Collin Raye has collaborated with Dolly Parton, Jim Brickman and Melissa Manchester on holiday records and children’s collections, but he never had done a full-blown duet on one of his country albums until Tracks, his most recent, released in May.
“I never found a song that I really wanted to do because I’m really picky,” Raye says. “I think a lot of people do them [duets] to get into the [awards] category of vocal event or whatever. The song has to be great because, to me, duets should be little mini-dramas.”
Raye was almost finished recording his latest album for Epic when he came across “Tired of Loving This Way,” written by Allison Mellon and Gene LaSage. The song’s bittersweet emotion of loving someone in a hopeless situation reminded him of his favorite duet, the 1978 Barbra Streisand-Neil Diamond collaboration “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”
“It almost didn’t make the record because everyone at Sony [Epic’s parent company] was like, ‘Well, your album is pretty much done, we don’t need this song,'” Raye remembers. “I was like, ‘Yeah, we do, because if we don’t do this now it’ll get away from us and somebody else will get it.'”
While he loved the song, he didn’t have a duet partner in mind. Sony Music executive Allen Butler suggested Bobbie Eakes, a soap opera actress who had just been signed to Sony imprint Columbia Records. Raye admits he was a little skeptical at first, but after hearing her tape he just “rolled the dice and asked her.” The two met for the first time in a Nashville studio while cutting the track. The single was her debut release in the country market.
“Collin is the best singer in any genre, so I was really nervous,” Eakes says of the encounter. “I walked in, and I hadn’t slept all night because I’d just flown in from L.A. He just put his arm around me, gave me a big hug, and all the tension just melted away.”
A former Miss Georgia, Eakes grew up in Warner Robins, Ga., singing with her four sisters. Her dad introduced her to the recordings of Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Lynn Anderson, and she discovered southern rock bands .38 Special, the Allman Brothers and The Marshall Tucker Band on her own. Eakes says she aspired to be a professional singer in Los Angeles but fell into a successful acting career by landing a plum role as Macy Alexander on the CBS soap The Bold and the Beautiful. While on the show, she recorded two albums released in Europe on an independent label.
“The music was pretty much dictated by what the soap audience wanted to hear, so we did a lot of romantic ballads and pop ballads,” she says.
For a third album on the indie imprint, Eakes asked to record in Nashville with successful producer Don Cook (Brooks & Dunn, Wade Hayes, the Mavericks).
“I wanted to do the music I wanted to do, otherwise I didn’t want to do another record,” she explains. “Don said yes, and that sort of opened the doors for me here in Nashville. We had this record that was sort of a really expensive demo for me, and that’s how I got my deal on Columbia.”
Just as her music career was taking off, her soap opera character was killed on the show. She admits it was a hard adjustment, despite the lucky timing.
“It would be a lot easier for my ego to say, ‘Oh yeah, I wanted some time off,’ but really the character had done almost everything she could do,” Eakes says. “So they just wrote Macy off. Luckily it came at a great time for me, because I was really trying to do more of this [music] and wondering how I was going to make time for it.”
Raye jokes that he had a hand in Macy’s demise.
“Well, I also have a lot of pull at the network, and I knew I was going to need her a lot more this summer,” he says. “We just called and said, ‘Hey, she’s got to die.’ But in true soap opera fashion, they didn’t find the body!”
Although a missing body always leaves room for a soap return, Eakes says she won’t pursue acting full time. She hasn’t ruled out doing a guest-starring role in a movie or TV show, but for the next few months she’ll concentrate on finishing her debut album for fall release. Despite her movie star looks and acting credentials, she hopes country fans will give her a fair shot.
“This isn’t about someone who wants to come and capitalize on a fan base in TV,” Eakes says. “It’s all about making a great record, and then letting the chips fall where they may.”
The project will include a second Raye-Eakes duet. The two have recorded a cover version of Linda Ronstadt’s 1970 hit “Long Long Time.”
“It’s a natural,” Raye says. “I feel like we almost have to [record a follow-up duet] because I probably won’t get in the studio again for two years. If this song is big, we need to have something to come back with.”
“Tired of Loving This Way” was at No. 54 on the Billboard country singles chart after seven weeks of release. Raye already has incorporated the song into his show, and Eakes is joining him onstage for select dates. He says it’s fun for them to sing, even though he relates to the painful message almost too well.
“I think a song like that is almost good for you,” Raye says. “If you’ve recently gone through a relationship like that — which I did not too long ago that ended exactly that way — it’s almost like therapy. When we do this, it’s like a three-minute escape. You step out of it and live this song. That’s the difference between a great duet and an OK one.”