Gary James' Interview With Richie McDonald Of
They made their entrance on the Country charts in 1995. Ten of their singles went to number one. Three other albums went Gold and another three went Platinum Plus. They have sold over 10 million albums since their recording career began. CMA (Country Music Association) named them the Vocal Group Of The Year in 2001. Along the way they have performed in England, Ireland, Switzerland and Germany. The group we are referring to is Lonestar. Lonestar's lead vocalist, Richie McDonald, spoke with us about the band.
Q - Dean Sams (Lonestar keyboardist) said: "We have been very fortunate that a lot of our fans have stuck with us through the good and bad." I don't think there has been any tragedy in the band. There has been some personnel changes, but that happens with a lot of bands. So, what is the bad that happened to Lonestar?
A - Well, I think what Dean was referring to was when I left the band and maybe also when John Rich left the band. Just personnel changes. It is probably the only bad that this band has ever faced. When I left the band, the guys had to decide if they were going to carry on the band and also along with that, fans had to decide if they were still going to support the band with a new lead singer. And they did. It's a great thing about Country fans, they are loyal. They stick by your side through thick and thin. When I decided to leave the band, I needed some time off. I needed a break. Our fans continued to support the band with Cody Collins as the lead singer. So, I think that's what he was referring to.
Q - When this band was put together, it was to play some bars and make a little money. But you guys moved from Texas to Nashville. You must have been looking for a record deal, otherwise you wouldn't have made the move.
A - Well, I really can't speak for everyone, but I know personally, well it probably was the goal for everyone. We just didn't know it at the time. We all had different reasons at the time for moving to Nashville. This band was put together to pay the bills and we were all working our jobs. Dean was working out at Opryland. He was at least doing something in the music business, doing something he loved. Michael Britt was working odd jobs in bands, picking up side jobs. But he was delivering pizzas. Keach Rainwater was working in a boat yard and I was mixing pig's feed at a Tennessee farm co-op. I think we were all doing these odd jobs just to get by. When Dean called us all, we felt it was the right time for us to at least use it as a stepping stone to get to where we wanted to be. Fortunately for us it kind of went beyond playing bars and paying just the bills. We just stuck together and things started happening for this band.
Q - Today, you wouldn't have had to leave Texas. You could have put up a video on YouTube, had a website and achieved the same success.
A - Yeah. It's totally a different world today. It's totally a different animal. Texas kind of has a music scene all of its own. Back then, everybody to be a national act, you had to be in Nashville or at least that's the way it seemed. Nashville was the Music City. I'm not sure if that's the case anymore. We have a lot of friends that do really well in Texas, touring and radio play. Even for Lonestar nowadays it's tough to get radio play in our Lone Star State of Texas that we were named after.
Q - It took you 500 shows and three years to get a record deal?
A - If that's the number you came up with, it's probably accurate. We just started touring. If that's the information you have, I'm sure it's pretty accurate. It's what we did in the beginning. We basically put the band together and played anywhere we could. Anywhere we possibly could play just to basically have people come out and dance to our music. From that, it kind of went from working on original songs and then being in Nashville and being kind of the House Band at a saloon, which enabled us to stay in town a little bit more, playing in town, and actually start creating a "buzz."
Q - When you were doing these 500 shows, you were mostly playing cover songs?
A - Majority of, yes. Maybe two or three originals.
Q - Where does this skill or talent come from to write original material? I ask only because there are a lot of bar bands that never make it beyond the "cover band" stage.
A - I think for myself and probably Dean, when we came to town, we... I started writing songs when I was in junior high (school) and Dean did as well. So, it was something we were passionate about. It wasn't until we got to Nashville that we really figured out we had a lot of work to do. We had to get with some great writers and start really getting better at the craft of writing a song. We started writing together. We had a song called "When Cowboys Didn't Dance", that was actually on our first album that we recorded. It was a song that I wrote with a friend of mine that I used to work with at Coca-Cola. We wrote it writing around in the Coca-Cola truck back in Dallas, Texas and actually ended up cutting it on the first Lonestar album. Back when we first started, the original stuff in the Texassee band, that was the name of the band, came from us. It came from Dean. It came from myself and actually a couple of songs from Michael Britt. I think he was first and foremost, he wanted to be a guitar player, but I think as we were all around one another, he became the songwriter that could write songs as well. It kind of came from the three of us.
