Billy Ray Cyrus Honors Military with Patriotic Album
Country music and patriotism have always gone hand in hand, and Billy Ray Cyrus has long been one of the most ardent supporters of our nation’s military. The singer/songwriter/actor has two new projects that pay tribute to the men and women who serve our country. His new CD, I’m American, is a compelling collection of songs, anchored by a newly recorded version of his hit “Some Gave All." Cyrus is also hosting a new TV show, “Surprise Homecoming,” which spotlights soldiers returning to their families.
“It feels like it’s a part of my purpose,” Cyrus says of his mission to honor our troops. “I always prayed that God would give me the wisdom and the vision to do the things I was supposed to do, sing the songs I was supposed to sing and be the person I was supposed to be.”
A native of Flatwoods, Ky., Cyrus grew up with a healthy respect for his father and grandfather, both of whom served in the military. The title track of his 1992 debut album, Some Gave All, is a poignant salute to soldiers and the sacrifices they make for our country. The album spawned the hit “Achy Breaky Heart,” which catapulted Cyrus to country music stardom, remaining at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for 17 consecutive weeks, the longest run by a debut artist. Some Gave All was also the first debut album to enter at No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart.
“My Dad used to tell me, ‘Son, if you just live long enough you’ll see that Some Gave All will come out [from the] shadows of 'Achy Breaky Heart,'” Cyrus says of the two songs, which were both released as singles. “Maybe I’ve reached that point from what I’m seeing and hearing because Some Gave All is really just taking on a life of its own right now.”
Cyrus decided to re-record the song after seeing troops’ reaction to it during a 2009 USO tour of Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’d go to a barracks or a hospital and we did a lot of shows in hangers where troops would just gather around and we’d start playing,” says Cyrus. “One particular evening, I was singing ‘Some Gave All’ and during that song some bombs went off in the background. A young soldier stood up as the bombs went off and said, ‘Keep going, Mr. Cyrus. We’re used to it,’ and so I kicked back into it and finished the song. Later on I thought, man, 'I’m going to re-record ‘Some Gave All.’' These troops are still living this song.”
Cyrus & Friends
For the new recording, he enlisted Jamey Johnson, Darryl Worley and Craig Morgan, three country music hitmakers who have served in the military, to join him on the song. “For me as a songwriter, they didn’t use lyric sheets and that meant the most to me,” Cyrus says of the recording session. “They knew the words by heart and were singing from their hearts.”
Amy Grant duets with Cyrus on “Stripes and Stars.” “I was sitting at my kitchen table and my mom asked me who would be my dream artist,” Cyrus says of potential duet partners. “Without a thought, I said ‘Amy Grant’ and she said ‘that’s a good call.’ I said ‘I know, but how will I ever make that happen?’”
“All the years I’ve been in Nashville, I never wanted to ask anybody for any favors and I was thinking I’d never be so bold to ask Amy Grant to join me on this song. Well I don’t believe in coincidences at all. I think everything happens for a reason. I was in the studio working on the album and bumped into Vince Gill. He’s always been very kind and I just asked him, ‘hey, I’ve got this song. Do you think Amy would want to hear it and maybe think about singing it with me?’ He said, ‘Give her a call. Here’s my wife’s number.’”
Cyrus sent Grant a copy of the song and she agreed to record the duet. “She put on one of the most beautiful, powerful performances I’ve ever heard in my life,” says Cyrus. “I ain’t never going to paint the Mona Lisa. I ain’t never had the desire to. I’ll tell you the truth, Amy Grant belting out the ‘Stripes and Stars,’ that’s my Mona Lisa. That’s the classiest thing I’ll ever be a part of.”
Released June 28 on Buena Vista Records, I’m American was produced by Buddy Cannon, who also works with Kenny Chesney. Though it’s Cyrus’ 12th album, it’s the first time Cannon has been his producer. “Buddy Cannon was the first guy from Mercury Records to come see me,” Cyrus says. “It was the spring of 1990 and he drove to Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky. because I had landed the opening act slot for Reba McEntire. There I was, a dude with no record deal, but had a large following throughout Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.”
Cannon encouraged Cyrus to move to Nashville. “Without Buddy Cannon, none of this would have happened,” says Cyrus. “If you go back to the genesis of this album, which is ‘Some Gave All,’ and then you go back to Buddy Cannon, it really is going full circle.”
The single, “Runway Lights,” is the theme song for “Surprise Homecoming” on the TLC Network. Cyrus is pleased that radio seems to be embracing the song though that wasn’t his ultimate goal with this album. “I never built this album around what is somebody going to play on the radio,” he says. “I built it around saying thank you to our troops. I built it around taking our hat off and saluting our men and women in uniform and saying thank you for your service.”
The song was recently offered as iTunes free song of the week, which reminded Cyrus of his early days. “Back in 1989, I couldn’t give my music away fast enough,” he says. “I just wanted somebody to hear it because it was important to me and 20 years later, I feel like that same kid with a dream. The music is so important to me.”
Cyrus is also reveling in the opportunity to host “Surprise Homecoming.” “It’s without a doubt the best job I’ve ever had to see that moment,” he says of facilitating the reunions of soldiers and their loved ones. “It’s like that magic moment you look for at Christmas when you’ve got your little girl or little boy that real special gift that they didn’t think they were going to get. That’s what it’s all about.”
In one episode he reunites a woman and her boyfriend during a baseball game. “The soldier had just returned from one year in Afghanistan and previous to that he was three years in Iraq,” says Cyrus. “He surprised his girlfriend at a professional baseball game. I arranged it and was singing the National Anthem. His girlfriend thought she had won a contest to throw out the first pitch of the game. Unbeknownst to her, in the catcher’s uniform was her boyfriend. She throws the pitch. He catches the ball, comes walking toward her and flips off his mask. It’s just magic. It doesn’t even end there. He gets down on his knee and proposes to her right there in front of everybody.”
In addition to working on the TV show, Cyrus will be touring this summer and in August, he’ll begin filming the sequel to the popular TV movie “Christmas in Canaan.”
These days Cyrus is happy with his life and career. “I love the art that I’m making right now whether it’s for television, internet or records, whatever it is, that’s my art,” says Cyrus, who offers advice to his teenage daughter. “I tell Miley all the time, you’ve got to love what you are doing. You’ve got to do what you are doing for a living because you love it.”
Copyright 2011, watchgmctv.com. For permission to repost or reprint, click here.
About the Writer
Deborah Evans Price has covered Christian/Gospel music for Billboard magazine since 1994. She also contributes regularly to CountryWeekly, CMA Close Up, Devo’Zine, Christian Single, HomeLife, BMI Music World, and other publications.
A Nashville resident since 1983, Deborah has held editorial posts at Radio & Records, Country News, American Songwriter and Billboard. Amy Grant, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels, 3 Doors Down, Third Day, Don Henley, Bon Jovi, Chris Rice, Sandra Bullock, Mercy Me, Alan Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Steven Curtis Chapman are among her many interviews. Additionally, she's a sought-after music industry analyst who has been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, TNN, The Today Show, and ABC PrimeTime Live, among other outlets.
Deborah is a member of the Gospel Music Association's board of directors and a graduate of Leadership Music. She resides south of Nashville with her husband, Gary, and son Trey.
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