Billy Dean believes you don’t have to be obnoxious to have a hit record. He’s got the track record to prove it, too. Starting with 1990’s “Only Here For a Little While” all the way through his current comeback hit, “Let Them Be Little,” the Florida native has always projected a nice-guy persona. Here, he generously answers fans’ questions about acting roles, Reba McEntire and the secret behind his good looks.
1. How did you develop your amazing voice? Did you take voice lessons, or did it just come naturally?
It kind of came naturally with my dad. He was a singer. He taught me a lot. It wasn’t until I moved to Nashville that I actually got voice lessons, which was very beneficial. It helped me learn to preserve my voice.
2. Are you still interested in acting roles if they were to come your way?
Yeah, we’re open to anything, really. We’re trying to work right now on a reality TV concept that is based around children. That probably won’t be hitting the airwaves until maybe spring of next year. Everything is kind of in the conceptual stage right now. It’s based around kids and the song, “Let Them Be Little.”
3. “Let Them Be Little” is very special to me because it says a lot about what a parent should do. What are the ages of your kids? Do you let them be little, too? I have changed some of my parenting ideas based on your song.
Yeah, my kids are 10 and 11. I find myself struggling with that very same thing that most people struggle with, trying to grow them up too fast. The song has actually helped me to slow down and let them be kids. It’s something I struggle with every day: how to balance the innocence, how to balance the patience. I try to let them stay little as long as they can. I am still a big kid at heart, myself, I guess. We play a lot. Playing is a really important thing, I think. You know, just getting down and playing with your kids.
4. What is the hardest part of balancing a music career and a family?
Sometimes I miss some of their activities that they’re involved in. I had to miss a few football games this year. Just not getting to be there, the travel mostly. The travel is both good and bad. It’s good when the kids get to travel with me because the kids absolutely love it. They’re world travelers. They’ve been doing it for most of their lives. For me, having to leave them behind is kind of tough. Just not getting to be there because I travel. My job takes me away. I think that’s the hardest thing.
5. Do your kids have music classes in school? I am an elementary school teacher and was just curious to know.
Yes, they do. I highly recommend it for my kids. I’m not a really good music teacher. It’s something I never really learned through music classes and things like that. I learned a lot just from picking up from my dad and other musicians. My little girl, Hannah, has been taking piano and voice for about four years. My son is more into the engineering part of music. He loves to be able to sit in front of the computer. He plays with sound files all the time. He’s learning to be an engineer, and producing is something he wants to do. I don’t know if he’ll do it or not. That’s what they’re into now. I think it’s just an excuse to come down and play with Dad’s toys.
6. What type of books do you like to read, and do you have a favorite author?
I read a lot. In fact, I’m getting ready to read The Purpose Driven Life. I got that for my birthday. I read a lot of theology and religion as my hobby, that I like to study. I read probably everything the Dalai Lama puts out. I’m really into the Dan Brown books, The DaVinci Code and things like that. When those things came out, I really jumped on them because theology and the different religions have always interested me, to see how different people view their spiritual path. Those types of book are books I read a lot of. One of my favorite books is an M. Scott Peck book, which is called The Road Less Traveled. That book really helped me a lot.
7. Will you be starting your fan club back up again? I was in it for several years before it was disbanded.
There’s a possibility we probably will be doing a fan club type of thing, but it will be online. It will be through the Web site, but we haven’t gotten that far yet. We’re trying to come up with a new business plan for the fan club idea, mainly to be able to get people a backstage pass a year. That was something we did. I don’t know if we’re going to do the fan club deal, but at least do something where fans who are members on my Web site can get a backstage pass to use once a year.
8. I haven’t seen you in concert since you opened for Reba. How was it working with Reba?
Reba McEntire is still one of my best friends in the business. She and her husband, Narvel, have treated me very well and treated me with respect. In fact, they helped launch my It’s What I Do album and we had two Top 5 records off of that album. I was managed by Narvel for about three years there. They’ve had a very important role in my career. I haven’t talked to her much since she’s been in L.A. Reba McEntire was really wonderful to me.
9. Where do you buy your stage clothes?
I get a lot of my clothes from Wrangler. They’ve got what you would not typically think of as Wrangler clothes. They have a little bit more of a mainstream fashion line they’ve been coming out with. I get a lot of my stuff from Wrangler and, of course, whatever I can steal from a video shoot or photo shoot or whatever they’ll let me have. They usually turn the other way and let me put a lot of that stuff in my car.
