With a burning desire to become a recording artist like her idols Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton, Sylvia moved to Nashville in January of 1976. Tom Collins gave her a receptionist job at Pi-Gem Music, the publishing company of Charley Pride. From that position, she began to branch out as a performer. She sang on a number of demos around town, including “Golden Tears,” and she also sang back-up for Janie Fricke on the road during 1977.
At one point, Sylvia tried out for a spot in Dave & Sugar and even though she didn’t get the job, she did impress RCA division head Jerry Bradley, who signed her to the label. When asked if she had any experience performing as a solo singer live, Sylvia replied, “No, but I learn fast.” RCA took her at her word and by 1979 she was on the road as the opening act for Charley Pride.
A year later, a western-flavored song, “Tumbleweed” brought Sylvia to the Top Ten for the first time. She followed it up with “Drifter,” a song that producer Tom Collins felt was essential in establishing an image. Collins reflected:
“Sylvia had a real pretty face and a great voice, but Crystal Gayle was hot as a pistol at the time and we didn’t want to have another pretty face with long hair. We came up with an idea called ‘prairie music,” – western-type lyrics with a disco beat.”
Sylvia had first heard “Drifter” as a ballad, and it was only the day of the session that Collins decided on an upbeat production. Sylvia wasn’t too keen on the idea, but Collins was in charge so she went along with it. However, once they got in the studio and started working on the project, she realized that he was right in using an upbeat approach with the song. And, “Drifter” became Sylvia’s second hit and first No. 1 single, reaching the top of Billboard’s country chart in April of 1981.
By some standards, her career was brief. But Sylvia did find fame with her eleven Top Ten hits including two number ones and she did get to spend some time in the spotlight, which is more than most of us get to do. She can be proud of her accomplishments.
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