Ricky Van Shelton was a big deal for about five years in the 1980s and early '90s. Then, his career tapered off.

Then, he vanished.

We're not exaggerating — sightings of the "Somebody Lied" singer are about as common as Bigfoot in 2023. It's been 17 years since he bid farewell to the industry with a very formal letter and a bunch of canceled concerts.

Why? And what happened to Ricky in the years leading up to his total retirement?

This episode of the Secret History of Country Music answers both questions. The 1989 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year notched nearly a dozen No. 1 hits between 1987 and 1991, but around that time he had a come-to-Jesus moment. That's not a metaphor: During this video and podcast episode you'll hear him describe a very real encounter with the devil.

It's terrifying and inspiring and just a little hard to believe, but hey, it's his story, not ours.

Shelton alluded to infidelity and troubles with alcohol in the 1990s, but his wife's tell-all book really detailed the trouble he caused. His final recording was a 2000 Christmas album, but his final studio album was Fried Green Tomatoes, released in May of that year.

Longtime fans know he was every bit worthy of the CMA honor he received, and maybe could have grabbed more had he he not pivoted. Like Bobbie Gentry, when Ricky Van Shelton said goodbye, he meant it. He's not given a public performance since abruptly leaving.

Season 2 of Secret History of Country Music is available as a YouTube video podcast or audio-only podcast. Both are above, but you can also find the pod on AppleSpotify or wherever you podcast.

Email staff@tasteofcountry.com with any questions, concerns or suggestions for Season 2.

50 Classic Country Artists Today’s Fans Should Know

Today's country music stars owe a debt of gratitude to the legends who formed and cultivated the genre, starting in the early 20th century. These 50 classic country artists remain relevant today. Some developed a style that's emulated on today's country radio. Others set a bar for vocal talent or songwriting skill.

This list of 50 influential classic country artists features country music singers who started their careers before 1990. It's ranked by each artist's current influence on the country music format today, not individual, lifelong impact. Tell us where we got it right or wrong on Twitter.

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