Q - Your song "Amazed" was the first song since "Islands In The Stream" to top both the Country and Pop charts. That's quite an accomplishment. Did you run with that? I'm not sure most people realize that.
A - I've heard that. "Islands In The Stream" was a song that I loved. In fact, being from Lubbock, Texas, I used to sing "Islands In The Stream" in the West Texas Opry with a girl there in Lubbock before I made my big move to Nashville. You never know. It's just crazy to think that down the road that you are going to have a song as big or bigger than a song like that, but we sure didn't think that at the time. We just thought "Amazed" was a beautiful, beautiful love song that really kind of touched us. We felt if we felt that way about it, that hopefully our fans would feel the same way and they did and it's crazy that it went on to do what it did. It was voted one of the all-time Top 10 Love Songs. We'd be crazy if we said we knew it was going to do that, but we had no idea.
Q - You performed in Europe. How does Country music go over in Europe? Is it as popular as Rock?
A - It was because of "Amazed" that we even went to Europe. It being a Country hit kind of spawned other genres of music. Then it went on to be a Pop hit on alternative AC (Adult Contemporary). There were so many mixes made of "Amazed", a European mix. It open a lot of doors for us. We weren't playing huge stadiums or arenas, but it was our first time over there. That was the first trip over. When we went back last year (2012) with Reba, we were playing some pretty big venues. The first time over it seemed like the response was great. It seemed like the fans over there really appreciated American artists coming over. I think "Amazed" really helped us out getting a fan base over there. As far as Country being bigger than Rock, I don't know the answer to that question.
Q - Speaking of Rock, it seems that Country music is starting to resemble Rock music in a lot of ways. You used to hear about the same Country artists over a longer period of time. Now it seems like there's almost a flavor of the month. One month you will hear about Brooks & Dunn. One month you'll hear about Taylor Swift. The next month you'll hear about Jason Aldean. Are Country music fans as loyal as they used to be?
A - I think they are. To me, the way I see Country music is it's always evolving. I don't know how far back to go. You go back to Hank Williams and even beyond that. I'm going back that far. And then you come up through the Ernest Tubbs. It seems like Country music, as the years have gone by, has always involved and people have kind of experimented with the sound of it and created a different sound. It was kind of like that when we got into the business. Back when we started out, I think Lonestar's music was a little more traditional. I do think in that aspect, Country music has definitely changed in the past 20, 30, 40 years. I think it kind of goes in cycles. When we came in, we started out as more of a traditional sound, but then on the "Lonely Grill" album that had" Amazed" on it, we kind of changed our sound. We just wanted to be a little edgier. We felt we could reach more people that way. When we changed the sound just a little bit, we still had the steel guitar, we still had the fiddle, but the guitars were just a little edgier. There was an element of Rock in Country music. Through the '90s and 2000's, it was definitely edgy. Now, when I listened to the radio, there may be a few more traditional artist out there that have come back around. It's always changing.
Q - Richie, you have said, "No matter how much success we've had, it didn't change us as people." I've heard somebody else say that in the past and that was John Lennon. That seems impossible. When you go from having no money to having money and worldwide fame, it has to change you.
A - What's the best way to answer this question? The thing about the four of us is, in this band, is that we came to Nashville, we didn't have anything when we moved to Nashville. Over the years we got successful and yes, we started having money and we were able to take care of our families and put a roof over their head. I think it's different for a lot of different artists. It just depends on the success that you have. Would I put us in the category of the mega-superstar artists like Garth Brooks? I wouldn't. Not to say we didn't have success and it did change our lives a little bit. I really, honestly don't think it changed us as people. We were still the same four guys out there having fun and what we cared about was our fans. And we cared about taking care of our families. We had never been those divas out there that demanded certain things. We always felt like it was, and it's true to this day, that we are just four little boys from Texas that still love playing music and still love seeing our fans come to our shows and still love being with our families. The great thing about this band is there has never been an issue about drugs or alcohol to speak of. Yeah, we have an occasional drink. But the success there never had to be a filter out there for us to enjoy it. We do talk about that nowadays. We wish we would have taken the time to reflect and enjoy the really big moments. We were working so hard and so fast, we never took the time to really enjoy the success until 20 years later. But you know what? We are still the same good ole boys from Texas.