In the early 1980s a new country band came out with the name “Diamond Rio” and after being told by a record label that the band name wasn’t going to work, they switched to Shenandoah and embarked on a career that would take Marty Raybon and band members to the top of the charts with hits like “Next To You, Next To Me,” “Church On Cumberland Road,” “Ghost In This House,” “Mama Knows” and later hits like “Somewhere In The Vicinity of the Heart.” After parting way with his grammy-winning band, Marty worked with his brother Tim on their self-titled MCA album which included the hit “Butterfly Kisses.” From there Marty went on to do some solo projects that ran the gamut from country, to bluegrass to gospel. In this interview, Marty discusses where he’s at in his career today and where he hopes to go.
Matt Bjorke: You’ve had a wonderful career both as the front man for Shenandoah and as a solo artist, how does it feel to still be recording around 25 years after you started out?
Marty Raybon: well, I guess the biggest thing is that I love music so much that I’m afraid that if I ever were to quit, probably about 75% of me would leave too. I’ve been around music all my life, I grew up with it. My dad was a fiddle player and man it wouldn’t be nothing on some weekends to have people sleepin’ in the living room after playin’ music late into the morning and then my mama would cook ‘em a big ole breakfast. So we always had music around the house and my dad taught my brother (Tim Raybon) and I the guitar and then he taught us how to harmonize with each other so I’ve always been around it. It’s been such a constant thing in my life, I think I’d probably be too hard to live with or get along with if anybody made me quit it.
Matt: You’ve recorded straight-up country records, bluegrass records and gospel records. Looking back, how does it feel to be in the position to record what you want when you want?
Marty: Well, That’s kind of nice and infact the last album I did, I did like that I put some gospel, bluegrass and country on it and called it This That And The Other. And if people wanted to know what kind of artist I was, the album was basically about the last 35 years of recording music. But I also understand the aspect of having something commercial so you can get it out and have it go further too. One thing about the internet dot coms and stuff like that, it gives you the opportunity for a broader market so that a lot of people who do like variety can go and get it. That’s what people can really do anyway.
When I started to put the record together I asked people what they were listening to and they said I had some stuff like Rascal Flatts, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Del McCoury, Bruce Springsteen and everything in between. Very seldom did I ask somebody that said “well, I like just country.” And I know that there are people out there like that but the majority love variety as much as I do. So I kept that in mind when we started recording the new At His Best record. My vision at it was to kind of come at it as a male version of Alison Krauss with Dixie Chicks-feel to it.
You know, it seems like when a record label had an artist who was successful, like Alan Jackson when he signed at Arista, everybody wanted to get an Alan Jackson at their label but I never understood why nobody filled the void left by the Dixie Chicks. Then I thought, well I hope nobody gets to it before I do. I told the label that I had this in mind and they thought it was interesting. I also wanted to showcase the band and harmony singers more so you could hear them more than just background folks.
Matt: What made “Daddy Phone” the right song to debut the project?
Marty: well, to be perfectly honest with you, Matt, “Daddy Phone” was the song that allowed me to be able to be at Grand Vista Records. I was asked to sing it after I was sending mp3s and lyric sheets. Jo-An Fox at the label said, “listen, will you listen to it? I’d like you to hear it but before you do, I want you to understand the reason that you’re being called. It’s a very emotional song and we can’t think of anyone else who could sing it as well as you. Would you be willing to do it?” And I thought that I could go do a vocal for them, like a demo and I said for them to send it along. So I did it and a couple of weeks later they called and asked me to come meet with them and I did and they said “we love what you’ve done and in return of what you’d done, we’d like to put an album around this song and we’d like you to sign with us as an artist.” And it started the whole thing going.
I love the song for not just the emotional value and what it says but also for the dialogue it can open up and unfortunately we live in a time where children can be used as leverage between a momma and a daddy and I thought that if this can raise some dialogue between parents to learn to communicate together, opening up a dialogue so that the children aren’t lost between the harsh meanness between each other. I’m not saying this in a crusader sense but every once in a while somebody’s gotta take a side about something they feel strongly about. I thought that’s a good place to land coming from a divorced family myself and having been divorced years ago.
I love the woman I’m married to now, and have been for over 25 years now, but I’d probably have been married to 33 years or so if my ex-wife hadn’t decided that she didn’t want to be married any longer. Anyway, a lot of that was my fault because I worked all the time and when I wasn’t working, I was playing music on the weekend. I was raised that way laying rock and brick, that’s what my daddy did his entire life. That kind of ethic we were brought up in kept me away. I didn’t mean anything by it but nonetheless, my Ex-wife and I did manage to have a dialogue and my son Michael didn’t have to suffer from it. I loved him and she loved him and he knew we both loved him and he didn’t have to suffer from it. So that’s how I approached the song, to hope that it helps other couples create a dialogue.
Matt: How would you describe a Marty Raybon show to somebody who hasn’t seen you perform before?
Marty: Well, to tell you the truth, it’s always hard to evaluate yourself but what I want to do is bring a lot of high energy and I want people to be entertained but moved emotionally as well with songs like “Daddy Phone” and “Who Are You,” a song about my father who died slowly from a brain tumor. I like for people to enjoy themselves I want them to laugh…
Matt: Laugh, Cry, and everything in between…
Marty: Absolutely! And this is my thinking…If you can bring people to different ranges of emotions during that 75-90 minute show instead of just singing the same thing over and over… so I try to keep interacting with them, because they get bored over the length of a show, and its’ not anything ugly as I’m the same way . We’re not able to pay attention as long as we used to be able to as we’ve been programmed that way to have shorter attention spans. So during my show I may talk with audiences and ask them where they’re from. It’s a way to build a bridge from the front of the stage to the front row, so you can let them come across it or you can come across it too.
Matt: And meet in the middle, like Diamond Rio sang…
Marty: Absolutely or come all the way across the bridge and let them know that the guy singing is non threatening and that he wants them to enjoy it and so I’m willing to do the things to let them enjoy the show. So that’s what I try to do every show but I don’t know if I do it all the time or if it succeeds all the time.