Photo courtesy of Lonestar
What a thrill it was to kick off CRS 2020 by interviewing Lonestar. For over 20 years, Lonestar has been keeping country music fans entertained and they’re still going strong. Annette Gibbons and I met with three of the four members of the band, Michael Britt (lead guitar, background vocals), Dean Sams (keyboards, acoustic guitar, background vocals) and Keech Rainwater (drums). Richie McDonald (lead vocals, piano) was unavailable that day. It was an upbeat and informative interview and I’m happy to share it with all of you now.
*Please note that there were three different band members speaking, but on audio playback it’s often difficult to detect exactly whose voice it is at any given time. Due to that, all responses from the band will be labeled as “Lonestar”, unless otherwise indicated by the band member’s name in parenthesis. In those cases, there was no question who was speaking.
Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography/Think Country
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): Good morning!
Lonestar: Good morning!
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): So, we’re Think Country and we’re mainly based in the UK, but we have a Nashville outlet as well.
Lonestar: We love the UK.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): When was the last time you were in the UK?
Lonestar: It was on the Reba tour and that was probably a good long while ago, 2012 it was.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): When are you coming back?
Lonestar: I would love to come back. I’ve got things to do over there, I’m just waiting for shows.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): Country music’s a big thing in the UK.
Lonestar: Oh, I know. It was a big thing… well, I remember years ago when we put out our Lonely Grill CD, of course our first single was “Amazed”, and we were part of a show that I’m sure you know of called Top of the Pops.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): Top of the Pops! (Laughing)
Lonestar: We were on that show and I remember very vividly, you know, they have three stages and they have the crowd there, right? Everybody else there was more pop and we were the country act, and not only were we the country act, but we performed “Amazed” which is a ballad, and we did the song acoustically, so it was dumbed down even more, and it was so funny…
Lonestar: Dean does a great impression of them trying to dance. They’re used to dancin’ to the (I don’t know that I could ever find the right spelling for the sound effect he made right here, but I’ll try) “ooch-ooch-ooch” .
Think Country (Patti McClintic): Did they do that to “Amazed”?
Lonestar: Well, they tried. All these young kids, and I know you can’t see me on this interview, but I’m gonna do it for y’all (and he did and I wish we’d taken video). So, we’re watchin’ them dancin’ to everybody and all this, and then we’re goin’ “da da da”, and you see ’em sittin’ there waitin’, like…
Lonestar: Like, they’re waitin’ for the beat. They’re movin’ like, real slow, dancing really slow.
(There was a lot of laughter and chatter going on right here)
Lonestar: Then afterwards them comin’ up and sayin’, “That was absolutely brilliant!” (In what I would consider a pretty decent fake British accent)
Think Country (Patti McClintic): If they say, “brilliant” in the UK, you know that’s really good.
Lonestar: Right, that’s good.
Video courtesy of greensman49 and YouTube
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): You know, country music used to be considered a guilty pleasure in the UK. People would say to me, “I don’t know any country,” and I would say, “Do you know ‘Amazed’?” Then they’d say, “Oh, my God, I love ‘Amazed’!” “Well, that’s country music.” “No, it’s not.”
(Big laughs from the band)
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): They expected it all to be “Yeehaw!” So, I think for most people in the UK, their first introduction to, kind of modern country music, would have been you guys.
Lonestar: I think so. Yeah, so we kind of took them to the dark side about ’99.
(More laughter all around, these guys were a lot of fun)
Think Country (Patti McClintic): You guys rock then.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): (Laughing) The dark side with “Amazed”.
Think Country (Patti McClintic): You were pioneers.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): So, what’s going on with you guys at the moment?
(This next portion of the interview was centered around a new single, “Love Lives On” and an album with the same title that will be released soon. There was an event at The Listening Room in Nashville on February 17th which introduced the media to the project. I had written a piece about the event and the project and I’m linking it here so parts of our conversation are easier to understand.)
Image courtesy of Music City Media
Lonestar: Our biggest news is we have a new song on the TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) album.
Think Country (Patti McClintic): We were at that event.
Lonestar: You were there?
Think Country (Patti McClintic): We were.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): Oh, my God, I just sat there, and I don’t cry easily…
Lonestar: I cried. I don’t cry easily either.
