“It’s kind of neat to get round three,” says Tim Rushlow as he contemplates his role as leader of the six-man band that now bears his last name. The singer’s triumphant first round as a recording artist was as a member of the band Little Texas. Its pop-country sounds netted eight Top 10 hits between 1991 and 1997, when the group broke up. Round two came in 2000 with Rushlow emerging as a promising solo act on Atlantic Records — and ending abruptly the next year when the label closed its country division.
But Rushlow — the man and the band — are gaining steam. The group’s first single, “I Can’t Be Your Friend,” stayed on the Billboard chart from early May until late November of 2003, eventually topping out at a respectable No. 16. Thus encouraged, Lyric Street Records rolled out Rushlow’s debut album, Right Now, just in time for Christmas.
“There’s a lot of personal pride in that record,” Rushlow says. “We really took our time and tried to make a great album.” He points out that the band members — himself plus Kurt Allison, Doni Harris, Rich Redmond, Billy Welch and Tully Kennedy — actually played on the album instead of assigning that chore exclusively to studio players.
For its co-producers, the new band turned to Christy DiNapoli, who also produced Little Texas, and Jeff Balding. DiNapoli, Rushlow says, “has sort of that old-school tenacity [and] knows how to get into a group’s psyche and figure out what makes it roll. … Jeff Balding, on the other hand, has the same thing, but he’s got the musical technology. Zap! He’s incredible.” As a sound engineer, Balding has worked both independently and with producer Dann Huff on projects for Keith Urban, Faith Hill, Jewel and Wynonna, among others “We had our eye on him,” Rushlow explains, “and Christy said, ‘I think we ought to go talk to this guy and bring him into this.’ We had a meeting with him, and he said, ‘Well, obviously I need to hear the band.’ So we just set up and played for him in a warehouse. And he just shook his head and said, ‘This is going to be fun.’”
The “fun” resulted in a 10-cut package that’s instrumentally buoyant, vocally smooth and thematically inclined toward the joys, problems and perceptions of youth. For the most part, the producers used material from songwriters not connected with the band — names like Dean Miller, Danny Orton, Jim Collins, John Bettis, Brett James and Brad Crisler. But Rushlow wrote two of the songs, himself, and co-wrote a third with the Warren Brothers.
After Little Texas split up, Rushlow relates, “I took about a year and eight or nine months to kind of figure out, ‘How do I make my pistons fit its own engine?’” His answer was to sign a solo deal with Atlantic. The label issued two singles on him — “When You Love Me,” which went only to No. 60 in Billboard in April 2000. But the follow-up, “She Misses Him,” made it to No. 8 a year later. In March of 2001, Atlantic released his album, Tim Rushlow, and promptly shut its doors the next month.
Maybe, Rushlow reflects, he wasn’t made for soloing. “During my whole tenure there,” he recalls, “I did some shows and I had a band and a bus, but I never felt real comfortable as the Tim Rushlow solo guy with this band that was not named, that was just sort of ‘Tim’s backup band.’ It just never really felt right. Even the guys in the band now — most of them played with me then — would say that ‘Tim never treated us like [a backup band].’ … When the label shut down, I thought long and hard. I remember actually writing my name on a piece of paper next to a bunch of other [male solo] artists that I respected, and I thought, ‘You know, I don’t know that my name belongs on that list.’”
Ultimately, Rushlow decided to try the band approach once more. “I sat down with Doni Harris, my cousin, Billy Welch, our keyboard player, and Kurt Allison, our lead guitar player. Kurt had two roommates, a drummer named Rich Redmond and a bass player named Tully Kennedy. I told them, ‘I’ve got an idea for a fresh, cool, contemporary, edgy band that I’d like to create with you guys. But it’s probably going to take a lot more than you’re willing to do.’ So they said, ‘What’s it going to take?’ I told them, ‘Well, besides just exhausting us financially — because that’s what it takes to be a band — we need to go and disappear and get off the 615 [Nashville's area code] map completely. Let’s go get out on the road. I’ll get a van and a trailer. Let’s get an atlas. I’ll get a Talent Buyers’ Guide. We’ll start booking dates and writing songs and rehearsing. Let’s go create something and see if we can make it stick in some of these clubs that really are the heartbeat of America.’ So we did that.”
For almost two years, the band worked the road without a record deal or a good prospect of one. “We’d come back [to Nashville] every now and then,” Rushlow says. “We’d sniff around, and we’d have some labels talk to us. It was just flirtation. Nobody was really saying, ‘Yeah!’ Finally, we started getting some, ‘Yeah, we’re really interested in this.’ The one place that we knew we wanted to be was Lyric Street. We didn’t think they were interested because they already had a couple of groups [including Rascal Flatts]. Ironically, Kevin Herring, who heads up the promotion staff there, heard a demo in my car. He said, ‘Hey, this is phenomenal, you ought to go talk to Randy and Doug.’ [Randy Goodman heads the label; Doug Howard is chief of A&R.] I went in and met with them, and they said they’d love to hear the band. So we set up in a rehearsal hall and played for them. After that, they sat us down at lunch and said, ‘Congratulations, we’d like for you guys to be Lyric Street artists. Let’s figure out what you want to call the band.’”
Rushlow says the label concluded there was “equity” in his name, built up from his earlier successes, and that he reluctantly conceded to apply his name to the band. “Then we took what little budget [the label] gave us and went to cut our first four [songs] to get the ball rolling. One of those four was ‘I Can’t Be Your Friend.’ They said, ‘Man, this is really poppin’ out at us. How about we throw this out and you guys go on and finish the album?’”
Lyric Street will release “Sweet Summer Rain” as the band’s second single, Rushlow says. While a release date hasn’t been set, he estimates it will be within the next eight to 10 weeks. And it will be preceded by a music video. As Rushlow judges it, the album has at least five viable singles.
In December, Rushlow did a whirlwind tour of Europe and the Middle East to entertain American troops. The tour took them to 10 countries — including Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, Bahrain and Dubai — in just 15 days. The band played its Christmas Eve show on an aircraft carrier off the coast of Dubai. “We had Christmas on three continents,” Rushlow marvels. “At 1 a.m. [after the Christmas Eve show], our flight left from Dubai and went to the Netherlands. We landed in Amsterdam [and after] a layover and [some] flight cancellations because we were on high alert, we ended up getting home on Christmas night.”
This kind of stamina will serve Rushlow well as it tours to promote Right Now. Touting the band’s “work ethic,” its high-spirited leader proclaims, “There’s nothing we won’t do — whether it’s radio or staying [late] to sign autographs. Whatever it is, we do that. … We’re the first people in town and the last ones to leave. If you really want to grab the brass ring and enjoy the ride, you have to be like that. You can’t turn your nose up when you’ve had a little bit of success.”