Bryan White is releasing his first greatest hits package at the ripe old age of 26, but he admits it wasn’t really his idea.
“We had a big meeting and everybody said, ’Hey, let’s do this,'” White says in a recent interview at the Asylum Records offices on Music Row. “It’s not usually an artist who comes up with that idea. They usually think, ’Does that mean we’re not going to get to do anymore records?’ But once the idea sort of got going in my head, I thought maybe this is a great thing to do because it’ll be a great collection for the fans out there. It’ll also be sort of closing a chapter, I guess.”
The first chapter of White’s career has been exciting, complete with the ’high ups’ and ’low downs’ that come with the music business. He broke out of the gate in 1995 with “Someone Else’s Star,” a ballad that went to No. 1 on the Billboard country singles chart. His self-titled debut album and its follow-up, 1996’s Between Now and Forever, both sold a million copies. The discs produced three more No. 1 songs, “Rebecca Lynn,” “Sittin’ On Go,” and “So Much for Pretending.” White won both the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award and the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist Award in 1996.
By 1997, the Oklahoma native was Generation X’s heir apparent to the country music throne, but then the crown began to take on a slight tarnish. His third album, 1997’s The Right Place, generated the Top 5 hit “Love Is the Right Place,” and the Top 15 “One Small Miracle,” but it did not sell as well, reaching only gold status (500,000 copies).
White branched out a little musically on his fourth project, deciding to co-produce with his longtime guitarist and friend, Derek George, instead of working with longtime producers Kyle Lehning and Billy Joe Walker Jr. Walker, a respected session guitar player, had helped White get his first recording deal by introducting him to Lehning, then-president of Asylum Records, who signed the teen-aged White to the label in 1993.
In the midst of recording the new project, mostly at White’s home studio outside Nashville, Asylum changed management teams. The move rattled what had been a fairly stable situation and hit White hard when he was at a creative crossroads.
“After I started that record, everyone that I knew as a team at Asylum was let go,” White says. “That team went away and this new team came in, so it was kinda shell shock for me.”
White says he quickly adjusted to the new regime and started working with producer Dann Huff (Faith Hill, SHeDAISY). When they finally finished the album, How Lucky I Am, in 1999, it failed to connect with longtime fans. Singles “You’re Still Beautiful to Me” and “God Gave Me You” barely cracked the Top 40, and the disc only sold 120,000 copies, according to Soundscan figures.
“There’s humbling experiences around every corner, no matter how many hits you’ve had,” White says. “Materialwise, [How Lucky I Am] was a little different, and I think producing it myself sort of took the music to a different realm. But I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do, and if everybody doesn’t dig it, well, I had a good time and let’s move on and try to do something better the next time that people will dig. We had a great record, but it didn’t work out.”
Greatest Hits includes nothing from How Lucky I Am, instead focusing squarely on material from the first three albums. Kicking off with “Love Is the Right Place,” the collection revisits early tunes “Look at Me Now,” “That’s Another Song” and the Skip Ewing-Donnie Kees tearjerker “I’m Not Supposed to Love You Anymore.” It also includes “From This Moment On,” a duet with country-pop superstar Shania Twain.
Rounding out the collection are two new tunes, which find White reunited with producers Lehning and Walker.
“I really missed Kyle’s insight,” White explains. “He’s a great engineer, and he knows how to make everything sound great. And Billy Joe is the best acoustic guitar player on the planet. I just knew it would be good for my soul and my self-esteem to be hanging out with those guys again. Nobody knows me vocally better than they do.”
Lehning found the project’s first single, “How Long,” on a record by singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff. The second new track, “The Way You Look at Me,” was written by White’s friends Scott Emerick and John Tirro.
“That one sort of leans itself toward the James Taylor feel,” the singer says. “Scott is playing all the guitar parts on it, and it’s just a really neat hook. It’s not the way you look, it’s the way you look at me.”
White says working with Lehning and Walker helped the new material blend to make a cohesive collection.
“We wanted to make sure they sounded like they belonged with these other songs,” he says of the new tracks. “I didn’t want them to be tagged on the end.”
While Greatest Hits closes a musical chapter in White’s life, he’s opening one in his personal life. In October he married his longtime girlfriend, TV soap actress Erika Page, in her native Texas. The ceremony has helped him shed his teeny-bopper pinup image.
“She really inspires me to have that drive and determination in what I do,” White says of his new bride. “Just being together and having someone you know really loves you and wants to take care of you, that’s exciting to me. I want to be a good husband.”
White’s wedding and newfound maturity have inspired him to write about the thing he loves most — family. Although he’s planning to take a few months off early next year, he’s already stockpiling songs for his next album. He clearly is ready to move on musically.
“I’m really excited about the new stuff I’ve been writing,” he says. “It’s more personal than anything I’ve ever done. I’ve sat down with [songwriter] Marcus Hummon a lot.”
White says he has written songs about his brother, his wife and his grandparents, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next year. His creation, “Even Now,” will be his gift to them.
“That’s when you feel like, ’Hey thanks, God, for giving me this gift so I can express how much I love them,'” White says. “Those are the things that, if you’re lucky enough, you can get them out as a single so people will know where your heart really lies.”