Music Q&A: Collin Raye
Since releasing his debut album in 1991, country musician Collin Raye, originally from Texarkana, Texas, has sold millions of records, five of which went platinum. He has recorded numerous songs that became Billboard hits and even nabbed an Academy of Country Music Award.
Now, after a 22-year — and counting — career that has included such hits as “Love, Me,” “One Boy, One Girl” and “In This Life,” Raye, 52, makes his way to Grand Junction for a 7 p.m. show July 17 on the Celebration Stage at the Mesa County Fair.
The show is free with gate admission.
In advance of his performance, the longtime country singer called to talk about his memories of county fairs, his career and his new album, scheduled for release later this year or in early 2014.
Melinda Mawdsley: I’m sorry. I have to ask about your hometown, Texarkana. I’ve heard stories about it, but I’ve never actually met anyone from there.
Collin Raye: I was actually born in a small town north of that, (but) I graduated (high) school there. Its claim to fame is that it’s a big small town, like 60-70,000. It sits on the state line of two states. There’s a great rivalry. It’s almost ridiculous, looking back. It was just silly. I grew up on the Texas side. I went to Texas High. The downside for Texarkana for me was then, and I’m not sure it’s changed, the arts were never really supported there, and here I was trying to be a musician. If we wanted to go to concerts we had to go to Shreveport (La.) or Dallas. They never supported their own, either. All I ever heard was no one from here would make it in the music business. Elvis was from Tupelo, Miss., so I never bought into that. That’s why I couldn’t wait to get out. My brother and I, as soon as I graduated high school, we took off. It was a good education. It taught me how to be good at what I did, but it also taught me humility out of the gate.
Mawdsley: You released your first album in 1991. What was country music like then?
Raye: It was exciting. Clint Black had come out with a big album about two years before that. I was living in Reno, Nev., at the time. He played an arena, and sold out the arena. About six months after that, Garth Brooks (sold out the same arena), and (country music) exploded. (Brooks) became this bigger-than-life star. He broke down walls. I came in on the coattails of that through a friend of a friend who knew a producer in L.A. who came up to hear me and got me in a studio to cut demos. I had a record deal in, like, two weeks. I had a lesson in that old adage: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. It’s true today. I came in when country music was really starting to explode. I think the time when I came in was perfect. I give God credit for this. It made labels do something Nashville records don’t always do and that’s think creativity. Country music became this nice, eclectic, beautiful thing for a while. I wanted to do songs that were meaningful, possibly even social. For the most part, I was always trying to do things never done before.
Mawdsley: It must have worked. You’ve had more than a dozen top hits. Did you know when a song would be a hit before it was even released?
Raye: I didn’t at first, but I kind of figured it out. I’m a fan. I love good music. It’s always about the song, to me. I knew what I liked, but I wasn’t sure how to translate that to being a hit on radio until a couple years in. By my third album, I knew a hit from a non-hit.
Mawdsley: Do you go back and listen to your original songs, particularly the ones that hit it big, and do you like them?
Raye: No, to the first part of the question. I always move forward. Once you spend so much time with a record, you are done. Those hits off that record you play forever. You get your fill. When I hear them on the radio, I’m like, ‘Oh, I could do that so much better.’ I think I sing so much better now than I sang in the old days.
The second question, ‘Do I like my old stuff?’ Yes. I’m real proud of it. The songs I’m most proud of, and I think this is standard, are the album cuts. If someone says what’s your favorite song, I’m probably going to say one people never heard of. My show is primarily the hits, but I love those moments when I can slip in ‘The Time Machine.’ I have cool fans, too, because they are album buyers and hold up signs to play songs that may have meant more to me personally. I still hear my old songs on the radio. They still get played on a regular basis, and I’m very grateful for that.
Mawdsley: You’re performing at the Mesa County Fair. Do you have fond memories of county fairs growing up?
Raye: Oh yeah. The one in Texarkana was called the Four States Fair. It’s still there. It’s essentially a big county fair. Of course, when you are a young teenager — and I was a little on the wild side, I was probably not the one your parents would want you to date — you definitely would look at it as a place to meet. When I was a little kid, I loved going to the fair for the rides and animals. My main memory was meeting the girl I was “working on” at the fair.
I think county fairs are a real slice of Americana. So many things have changed — some for the better and some for the worse — but I’m more apt to think what was around when I was a kid is gone, and fairs are a big part of that.
Mawdsley: What is your schedule like now?
Raye: When I’m home, I try to just be home. Once in a while I’ll do a media day, like now. I play with my granddaughter and take care of her. Right now, my daughter and granddaughter live with me. It’s such a blessing. When I’m working in the studio that changes because I’m in the studio for seven or eight hours a day. I had my run, and I’m not that concerned with fighting my way back onto country radio. I have plenty of hits to play. The album I just did (“The Songs of Glen Campbell” is scheduled for release late 2013 or early 2014) was a tribute to Glen Campbell. I want to pay tribute to the people who influence me and sing music I like.
Mawdsley: Who is that? As a musician, what music are you listening to?
Raye: This is going to sound like a dull answer, but I listen to old music. That’s my heart. I have to be honest with you, I don’t listen to mainstream country music at all. So much of it to me is product. They don’t make art. They are all rednecks and proud to be redneck. If that’s what folks like, more power to them, but I don’t like it. I listen to classic country. I love classic rock. I listen to artists that make me feel good. “Rocket Man” by Elton John. It takes me back. I think that’s one of the best records ever. I’ve learned to appreciate classical music. It’s actually good for you. It triggers your brain to be creative. But if it’s a CD I’m sticking in the car, it’s usually something old: Glen Campbell; the Eagles, they may have affected me more than any act ever; the Beach Boys when I want to feel good. When it comes to country, I put in Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard. Those acts, and others, inspired me to do this. Sometimes, when I think about why I’m still doing this, I listen to those records and it reminds me why I got into this crazy business.
Mawdsley: Last question. Tell me a little bit about “The Songs of Glen Campbell” project.
Raye: It’s something I always wanted to do. When Glen and I got to play together and co-hosted a Christmas special for TNN, I was blown away that I was friends with Glen Campbell. The original “True Grit” he was in? I’ve probably seen that, like, 400 times. To me, Glen is not a songwriter, he’s a singer and guitar player but he chose such great songs. They’re very poetic, lyrically strong songs. I’m a lyric guy, so he has just been my favorite. I have my favorite rock and classic pop, but Glen Campbell is probably my favorite. He was also country. I wanted my music to be considered in the same vein as his was. Because our voices are similar and he used to sing really high, I thought I was the perfect guy to do this tribute to him, and I don’t know anyone who will put any more love into it than I did. If you’re a Glen Campbell fan, you’ll love it. If you don’t know much about him, this will expose you to this music. This is music that should never stop being played.