When Deana Carter made her debut in country music, she was something of a rarity. Born in Nashville, the daughter of famed session guitarist Fred Carter Jr. grew up north of Music City, in Goodlettsville, where she was a high-school cheerleader, student body president and voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” Superlatives aside, no one could have predicted the phenomenal success of Carter’s debut album, Did I Shave My Legs for This?
Released in the U.S. on September 3rd, 1996, the LP had initially been issued in the U.K. a year earlier with a significantly different track listing, although the cheeky title cut remained. Two singles were released there before the record label folded.
Back in the U.S., Carter was signed to Capitol Nashville, where she cut several new songs for the reworked release. One of them, the Matraca Berg-Gary Harrison-penned “Strawberry Wine,” became her debut single and a monster hit. A wistful reminiscence of first love, Berg based the song’s rather adult storyline on her own summertime experience as a teenager on her grandparents’ Wisconsin farm. At just under five minutes long, the tune wasn’t exactly considered radio-friendly, so it wasn’t surprising that every female artist in Nashville had passed on recording it. Once Carter heard it, at an event hosted by Berg’s music publisher, she not only wanted to record it, she made the even more shocking decision to release it as her first single.
By November 1996, “Strawberry Wine” was a Number One hit, topping the country chart for two weeks. A year later, Carter had notched three chart-toppers, including “We Danced Anyway” and “How Do I Get There,” with “Strawberry Wine” and Did I Shave My Legs for This? garnering six CMA nominations, including wins for Single and Song of the Year (Berg and Harrison took the latter honor as writers).
A highlight of the 1997 CMA Awards telecast was Carter’s performance of the LP’s title track, released as the fifth single from the album, which by that time had sold three million copies (it has, to date, sold in excess of five million). After the energetic performance, which host Vince Gill noted was done in her bare feet, Ricky Skaggs announced that Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” was Single of the Year. The clearly over-stimulated pride of Goodlettsville then bounded back on stage (still barefoot) and proceeded to jump into Skaggs’ unsuspecting arms, wrapping her (presumably shaved) legs around his torso, all the while earning herself a place in CMA Awards show history. The song would also be nominated for a 1997 Grammy.
For her part, Berg saw a major shift in her songwriting career once “Strawberry Wine” was a hit.
“So many writers were calling me to write,” she tells Rolling Stone Country. “Writers who didn’t want to write with me before were calling me. There was this one writers’ retreat at some castle that my publisher was always trying to get me in on. They turned us down every year. They invited me that year. I said no. [Laughs].”
Carter and Berg would team up again to pen “You and Tequila,” which was on the singer’s 2003 LP, I’m Just a Girl, and would later be covered by Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter. Their version would also be Grammy-nominated.