For a long time, Ty Herndon didn't know if he would ever be able to make another album -- or even if he wanted to.
Reflecting on the mid-to-late 1990s, when he hit No. 1 with "What Mattered Most," "Living in a Moment" and "It Must Be Love," Herndon admits, "I was unhappy. I was putting on a lot of Band-Aids. I was drinking and using and not really having any fun. I should have been having the time of my life. It's weird to be out there selling records and having No. 1 records and wish you were somewhere else and not really wanting to be doing it. And when it's taken away you think, 'I probably shouldn't have wished that!'"
However, he decided to get back in the game one night at Nashville's Bluebird Café about two years ago after singing "Right About Now" during a show put together by producer Darrell Brown.
"The fear that I couldn't do it set in with me and I almost didn't go in," he recalls now. "But I was like, 'You have spent the last three years of your life walking through this frickin' fear, so get your ass in there,' so I did."
He slid behind the microphone, and Brown started playing the song "in a Mariah Carey key," Herndon remembers. He adds, "And I was like, 'Great. Let go and let God.' I just sailed up into this falsetto thing I'd never done before."
Even in the high vocal register, he nailed it and received a standing ovation. With newfound confidence, Herndon had a revelation that it was indeed time for a new record, one that he describes as soulful and without boundaries.
More than seven years have passed since Steam, his last CD of new material for Epic Records and the first not to spawn a No. 1 single. Although his career had lost momentum, he recorded a follow-up album, but 2002's Greatest Hits was released instead.
"Being a businessman today, that was the right decision to make because I was not capable of getting out there and touring and promoting a new album," he admits. "They knew it, and somewhere inside of me, I knew it. So I had a choice at that point to either spiral some more or get healthy, and I chose to spiral some more. My bottom had not happened and, boy, was I in for it!"
Asked how far down he went, Herndon says, "It's difficult to talk about, but let's just say I didn't want to live anymore. I'd gotten to a place where I was not a human that I recognized."
Part of that metamorphosis was physical, as the once-lean singer had maxed out at 238 pounds. Drugs and alcohol were making him delusional. Though he had sung publicly since the age of 6, he rarely left his house in Los Angeles, where he lived when he split from Epic. Finally his friends stepped in with a tough-love intervention: If he wanted to die, they'd help finish him off. If he wanted to live, they'd give him a free pass to rehab and a plane ticket to Nashville.
"You know, honestly, I didn't know that anyone cared that much," he says. "It was such a shock to me. Do you know that I was packed and on that plane at 8 a.m. the next morning? It was how much I wanted to live. Two days later, my sister told me that she was pregnant. I think she was already five months pregnant ... and she had not chosen to tell me. Why would she want that [bad vibe] around? It was pretty cool to get that news, and also it made it a really big decision to give life a go."
Ty Herndon grew up in Alabama, paid his dues in Texas clubs and continued to live there during his heyday. In time, the bottom started to drop out, as it had done before -- a bad business deal prior to his Sony deal led to his mother losing her house, and he was arrested in 1995 for drugs in a Texas park. While he had previously only recorded his albums in Nashville, he now lives there. He considered a comeback but also thought he might finish his degree in child psychology or secure a real estate license, just to prove to himself he could find an identity outside of music. In short, he wanted to grow up. He admits he never paid his own electric bill until he was 32. Now 44, he's reconnected with his family, shed the weight and feels he's a stronger singer than before.
"This has been my entire life, this music business thing, and I needed to know that I would be OK not doing it as well. I needed to be happy with who I was and find out who the man was -- and not just this little kid who's been singing since he was 6 years old. I went into everything I was doing as a 6-year-old kid who was told what to do and did it. I'd had it with that, man. It led me down some pretty dark roads. I'm a recovering alcoholic and drug addict for three years now. I've been in and out of the program for over 10 years, so the demons that had set in on me were pretty big."
His friends loaned him money to record the new album, Right About Now, and the title track is his first single since 2002. He uses words like "friends," "love," "hearts," "church" and "creativity" to describe the studio time. Musically, it's reminiscent of his early work and is riddled with references to mercy, faith and second chances.
Herndon says, "At the end of the day, when it was all said and done, we stepped back from it -- I said 'we' because it wasn't just me -- and it was like, 'Dang, it's not over the top. It's not under the top. It's just where it needs to be.'"