If you venture back into the annals of country music history, the late 1980s might have very well been the most diverse period in the history of the genre. During that span, it was common to hear George Jones, K.T. Oslin, Ronnie Milsap, Steve Earle, and Randy Travis all on the radio at any given time. Traditional and contemporary music both were making their marks on the Nashville scene. One of the acts that was mining the contemporary side of that sound was Restless Heart. Lead singer Larry Stewart remembers it being a great era for the format. “I think it was a magical time in country music. It was so diverse. You heard so much. You could hear us, then you’d hear Ricky Skaggs, Kenny Rogers, Hank Williams, Jr….so many styles. No one was telling anybody what to play. It was great songs and great music.”
Last year, the group marked a quarter-century since first hitting the chart with the power ballad “I Want Everyone To Cry.” Though it was 1984, Stewart remembers it just like it was yesterday. “As silly as it sounds,” he says, “it feels like a few years ago. It’s so clear. I have so many memories of the beginning days of going in the studio and recording these songs. I can’t believe 26 years have gone by.”
The group owes their success, as well as their beginnings, to Tim DuBois. Though he has made an undeniable impact on the business through his successful stints at Arista and Universal South, in addition to his current post at the Nashville ASCAP office, his first claim to fame in Music City was as a tunesmith. (DuBois also co-penned Alabama’s hit “Love In The First Degree.”)
“Tim DuBois is one of the smartest, most talented people that I have ever known,” says Stewart. “When we met, he was a songwriter. He had hit with ‘Love In The First Degree’ by Alabama. He was also a part-time accounting professor at Vanderbilt University. His dream was to bring a band—four or five guys who played and sang—to Nashville. There really hadn’t been a lot of bands at that time. You had groups like the Oak Ridge Boys or the Statler Brothers, who were quartets. At that time, Alabama took off. That opened the door for his dream even more.”
Stewart tells LimeWire Music Blog that the members of the band were familiar with each other, sort of. “We guys in Restless Heart knew each other in pairs. Two guys over there knew these other two guys. I was the only one who didn’t have Oklahoma ties, but I met some of the guys around town. Tim had some songs that no one else would cut, so in April 1984, we went in when the studio rates were cheaper, and used his savings from ‘Love In The First Degree,’ and went in and cut eight or nine songs.”
Needless to say, it was quite a profitable weekend at the office, as their first three top ten records all came from the session. “I Want Everyone To Cry’ was one of those songs. ‘Heartbreak Kid’ was one. A song called ‘Restless Heart,’ which was absolutely where we got our name, was among them, as well. He’s just a great writer, and he had the resources—and the guts—to put five guys in a studio together, and make a record. It was a whirlwind after that.”
After the success of their 1985 self-titled album, they started to work on the follow-up, Wheels. The first single, “That Rock Won’t Roll,” went where no Restless Heart record had travelled before: # 1. Sometimes, artists will say they had a feeling about a record. Not on this one, admits Stewart.
“No, we never had a feeling about it. Honestly, we never had a feeling about anything. All we were doing was just making music. We realized that we were a little different, a little contemporary for country music. If you remember back then, this guy named Randy Travis exploded on the scene, which really brought a traditional country sound. We were travelling down the road, and we did a lot of the same shows with him. He was in his bread truck, and we were in an old funky bus following each other. He put out some great songs, and started this sound that country radio latched onto, which was kind of a traditional country sound. Then there’s this long-haired contemporary country-pop band called Restless Heart,” though the music was different, the group saw their audience grow and grow.
“Guess what? Radio, for some reason, accepted our music, and honestly, we weren’t expecting anything. We were so surprised, and almost shocked, and besides ourselves that we were on the radio. We really didn’t know what to do because we were different and we knew it. We weren’t playing by the rules. We were just doing our own thing—all five of us singing and playing on the record. That’s the way the harmony comes through—all of us were singing. It was just a different sound, and off we ran….We were just taking things a day at a time, a single at a time, and next thing we knew, we had five number ones in a row….We were blown away.”
The records the group made were classic, no doubt. But, it didn’t hurt to have the all-pro team at RCA Nashville behind them, led by Joe Galante. LimeWire Music Blog asked Stewart his thoughts on what made Galante (who recently retired from the label after nearly 40 years) and his team so special.
“Joe Galante was one of those guys who stepped out on a limb, and went against the grain a little bit,” he says. “I would put him, and a man who was his right hand man, Randy Goodman, who ran Lyric Street, as two of the best in the business. Basically, what I think was that they dictated to the staff what they were going to do, and they were going to be successful. I think that was a big part of it—don’t ask questions, do what we say, and you’ll be successful. It was a great run. RCA was so good to us, and that staff was so good to us, as we got on a roll. The writers gave us some of their best songs. The label stepped out, and spent a lot of money on us, as they did with Alabama and everyone else. Joe Galante was always a marketing guru. That’s where he came from in the RCA ranks. He just had a great feel for taking the music and taking the artists all the way across the country.”
