Everybody knows Billy Ray Cyrus ’ smash hit, “Achy Breaky Heart.” The song sat atop the country singles chart 10 years ago this month. Astute country fans will also recall the harmonizing three-man band whose song crouched at No. 2 for two weeks: McBride & the Ride . The song? “Sacred Ground,” a ballad about getting married young, working hard for what you earn and the threat of adultery. The song propelled album sales, and McBride & the Ride scored a gold certification for their second album, also titled Sacred Ground.
Ten years later, in a very different musical landscape, McBride & the Ride have reunited, and it feels so good judging from the high-fives exchanged when Terry McBride walks into the room for an interview. The two other band members, Ray Herndon and Billy Thomas, have spent a few minutes before McBride’s arrival chatting about the good ol’ days — “Sacred Ground” and other hits like “Going Out of My Mind” and “Just One Night.” But when McBride comes in late following a songwriting appointment, all three are enthusiastic and eager to talk about their newest album, Amarillo Sky (Dualtone).
“Originally, we just talked about recording a record, if we could find the money to do it, and putting it out on the Internet ourselves,” Herndon says. “It’s already gone further than any of us thought, a year ago.”
Herndon’s family owns a nightclub in Phoenix, and Herndon arranged a McBride & the Ride reunion to celebrate the club’s 25th anniversary in October 2000. On stage, it felt like no time had passed, so the trio set up a show in Nashville in April 2001. Despite no advertising, they packed the Douglas Corner Café, a small songwriters’ haunt. Brooks & Dunn ’s Ronnie Dunn, a close friend of McBride’s, emceed the event.
“They’re amazingly tight as a group,” Dunn tells CMT.com. “I first heard them on the radio in the early ‘90s, shortly after their first single. I liked Terry’s singing style. It had a familiar Texas twang.”
Around the time of the Nashville gig, McBride bumped into keyboardist Matt Rollings, a first-class studio musician and keith urban ’s producer. Rollings offered to cut some sides on the band. The collaboration paid off, and Amarillo Sky was released in May.
“We have some believers, and it just takes a few to get a real hit. People can hear it, get the phones ringing and anything’s possible. That’s what we’re counting on,” says McBride.
Their first hit, 1991’s “Can I Count on You,” earned McBride & the Ride widespread exposure on TNN and CMT and paved the way for four Top 5 hits. In 1992, MCA Nashville released the album Sacred Ground, as well as multi-platinum albums from Vince Gill , Reba McEntire , Wynonna and George Strait ; Mark Chesnutt and Trisha Yearwood also sold platinum for the label that year. In the midst of country music’s boom years, Herndon and Thomas departed the group in 1993, and a reconfigured lineup, titled Terry McBride & the Ride, notched two moderate hits before McBride himself called it quits.
However, all three musicians have stayed active in the industry. Herndon co-wrote the Kenny Chesney hit “Me and You” and toured with Lyle Lovett. Thomas toured with Gill and logged studio time with Emmylou Harris , Marty Stuart , Patty Loveless and Steve Wariner . McBride co-wrote 12 songs for Brooks & Dunn including “I Am That Man,” “He’s Got You” and “If You See Him/If You See Her.”
“We were both born and raised in some of the same parts of Texas,” Dunn says about McBride. “Both of our fathers were aspiring singer-songwriters. Both Terry and I started out playing bass guitar as young teenagers. In that part of the country, and in those days, in order to survive, you had to be well-versed in both Bob Wills and ZZ Top, so a lot of our musical influences are the same.
“That’s why I feel comfortable writing with him,” Dunn continues. “It’s not like either of us have to stretch too far to get where we want to go with a song. I can mention someplace like Amarillo in a song, and he knows where it is, or I can start a musical riff, and he instinctively knows where I’m going with it.”
The first single from Amarillo Sky, a remake of The Who’s “Squeezebox,” with its quirky music and novelty lyrics, faced an uphill battle at country radio and didn’t fare well. But listen to the rest of the album and it’s like revisiting country radio in 1992 -– wonderfully melodic, harmony-driven and lyrically smart.
“Obviously, as much as you try to progress, you still have the same elements there,” says Thomas, discussing the band’s indelible signature sound.
Now, the challenge lies in bringing Amarillo Sky to an audience that hasn’t heard from McBride & the Ride since 1994 when they had a single released from the 8 Seconds soundtrack, “No More Cryin’.” The trio appeared this year at Fan Fair. They hope to tour this summer and, pending success of a single from the album, would also like to make a video.
“We’re still in good shape, we still look decent, so we can get on there,” McBride says with a laugh.