My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Spotlight Artist: Lonestar

lonestarFor many years, the prototypical country group took the form of a gospel quartet or quintet, modeled after such gospel favorites as the Jordanaires, The Old Hickory Singers, The Oak Ridge Quartet or the Blackwood Brothers. These groups were strictly vocal groups, with some sort of instrumental accompaniment, often nothing more than someone playing the piano. It was rare that the group handled its own instrumentals, other than perhaps the original version of the Sons of The Pioneers; and aside from western groups such as the Sons of The Pioneers, the repertoire was almost entirely gospel.

The first group to venture off into mostly secular music was the Statler Brothers in 1965, with the electrifying hit “Flowers On The Wall”. The Statler Brothers were strictly a vocal group, although the great Lew DeWitt played some acoustic guitar. In 1976, the Statlers were followed by the Oak Ridge Boys (formerly the Oak Ridge Quartet). Like the Statler Brothers, the Oak Ridge Boys were a gospel quartet that went secular. Both groups tended to strongly resemble the gospel groups from which they had arisen, and both groups had all four members vocals featured prominently.

It was not until Alabama came to prominence in 1980 that the modern day concept of a country group entered the public conscience. Alabama was comprised of three cousins (Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook) plus a very talented outsider in drummer Mark Herndon. Unlike other country groups, Alabama had a designated lead vocalist in Randy Owen, with the other members providing instrumental support and taking an occasional lead vocal, mostly on album cuts.

Alabama proved to be hugely successful with dozens of #1 singles and millions of albums sold. Soon additional similarly structure groups would arise such as Atlanta (1983), Exile (1983), Restless Heart (1985), Shenandoah (1987), Diamond Rio (1991), and Little Texas (1991).

Of course, every trend and/or fad runs its course and Lonestar (1992) would prove to be the last really successful band of the wave that started with Alabama.

Lonestar was unusual in that as they originally were constructed, Lonestar had two singers who perceived of themselves as the lead vocalist of the group. Richie McDonald was the lead vocalist but bass player John Rich also sang some leads (mostly on album tracks) and would be booted out of the group after the second album.

Lonestar would prove to have staying power, releasing eleven studio albums (five reached gold or platinum status) and enjoying a large number of hit singles including nine that reached #1 and another nine that landed in the country top ten. One of their #1 singles, “Amazed” also reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for two weeks sandwiched between singles by Savage Garden and Destiny’s Child, and it charted in the United Kingdom.

Although the top ten singles ceased in 2006, Lonestar is still around having just issued a new album. Richie McDonald left the group for a while, but has since returned and the band once again consists of Richie McDonald on lead vocals and piano, Michael Britt on lead guitar, backing vocals, Keech Rainwater banging on the drums and Dean Sams on keyboards, acoustic guitar and backing vocal. This is essentially the original group minus John Rich.

Lonestar has a website and is playing a full schedule of road appearances. They still sound good, and if you liked them during their 1990s heydays, you’ll like them now.

So sit back as enjoy our Spotlight review of the one of the leading country groups of the 1990s and the early 2000s.

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10 responses to “Spotlight Artist: Lonestar

  1. Ben Sharav September 3, 2016 at 3:28 am

    I think the Oaks had lead singer in Duane Allen–and occasionally Joe Bonsall. Sterban and Golden were mostly back-ups–though Sterban certainly made the most of the time that he was given, with his oom-papa-mau-mau’s and bob-bob-bob-bob-bob-bob’s being the most memorable elements of some of their biggest songs.

  2. Tim September 4, 2016 at 11:51 am

    Statler Brothers were the best vocal group and most awarded act in country music.

    • Paul W Dennis September 4, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      The Statler Brothers (especially the Lew Dewitt years) and Shenandoah were my favorites, closely followed by the Oak Ridge Boys, but all of the enumerated groups put out at least some decent material

  3. Chris September 8, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    Lonestar were essentially a “singles” band. Not many of their album tracks really amounted to much beyond filler fluff, and some of it borders on the unlistenable…(“Women Rule The World”, “Mr. Mom” or “Let Them Be Little’, anyone).

    I read an interview with McDonald once where he blamed their record company for poor single selections…but I didn’t really hear much else worth promoting off most of their albums.