Galante and his team were also responsible for helping to establish Restless Heart outside of the format, as well. In 1987, the group enjoyed crossover hits with “I’ll Still Be Loving You” and “New York (Hold Her Tight).” The former was one of the group’s biggest records ever, but the latter showcased their rich harmonies possibly better than any record the group cut. “I think that may be one of the greatest songs, if not the greatest song we ever recorded,” he says proudly. “It was co-written by three guys, one of those being Van Stephenson of Blackhawk. We heard the song, and it was so moving. Part of that was the treatment of Greg Jennings, our guitar player, and the way he played it—putting a string quartet in the studio. Actually, it was done so different. We wrote the charts with the string players as it was going down. I don’t know that anybody has ever done it that way. To this day, we get so many requests for this song. Most country audiences have never heard it, because it was an AC hit. But, it’s probably my favorite song we’ve ever recorded.”
1988 would see another successful year for the group, thanks to the huge success of “The Bluest Eyes In Texas.” Stewart points to that record as being a high-water mark for the group. “If you really wanted to pinpoint a song that defined Restless Heart, that’s the one—musically, the style, and the harmonies. At the time, it was so different for country radio. It was contemporary, but it had an earthiness too, with the lyrics. When we recorded it, that was one where we thought we had something.”
The song also helped them to build an audience in the Lone Star state, as Stewart recalls. “Honestly, until we released that song, we could not get arrested in Texas. They did not like us. When we released the song, it exploded down there as well. All of a sudden, we were working Texas about 50% of the year. We became an arena act in Texas first there, oddly enough. Still to this day, as the songs have sunk in, I think that’s the song that people would point at as saying ‘That’s vintage Restless Heart.”
By the dawning of the 1990s, thing were changing for the group. They were still a force at radio, thanks to hits like “Fast Movin’ Train” and “Dancy’s Dream,” but there were other forces at play behind the scenes.
“Well, that was just being a band,” he says, speaking of what led to his leaving the band at the end of 1991. “Like most bands, it’s tough. When you’re together all the time, and trying to do business and make decisions professionally, you also get involved with everybody’s personal issues, and what’s going on in everybody’s life. Greg Jennings and I had decided we were going to leave. Well, he changed his mind, and I stuck to my guns. I had to get away from that environment because it was pretty ugly.”
Though he had left the group, Stewart ended up playing a prominent role in the band releasing the song that became their biggest post-Stewart record. “When She Cries,’ was, I guess, what you would call a great story. I had that song on hold for my first solo record, Down The Road. We were in an A&R meeting, listening to all the songs that we were going to cut with my producers, managers, and other A&R people. Josh Leo, who was the producer on the next two Restless Heart records were there too. We were gathering the list of songs to cut, and I had this song. I loved it. I thought that when I played it for everybody, they’d all go nuts.” It didn’t turn out that way.
“When I played it, everyone liked it, but one person spoke up and said that ‘I don’t think you should cut it. I think it would confuse the issue. It just doesn’t have the same vibe as the rest of your album.’ I was thinking ‘You’re kidding me, it was my favorite song.’ So, we stuck to that. When I got home, I had a message from Josh. He said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to do that song, because if not, I would like to cut it on Restless Heart.”
That put Larry Stewart in a unique position. Here was the song that he felt so strongly about, a song that could have quite possibly been his first solo single, and the producer of the band he had just left was asking for the song. Though some might not have, Stewart took the high road.
“So, I called him back and said ‘I love ‘When She Cries,’ but if I’m not going to cut it, I would love for them to do it. It was almost an intervention thing, a God thing, because when they got that song, it made a big splash. They cut a great song on it. John Dittrich sang it great, and it was a big hit. Call me stupid or whatever, but it all worked out for everybody.”
However, the band reunited in 1998 for a Greatest Hits project, as well as 2004’s Still Restless, and they’ve been together ever since. “We did about 76 shows last year, and are shooting for that many in 2010. The five of us have never had more fun. I know when people hear that, they go ‘yeah, yeah,’ but it’s the truth. We know each other. We understand how this thing works now. The toughest times of our business is behind us, and we’re back to doing what we love to do. That’s the reason we got into the business in the first place because we love music. We love playing in bands, singing and playing. That’s what we get to do now. After twenty-six years, we’re still out there rocking, and we feel like we sound better than ever.
The band has put the baggage of the past behind them, and Stewart says they are the better for it. “We know each other, we’re rested, and we get it. Knowing how tough it is to be in a band and keep things going, we’re just blessed. We’re getting started on a summer tour, and trying to finish a new album. We’ve got a lot of things we’re planning on doing. We’re not just sitting around waiting to play ‘Bluest Eyes In Texas’ again, we’re looking forward to new music and new projects for the fans, who have been awesome to us over the years, and continue to be. We look forward to giving that to them.”
The band kicks off their concert tour on July 3rd in Albertville, Alabama, and has dates on the calendar through December. For more on their schedule, log on to www.restlessheartband.com.
Fuente: LimeWire Music Blog