children, and the song soon became a standard at weddings. Carlisle himself sang the tune at Brooke's high school graduation at Page High School in Franklin, Tennessee.
Song for Son
Carlisle defined a butterfly kiss for Ann Oldenburg of USA Today as "the fluttering of one's eyelashes on the cheek of another person." Carlisle has repeatedly been asked if he plans a song about his son Evan. "Yeah, " he told Oldenburg, "it's called,'Get Down Off Of That!'" But he and Randy Thomas actually did write a tune for both of their sons called "A Father's Love." Regarding his future plans Carlisle commented to R& R, "I'm going to do what I've always done, and that is to write and sing songs out of my own need and my own passion."
Carlisle is enjoying his present success although demands on his time have been fierce. The success of Butterfly Kisses spawned several book tie-ins, some of them written by Carlisle. Heturns down TV specials and other lucrative offers in order to honor previous commitments, like small shows at churches and county fairs and to be with his family, which he considers his top priority. The success of Butterfly Kisses will undoubtedly open doors to other mainstream music opportunities for Carlisle.
Bob Carlisle, Sparrow, 1993.
The Hope of A Man, Sparrow, 1994.
Shades of Grace, (includes "Mighty Love" and "Butterfly Kisses"), Diadem, 1996.
Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace), (includes "You Must Have Been An Angel," "Man Of His Word," and "Butterfly Kisses"), Jive, 1997.
with The Allies
Allies, Light, 1985.
Virtues, Light, 1986.
Shoulder to Shoulder, DaySpring, 1988.
Long Way From Paradise, DaySpring, 1989.
The River, DaySpring, 1990.
Man With A Mission, DaySpring, 1991.
(With Randy Thomas) "Why'd You Come In Here Lookin' Like That" (song), Dolly Parton, 1984.
Butterfly Kisses (children's book), Tommy Nelson Publishing, 1997.
Butterfly Kisses (children's book, available as audio read by Carlisle and daughter, Brooke), Golden Books, 1997.
Butterfly Kisses (letters between fathers and daughters), Jack Countryman/Word Publishing, 1997.
A Journal of Butterfly Kisses (journal for fathers and daughters), Word Publishing, 1997.
Butterfly Kisses and Bittersweet Tears (stories told to and by Carlisle), Word Publishing, 1998.
"Louisiana Moon," (song), Mel McDaniels.
"Red-Neck Son," (song), Ty England.
Billboard, May 31, 1997; June 28, 1997; July 5, 1997.
Chicago Tribune, July 10, 1997.
Christian Reader, September/October 1997, p. 21-24.
R&R, May 30, 1997.
Time, June 30, 1997.
Toronto Son, August 19, 1997; July 17, 1997.
TV Guide, September 20, 1997, p. 34-35.
USA Today, May 12, 1997.
Wall Street Journal, July 22, 1997.
Additional information supplied by publicist, Melissa Hambrick, of Spin Cycle.