Think Country (Patti McClintic): Neither do I and I cried too.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): That K-9 song.
Video courtesy of Think Country and YouTube
Lonestar: That one and Joshua 1:9, oh, God.
Video courtesy of Think Country and You Tube
Think Country (Patti McClintic): I wrote a piece on that event and I had to make it brief, and I was thinking, “My God, how do you make this brief?” So, I picked “Love Lives On”, “K-9 Brother” and “Joshua 1:9” to focus on…
Lonestar (Dean Sams): You didn’t pick my song?! What? That’s alright…
Think Country (Patti McClintic): I picked “Love Lives On”, that’s still kind of your song, right? Lonestar recorded it. They were all so good, it was hard to pick. (Trying to plead my case)
Lonestar (Dean Sams): No, really, they were all good.
Lonestar: And that last one, “You Carry Me Too”, that was, wow.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): How did you get involved in all of this?
Lonestar: It started with Richie (McDonald), he was asked to go to their gala with Frank Myers. Frank Myers, he and Jimmy Nichols were really the ones who facilitated the whole album that happened. Then they were at the gala, and Bonnie (Carroll), who is the Founder of TAPS, she was doing a speech and the last thing she said was that she had “Love Lives On” put on her husband’s tombstone. When she said that, Richie looked over at Frank and that was kind of a song idea. They literally walked outside, went into the men’s restroom and started working on that song right then. So, they were part of it, and they came up with the idea to connect families with songwriters and tell each family’s story.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): What an ingenious idea.
Lonestar: It really is.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): You know, country music is always about the story, but when it’s that story coming from those survivors, wow, it’s powerful.
Video courtesy of Think Country and YouTube
Lonestar (Dean Sams): And they’re true. There are a lot of real stories in country music, but a lot of times it can just be generated, created, but it was awesome. Then Frank Myers reached out to me and asked if I would write with one of the families and I was really honored to do so.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): Which family did you write with?
Lonestar (Dean Sams): The Banholzer family. Allie is his (Colonel David Banholzer, USAF) wife, and her two daughters are just awesome. It was me, Pam Tillis and Rob Crosby.
Think Country (Patti McClintic): That song was absolutely stunning.
Lonestar (Dean Sams): Now she’s comin’ back and sayin’ the song was good. (Laughing)
Think Country (Patti McClintic): Like I said, I would have included it, but she told me to keep it brief. (Jokingly pointing at Annette)
Lonestar (Dean Sams): I get it…
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): Yada, yada, yada…
(More loud laughter)
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): Was it really emotional?
Lonestar (Dean Sams): It was. Literally, the first 45 minutes to an hour we sat there just listening to them tell stories. It was kind of heartbreaking in a sense also, because Kate, one of the daughters, she got really emotional and she was saying because it had been a few years since her dad passed she was getting kind of bullied at school. People were saying, “Gosh, it’s been a few years, why are you so upset about it?”
Think Country (Patti McClintic): Oh, my goodness…
Lonestar (Dean Sams): She was crying, then I started crying and I got up and said, “Can I hug you?” and I walked across the room and hugged her and I just let her know, you know what? Emotions like that are not to be hidden. It’s okay to feel, and that just says you’re human. I said, “You cry all you want to,” because that’s a loss, and you should feel like that. I told her you can just be the bigger person and pray that one day they don’t have to live through what you have to live through.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): As much as this is an American project, people all over the world can identify with it. We have military all over the world, you know.
Lonestar (Dean Sams): Of course.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): So, as much as this is an American project, I think this will be worldwide and people should take the opportunity to listen to those songs and read about the families.
Lonestar (Dean Sams): I think that’s the greatest part. I mean, I’m so glad we got to write a great song. The one I wrote with Pam and Rob and the Banholzer family is called “New Set of Wings”. The biggest thing I got out of it, outside of hopefully we sell tons and tons of records and lots of money gets raised for TAPS, but the biggest thing I got out of it was, I kind of have an extended family through them. I mean, we talk all the time via text or they come to a show. They got to hang out with us.
Think Country (Patti McClintic): Where are they from?
