It was Saturday night at The Grand Ole Opry. October, 2001. McBride & The Ride frontman, Terry McBride, glanced at his guitar, a vintage Martin given to him by his father, Dale McBride.
""I got all choked up,"" Terry said. ""My dad was an artist and got invited to play the Opry. But the one time he was supposed to be on, he got bumped. It was a heartbreaker. My dad gave me this old guitar of his before he passed away in 1992. So I brought it with me.""
Terry and his bandmates, Ray Herndon and Billy Thomas hit the stage. After a 7-year hiatus, the band known for their three-part harmony and a slew of catchy, contemporary honky-tonk hits, was officially back in business.
""We never got a chance to play the Opry the first time around,"" Terry said. ""So creating a new beginning there was especially cool.""
In 1989, Terry McBride was a talented bass player and songwriter from Austin, Texas. Before moving to Nashville to pursue songwriting full-time, he had put in years on the road with his father’s band, then later with Delbert McClinton, Lee Roy Parnell and Rosie Flores. Then Tony Brown, producer and Executive VP (later, President) of MCA Records, heard some of Terry’s songs and was intrigued.
""Tony said, ‘I’ve got a concept’,"" Terry remembers. ""I’d like to put you with a couple of other guys. I was making $40 a night as a sideman in Austin, and I thought, Good God! A chance to work with Tony Brown. A record deal!""
The other guys were guitar player/singer, Ray Herndon, and drummer/singer Billy Thomas. Both players came bearing impressive musical credentials. Ray hailed from Scottsdale, Arizona, where he grew up singing with his father’s band at his family’s bar and restaurant, Handlebar-J. He later recorded and toured with Lyle Lovett’s Large Band.
Billy grew up playing in rock bands in and around his hometown of Ft. Myers, Florida. He later moved to Los Angeles where he toured with Rick Nelson, Mac Davis and The Hudson Brothers. In 1987 he moved to Nashville where he recorded and toured with Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris.
So the three players met and immediately bonded, personally and professionally. The new band, McBride & The Ride, recorded their first album, Burnin’ Up the Road. Then, they hit the road, eventually opening for The Judds and Highway 101, among others.
McBride & The Ride had their first big hit (Billboard Top 15) with, ""Can I Count on You."" In 1992 they were nominated for The Academy of Country Music Awards Best New Vocal Group or Duo and for the Country Music Association’s Vocal Group of the Year. Their next album, Sacred Ground, went gold and also produced their first #1 hit, also titled ""Sacred Ground"". Despite their success, (all told, McBride & the Ride scored four Top Five hits), after releasing their third album, Hurry Sundown, the bandmates decided to go their separate ways.
""We stopped on a high note,"" Ray says, ""and we parted as friends.""
Ray resumed touring with Lyle Lovett. He also played on records for artists including Lovett, Aaron Tippin and Marty Stuart. He pursued songwriting, scoring big when Kenny Chesney recorded his song, ""Me and You"".
Billy returned to his former gig, touring with Vince Gill and became an in-demand session player, recording with Emmylou Harris, Marty Stuart, Patty Loveless and Steve Wariner. Billy, who had success years earlier when Dottie West recorded his song, ""Ain’t Nothin’ Like a Woman"", also began pursuing songwriting in earnest. (Ricochet cut a song of Billy’s called “What A Woman Can Do” and David Ball cut a song he wrote with Terry, Ray and Gary Nicholson, ""Hangin’ In and Hangin’ On"").
Terry immediately began piling up hits for an impressive array of artists including 12 cuts for Brooks & Dunn, three of which were #1 tunes, ""I Am That Man,"" ""He’s Got You,"" and ""If You See Him/Her"" (with Reba McEntire). He also hit the charts with songs recorded by George Strait, Kenny Rogers, David Ball, Ricky Van Shelton, John Anderson and others.
It was September of 2000 when Herndon suggested a McBride & The Ride reunion for an anniversary party in Scottsdale at Handlebar-J. Both Terry and Billy agreed.
""We opened with 'No More Crying,' which was in the movie, '8 Seconds,' Ray says. ""It was a Top 20 hit for us right before we split. Playing that song, it was like we never quit. When we got together after seven years, we were like, man, this is a band! This is an entity that’s just strong.""
After that night, Ray says he was convinced McBride & The Ride should do more than just the occasional show. He thought they should reunite for real; ""This thing in my gut was telling me that this was the right time for this.""
Terry, Ray and Billy then went into the studio with old friend and producer, Matt Rollings (keith urban) and got busy recording new songs.
""I talked to the guys and said we could shop this around to major labels,"" Terry says. ""But we knew what that was about. We had a huge deal with MCA for 5 years. Tony Brown was great to us, but we thought we should do things differently this time around. Have a little more say and be more in control of the whole process.""
So, McBride & The Ride went straight to Dualtone, a new, independent label making a name for itself by employing a flexible, innovative approach.
""I could tell these guys were doing things differently, plus they were genuinely interested,"" Terry says. ""Just look at the cool artists they have on their roster. They’re not trying to be the biggest acts and there’s something to be said for that. It’s not for everybody. I don’t want to feel pressured to be bigger than The Beatles.""
The reunited McBride & The Ride brought a whole new perspective into the recording studio to make their new album, Amarillo Sky.
""We played our own instruments on all the tracks,"" Terry says. ""And we sing all of it. We’re a band. And unlike before, where I wrote the bulk of the songs, this time we made a conscious effort to get together amongst ourselves and write a few songs.""
Billy adds: ""When we got back together, Ray and I had been writing together an awful lot. I think Terry thought this would be even more of a band-like situation if we wrote together more. It would bring us even tighter as a unit. And it worked.""
The result is Amarillo Sky, a ten-song disc showcasing the three-part harmony and intelligent, vivid, picture-painting lyrics that first made fans and critics notice McBride & The Ride.
""We have a real identifiable sound,"" Billy says. ""We know now we’re dependent on each other to make this work. To not have Terry singing or me playing drums or Ray playing guitar doesn’t work the same way. Any part away from the equation and the strength is gone.""
""When we start singing and you hear those harmonies, that’s rewarding and satisfying,"" Terry says. ""I just looked around when we were recording, thinking about what great players and how intuitive these guys are. They’ve got great ideas. It comes with experience.""
Experience pays. Whether you’re recording a new album or standing on the stage of The Grand Ole Opry playing an acoustic set to announce your reunion.
Meanwhile, back at the Opry…
McBride & The Ride take their bows and walk offstage. A man grabs Terry by the elbow and exclaims, ""You guys are great! You know, you are still my wife’s favorite band!""
Someone get that woman a copy of Amarillo Sky.
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