Michael Ray on His Gary Allan Epiphany

And Why He Shuts Up and Listens to John Rich

The first time country newcomer Michael Ray heard his song “Kiss You In The Morning” on the radio, he wasn’t even listening for it.

“I remember riding around with my dad, close to Orlando, and we heard it. We were just talking to each other and had the radio down enough to where you could still talk, and I heard the intro lick,” Ray shared with All Access. “We looked at each other, and we just cranked it! It was an unbelievable moment, and what made it even more special is that I got to share it with my dad.”

Ray’s dad was one of the reasons he started listening to country in the first place. And he remembers exactly how he felt the first time he ever heard Gary Allan on the radio.

“He had this cool, new West Coast sound. His songs were so real that you feel it in his voice over the radio. I remember the first time I heard one of his songs — it was ’It Would Be You’ — I made my dad buy me the CD, and I think I learned every song on that album,” he said of the 1998 album of the same name, back when Allan still wore a cowboy hat. “When I’m listening and writing songs and creating a record, I pull a lot from the ’90s rock, and I also listen to the lyrics of songs like ’It Would Be You’ and all these other great songs.”

But Allan’s not the only artist who has made an impact on Ray. Being around John Rich, he says, has given him a better understanding of the business side of the music business.

“When you get around people with that amount of passion and drive like John has, it’s contagious. I think that’s why you try to surround yourself with people that have that drive and vision of always being an artist and always wanting to pursue it, but how to branch out, help another artist out, to keep an ear out for a song that maybe it’s not for me, but hearing it for so-and-so.

“Being around him,” Ray said, “you just shut up and listen and learn from artists like him that have a mindset in not only music but business.”

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.