10. If you could travel anywhere for a dream vacation where would it be?
I’d probably go to India or Tibet. I would love to go visit the Holy Land and that stuff. I’m a little scared to go over there right now. I’d love to go to the Himalayans. I’ve done all the other stuff. I’ve done all the Caribbean vacations, Alaskan vacations. I love to visit foreign countries.
11. I’ve read that you own a horse farm in Tennessee. What breed of horses do you own, and do you show?
I have a farm … and it’s more for boarding. We’ll board horses. My next door neighbor has a church retreat camp, and they have about 20 horses that they’ll use for the kids every year. In wintertime, we’ll board for them. We don’t breed and show horses, but we board horses and have trail riding on our farm.
12. How do you relax after one of your shows?
Sometimes we’ll play some Texas Hold ‘Em. We usually like to play some cards on the bus. We get a good game of Texas Hold ‘Em going and wind down. I get in there pretty good, I’m a pretty good bluffer.
13. Are you a mama’s boy? Does she influence any decisions you make in your life?
Yeah, I guess so. I was probably more of a daddy’s boy. Yeah, I’m a mama’s boy. I should say that. I let her still tell me what to do every now and then. She’s still probably my biggest fan. I get my whole theme of my music — which is like “Billy the Kid,” inner innocence, inner child, staying child like at heart — I get all of that from my mom. She’s 75 years old and still works out at the gym and does her bun crunches and all that kind of stuff.
14. How much different is it now to have a hit than it was when “Billy the Kid” came out? Do you find that the competition is tougher?
Yeah, the competition is tougher. The greatest part about “Let Them Be Little” was really just proving it could be done. We still had fans out there that wanted to hear our music. The fans really spoke up and let radio know that they were out there. … It was those fans out there that had a voice and their voice was heard by the music industry. What got me back in this business, really, were those people that were writing in those e-mails.
15. Although you helped write the song “Let Them Be Little” for Lonestar, why did you put it out as a single yourself?
Not every song on an album comes out on the radio. I was actually hoping that Lonestar would release it as a single on the radio because I didn’t have a record deal at the time when they recorded it. They came with “Mr. Mom” last summer instead of “Let Them Be Little.” Richie [McDonald of Lonestar] called me and said they weren’t going to be releasing “Let Them Be Little” off the album as a single. Because of that, I could record the song. And so I did, and it ended up being a big hit.
16. I remember from an earlier interview that you had enough songs for an album before 9/11, but you decided the material just wasn’t right for that time, so you started working on new songs. Does this mean you still have songs available for you to put out another album?
Right. Yeah, I probably have at least half of the next album written and available. During the time off, all I did was write. As a result, I was sitting on a lot of really good songs. I let the record label pick which songs out of my catalog they wanted to go on the album.
17. The song “Race You to the Bottom” seems to exemplify the pitfalls of life in a “high profile” career like the music industry. If this song expresses your view of life in this industry, how difficult was it for you to make the decision to return?
Yeah, it was very difficult because I was faced with doing things on my own terms and maybe going against that kind of system the song talks about. It was my goal and my aim to prove to the music industry that it’s a wonderful commodity to do good things with your music. You don’t always have to sell music with an attitude — being a jerk and just copping this sort of arrogant attitude — just to sell records. I don’t believe that. … You can have a career without sacrificing family and your kids. That’s what this whole thing has done for me. The labels had turned this project down before. Radio and the fans spoke out about it. When they did, it happened for me. The last seven years, I’ve been hanging out with my kids, writing songs and staying in town. I was able to do both.
18. You are very good-looking. How do you get your body and hair to look so good?
(laughs) That’s what a $500-a-day hair and make-up person can do for you! I work out — a little, not much — but I try to eat good. I do have a good stylist.
19. What is in your CD player right now?
I have a couple of new song demos. I have a James Taylor Christmas album in my CD player right now because I’m working on a Christmas album. … I still have my Let Them Be Little in there. I’m still listening to it, thinking about some of the mixes I should have done better. I’m still critiquing it.
20. I loved you in the movie Blue Valley Songbird with Dolly Parton. What do you remember most about making that movie?
My love scene with Dolly. I just remember her lips being so soft and so wonderful. It was the best three minutes of my life.