    They were in many ways the precursor to Rascal Flatts, who came in, took far superior material to the charts and subsequently sold more and had greater longevity.

    • Ken September 10, 2016 at 2:18 pm

      Comparing Lonestar and Rascal Flatts is a complete mismatch. Lonestar had talent, good lead singers and some great songs until they eventually ran out of strong material. Rascal Flatts on the other hand was never a country act to begin with. They looked like some type of odd boy band ensemble. They recorded insipid songs performed by a lead singer with a whiny, effeminate voice comparable to fingernails on the blackboard. They are the ultimate “filler fluff” act. However their schlock had strong appeal to the new generation of so-called “country” listeners that loves pathetic anemic music. Rascal Flatts and other acts of their ilk have taken the entire country genre down the toilet for the past 15 years.

      Blaming record labels for bad single choices is one of the oldest cop-outs in the book. It’s easier to blame your record label than to take responsibility for weak material. Labels always want to release the very best recordings so that the singles become hits. There’s no benefit to releasing inferior material. The goal of record companies is to create hits and to sell product. They heavily invest in an act and expect to reap a payday. However acts sometimes do not provide them with much to work with so they may be forced to release what they have. Whenever that happens with an act the death spiral begins and and days are numbered.

      • Paul W Dennis September 11, 2016 at 11:36 am

        I don’t think Rascal Flatts is quite that bad, although they have never struck me as being country at all, and I do find their lead vocalist’s voice quite annoying. Like Ken, I do not see a link between Lonestar and Rascal Flatts. Describing Rascal Flatts’ flaccid and wimpy material as superior to that of Lonestar is a complete joke

        Sometimes the label is to blame, but usually it is for a veto rather than pushing a particular song (Johnny Rivers could not get his label to release “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” as a single and Bob Shane of the Kingston Trio could not get MCA to release “Honey” as a single , but became huge hits for other artists)

        • Ken September 11, 2016 at 1:44 pm

          Bob Shane did in fact release his version of “Honey.” According to Bobby Goldsboro it was Shane’s recording that first introduced him to that song. Goldsboro’s version was initially released on his “Pledge Of Love” album. [That LP was re-titled and reissued as “Honey” when the single was released] Goldsboro had to wait to release it as a single because Shane’s Decca single had already come out. When Shane’s version failed to hit [it bubbled under the Hot 100 at #104] United Artists released the Goldsboro track as a single and it took off like a skyrocket. Goldsboro credits Don Tweedy’s inspired orchestrated arrangement for making that rendition so successful.

          Here’s the Bob Shane recording:

          My understanding is that the decision to not release “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” as a single was actually made by Johnny Rivers. He had just scored a #1 hit with “Poor Side Of Town” and had to choose between two songs for the follow-up. Rather than selecting “Phoenix” he opted for “Baby I Need Your Lovin’.” That cleared the way for Campbell’s single in late 1967. Rivers did release his recording on his “Changes” album and does a great job with that song.

  4. Paul W Dennis September 12, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    Ken – you are right on Rivers, although I remember seeing an interview where Rivers indicates that his label wasn’t that enthused about “Phoenix” as the immediate the follow up single to “Poor Side Of Town”. Today, Rivers would have held onto the song for a later single, but back then it was one or two singles per album and then move to the next project. I always thought Johnny Rivers would have made a fine country singer but he never really committed to being a country singer, although his cover of Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road” charted country in 1974

    I went back and found the interview with Shane – he was somewhat bitter that Decca gave his single no promotional backing.

    • Ken September 12, 2016 at 9:50 pm

      An interesting postscript to the Johnny Rivers story is that because Rivers did not release “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” as a single, it became available for Glen Campbell. According to Glen he first heard the song on Johnny Rivers’ album and liked it a lot. Around the same time he found the Jim Glaser & Jimmy Payne song “Woman, Woman (Have You Got Cheating On Your Mind.” Glen was looking for a song to follow “Gentle On My Mind” and was considering both songs as candidates. But one of Glen’s friends, record producer Jerry Fuller, really wanted “Woman, Woman” to be the debut single for his new act Gary Puckett & The Union Gap. So Glen agreed to keep “Phoenix” and gave up “Woman, Woman” and both acts scored career hits! In early 1968 Glen released “Woman, Woman” as a track on the “Hey Little One” album. Clearly his version could have been a hit too.

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