Lonestar (Dean Sams): They live close to Washington, DC.
Think Country (Patti McClintic): Okay.
Lonestar (Dean Sams): So, it’s just been great. They’re kind of an extended family and you know, I tell the girls if they ever have any problems with school or whatever, they can always call me. I always tell ’em if any boys give ’em a hard time I’ll come up there with “Guido” and we’ll take care of ’em.
Think Country (Patti McClintic): That is awesome.
Lonestar (Dean Sams): I’m just kind of a surrogate daddy.
Lonestar: Uncle Dean.
Lonestar (Dean Sams): Surrogate Uncle Dean. I like that.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): When the album comes out is there going to be some kind of opportunity to perform these songs live and be a part of it?
Lonestar: In DC.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): Is that some sort of a gala or something like that? (Annette then abandoned her naturally lovely British accent in an attempt to say “gala” in an American one, which provoked laughter)
Lonestar: March 18th, I think. Yeah, March 18th in Washington, DC.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): Then what about just Lonestar? Do you have shows coming up?
Lonestar: We’re leaving tonight. We have shows in Oklahoma and Texas this weekend, and then we’re off for a couple weeks. We’ve got a busy tour schedule coming up this summer and stuff. This is usually our slowest time of year but we’ve actually been pretty busy lately.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): What year did you guys first get together?
Lonestar: I put this little band together in 1992 if you can believe it, when we were all eight and nine-years old.
Lonestar: Yeah, right.
Lonestar: Yeah, eight and nine.
(Lots of laughter)
Think Country (Patti McClintic): I think I was in preschool then…
Lonestar: So was I.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): You’re still touring and you look like you’re having a good time. Did you ever think you would still be doing this all these years later?
Lonestar: Of course! We knew we’d still be around 27 or 28 years later. (Laughing)
Lonestar: Really, we were just trying to make a living at playing music, whether it was at bars or whatever.
Lonestar: We were trying not to get real jobs. That’s the real answer.
Lonestar: Everybody dreams about making a record, and at that time we were just thinking we didn’t want to work at Opryland or McDonald’s or whatever, so let’s try and play some music.
Lonestar (Dean Sams): The reality of it is, had this band not happened, and I’m not trying to put us down Keech (drummer), so don’t take this the wrong way, but out of the four of us, Richie, Keech, Michael and myself, Michael would have fared okay because he was actually gonna be a pharmacist. So, he did the pharmacy thing and he’s actually really smart. Not that we’re all not incredibly intelligent, but he’s the intelligent guy of the band. You know, Keech probably would have been doin’ boats, I’d have been sackin’ groceries at Piggly Wiggly and Richie would have been mixing pigs feet.
(Lots of laughter from everyone)
Photo courtesy of Lonestar
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): I could talk to you guys forever.
Think Country (Patti McClintic): Me too.
Think Country (Annette Gibbons): Unfortunately, everybody wants to be with you and we got you first, so thank you so much.
(Dean Sams got right up into the microphone on the table and spoke into it next)
Lonestar (Dean Sams): Everybody buy the record Love Lives On and help out TAPS. It’s an amazing organization.
Lonestar: Speak their language.
(Now in a fake British accent, Dean gave it another try)
Lonestar (Dean Sams): Everybody buy Love Lives On…
With that we had them sign our Think Country banner and take a photo. Oh, and just in case it becomes a collector’s item someday (it is quite cool), an interesting selling point at auction should be that the members of Lonestar were the first to sign the CRS 2020 banner. I’m pretty sure that bit of information would increase the value exponentially. I have to say, it was a fantastic interview and it was great fun. On a serious note though, definitely do what Dean Sams said and get both the “Love Lives On” single which releases on March 20th, and the album, set to release Memorial Day weekend. The most moving, beautiful songs you’ll ever hear are on that record and to say proceeds are going to a worthy cause is a gross understatement. If you haven’t yet read the article linked in this interview, please do that.
Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography/Think Country
If Lonestar comes through your town, go see them! Let’s face it, any band that can form when the members are eight and nine-years old and still be together must be doing something right.
Lonestar Website: https://www.lonestarnow.com/
*Featured image courtesy of 90 East Photography/Think Country