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Article & Photographs by Raeanne Rubenstein

For a band once called “Texassee”, Lonestar has had an incredible career, beginning with its debut self-titled album, which produced the band’s first top ten hit, “Tequila Talking” in 1995. This band has used soaring, passionate vocals to launch such huge hits as "Amazed," "My Front Porch Looking In" (the most-played country song of 2003) and "I'm Already There," a special favorite of the military and their families and BMI/ASCAP Song Of The Year for 2002. Throughout its career, Lonestar has scored 17 hit singles on the Billboard chart, including ten #1 hits, and has sold more than 10 million records.

The lyrical emphasis comes from the experience of America's diverse human fabric, with which Lonestar's also-diverse membership – consisting of lead singer and principal songwriter Richie McDonald, guitarist Michael Britt, keyboardist and group founder Dean Sams and drummer Keech Rainwater – intensely identifies. Texans all, the four come from humble backgrounds. They may now ride tour buses 200 days a year, but they still remember getting to their first shows in a Jeep pulling a U-Haul trailer.

They say, in fact, that in many ways their lives continue to parallel those of their fans. When in town, Sams takes his daughter to school every morning, Britt gets needled by buddies for his tireless yard work, McDonald spends a lot of time on his tractor and outings with his family to the local Wal-Mart, and Rainwater keeps busy with a garage full of motorized toys.

Still, in spite of all this success, rumors began to circulate that things with the band might not be as good as they seemed. After a decade of successful togetherness, something was brewing. And then, lo and behold, Richie McDonald, the bands lead singer and primary songwriter announced that he was going to leave the band to pursue a solo career. Boom!

Dean Sams explains, “Over the past however many years, some of ya’ll in the media have noticed that there’s kind of been this divide in the band. We kind of became four individuals instead of a strong unit. And then this whole thing with Richie came about; he let us know he was going solo. And we had to figure out what Plan B was, because Michael, Keech and myself knew we weren’t ready to stop playing.”
Still, obviously, the band couldn’t continue without a new lead singer. But who could replace Richie McDonald? At first, the band thought they would have to do a broad search, “we thought we had to listen to hundreds”.

Sams had an idea, though. Previously, at a small club in Atlanta, he had heard a young guy named Cody Collins perform. “And I was just blown away. Immediately, I was like, ‘Wow, what a singer’. I started talking to him, really just developing a friendship at first. I talked to him about producing a project on him. We kind of kicked around the idea several times. I got busy, and then he got busy,” and so nothing came of it. Until Richie announced his departure.

Sams continued, “Cody was the first one I called just to see if he’d be remotely interested before I even told the guys about him. And he was; he said, ‘Absolutely.’ I pulled up Cody’s Myspace page and played his stuff for the guys. And they were just blown away. We kind of kept looking for other guys, but Michael kept saying, ‘But yeah, that guy, Cody, let’s listen to him some more.’”

“We kept thinking, it can’t be that easy, just to listen to three or four guys and then one guy. But we kept going back and listening to Cody, thinking, how in the heck are we going to find anybody that sounds better than him, with a good look and a good attitude, and everything. So we just had a conversation with him, and he said, ‘Yeah, sure.’”

“He actually came to town and auditioned for us, and it was the only true audition we had with anybody. We had our management there and booking agent. And we talked to them afterwards, and they said, ‘You can keep looking, but I don’t think you’re going to find anybody that is any better with what ya’ll do.’ So we quit looking and started recording the next month.”

Also hailing from the lonestar state, Collins has long dreamed of having a career in music. “Music has always been my path, regardless,” Collins explains. “And before I met these guys, a solo career was my option, and that’s what I was taking until this came along. And of course, (he laughs) I’d much rather be doing this.”

Pam Collins, Cody’s mother, described what happened when he called to tell her the news. “He told me to keep it a secret!” she told Dish. “I did,” she laughed. “I dropped the phone and I screamed it to anybody that was in the house. ‘He’s finally out of the bar!’ He’s finally with a great group, a family group, I was glad.”

Mrs. Collins says she knew her son was going to make it. “He has sung since he was 3 years old in the back seat of the car, so you know, it was going to happen.”

When asked which Lonestar song he’s most excited about performing, Collins replied,
“Well, actually, it’s pretty cool because three of my favorite songs are actually the three that we are going to be doing tonight (at a showcase at a Nashville club). ‘Amazed’ – I sang it at karaoke forever before I started singing at the club. I’ve sung ‘What About Now’ for as long as…”

Keech Rainwater suddenly interrupts, “Okay, here’s the funny part. He told us, he informed us a while back that ‘Yeah, when I was 12 years old, ‘No News’ was like my favorite song’.” Sams interjects, “Keech, you had to bring that up. We weren’t going to talk about that.” Collins pipes up, “I wasn’t that young, I wasn’t that young.”

Only 22 years old, Collins is bringing a lot more than his voice into the band. Sams explains, “His voice, first of all has just got more of an edge to it – youthful, very exciting. And it’s just got that edge that I think is the direction we’ve wanted to be [going in] for a long time. And together, it just works. I mean, it’s nothing we’ve forced; we sit around and play songs. And the ones that worked together, we knew it instantly. We looked at each other and our eyes got big and we grinned big, and we went, ‘That’s it! That’s the one!’ So when it comes that easy, it’s got to be right.”

Lonestar, with singer Cody Collins, is recording its first album together – a holiday CD entitled “My Christmas List” that will be released exclusively by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store®. Michael Britt nailed it when he said, “We sat in my little studio, facing each other and came up with arrangements. Nobody was the kingpin, nobody was better than anybody; it was just a band coming together to make a great record. And we figured out something very important, I think, in making this Christmas record: We’re a pretty good band!”

(Richie McDonald is currently on tour with Lonestar until early November, so catch him with the band while you can! “My Christmas List” will also be released in early November, so watch for it!)







 / Issue 83 - September 2149
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