Ostensibly, they were performing for a church filled with well-wishers, but they were actually addressing the song’s sentiments to each other.
“If you needed me, I would come to you,” they sang. “I would swim the oceans just to ease your pain.”
Thirty-three years later, the couple revisited the song for Hearts Like Ours, their new collection of country duets. It’s a record 33 years in the making — or at least one fans have been waiting for ever since Skaggs and White won vocal duo of the year honors at the 1987 CMA Awards following the success of “Love Can’t Ever Get Better Than This.” They re-recorded that song for the new album, as well, along with tunes by Flatt & Scruggs, Leslie Satcher and Buddy Jewell.
Hearts Like Ours was a long time coming, but Skaggs and White say it was worth the wait.
“We understand each other’s love for music so much better now,” White said. “We understand each other’s love for family, for roots and for history.”
You received the trophy for vocal duo of the year in 1987. Did you think of recording a full album of duets at the time?
Skaggs: We were also on different labels back then — me on CBS and her on Warner/Curb, and it was a rat race trying to get up the charts. If we had done it back then, we would have been so driven to find the songs that radio would play. And who wants to make music like that? Music should really be something made from the heart not for the purse strings.
White: There was resistance to everything we did back then. The record companies were not too hip on us doing a duets project. Honestly, it bothered me that people had control, and nothing was in our own hands. So we couldn’t choose the timing of it. But I see now that this is the right time. Things would have been so different, and what it means to me now is very different than what it would have meant to me back then.
How do you mean?
White: I think I would have been more concerned with it being successful — with a big hit and that kind of thing. My head was in a different place. Now I’m just so blessed. To me, the showcase of this album is the relationship that we’ve developed in 33 years together.
Skaggs: We had been married six years when “Love Can’t Ever Get Better” came out. Now we’ve been married 33 years. I know her heart and her craft and her voice so much better now. I know the way she thinks about things. And I love getting intimate with her. I could never be this musically intimate with another woman. That would be too much like acting, and this is certainly not an act for us.
How did you choose which songs to sing? Are these songs you’ve been singing together for a while?
White: There are about five songs we’ve been doing throughout our married life. The first song we sang together was “If I Needed You.” We sang it at our wedding, and we do it when we sing at different events. We had booked an event — not exactly a concert, but an event that was intended to encourage couples. We were going to sing some songs and give our testimony, so we cut some songs that we had done together. We were pretty far into that process when the event was canceled. Oh, great. Now what do we do? Ricky said we have to finish it. It was the Lord’s way of kicking us off the couch.
So those new recordings became the foundation for the new album.
Skaggs: We made CDs of those five songs and put them in little cardboard sleeves that had a picture of us, and we gave them out to friends and family members. This is a down payment on the rest of the record. Then we started looking for other songs.
White: “Hearts Like Ours” was the last song. Ricky had talked to Marty Stuart months before and asked if he had any songs for us. Marty said, “I Run to You.” So we stared working on that one and had charts written, knew the arrangements, booked the band. Then I ran into Connie [Smith, Stuart’s wife] at the Opry when Ricky was on the road. My sister told her we were going to cut one of her songs, and she just lit up! Then I said, “We’re cutting ‘I Run to You.’ And her face just fell. She said, “I thought you were going to do ‘Hearts Like Ours.’ I had completely forgotten about that song, so I went home and played it. … When Ricky came home, he loved it as much as I did. So we just cut it, too. It’s such a good country song, we feel like it fits us in every way. It tells our story.
What did Connie think of your version?
Skaggs: They’re some of our best friends here in Nashville. Sharon gave Connie and Marty an advance copy of the record. The next week at the Opry, Marty grabs me and says, “We were so proud that y’all recorded those songs.” And Connie told Sharon, “Home run, Sharon! Home run!”
White: We had so much fun making the record that I hated that it had to end. I’ve never enjoyed being the studio. It didn’t feel like work. It was exciting to finish all the recording and mixing because that’s what you’ve been working toward that whole time, but it was a little sad. We both look at each other and said, “Now what are we gonna do?”