In a previous installment of this article, I described Little Texas as "the band with a lot of energy but little to say." That said, I don't dislike them in the slightest — even the least inspiring of the early-mid 90s was so often the soundtrack of my childhood, and I just can't help but have a bit of nostalgia for it. But the most interesting facet of the group, to me, is the path chosen by its frontman after the band's peak.
Little Texas began in, of course, Texas in the late 1980s. Dwayne O'Brien, Porter Howell, Del Gray, Duane Propes, Tim Rushlow, and Brady Seals were six long-haired guys who probably listened to as much Bon Jovi as they did Alabama. Seals was by far the one possessing the most music in his blood, with Jim Seals (Seals & Crofts), Dan Seals, Troy Seals, and Johnny Duncan all on his family tree, but the other five were no slouches either, generally playing and writing most of their own material.
Between 1991 and 1995, Little Texas sent 13 songs into the top 40 of the country charts. Their repertoire was limited mainly to gangly waltzes, tightly-harmonized ballads, or fiery up-tempos, often sprinkled with stock Southern tropes (the title "God Blessed Texas" tells you everything you need to know). But they made the most of limited resources, Tim Rushlow's pipes taking on every single (except "My Love," which went to the smoother Brady instead) with a gruff passion, surrounded by slick and electric guitar-driven production that wasn't entirely removed from country. It's probably no surprise, then, that they were one of the few country acts between 1990 and 1995 to hit the Hot 100. (Their production team was an interesting mish-mash: veteran James Stroud, engineer Doug Grau, and Christy DiNapoli, who has only two non-LT related credits.)
Just after Kick a Little, their third album, Seals departed for a solo career and Jeff Huskins replaced him. The band made one final Top 40 bow with "Life Goes On" at number 5, but four consecutive duds (including three surprisingly good singles from their 1997 self-titled album) spelled their demise. Meanwhile, Seals was doing no better on his own, having gotten only a mere #32 out of the sturdy ballad "Another You, Another Me." Howell and Gray turned to songwriting, with Gray scoring a Top 10 hit in the form of Trace Adkins' "More"; Howell and O'Brien also penned "Promise Ain't Enough" on Hall & Oates' 1997 album Marigold Sky, but afterward, O'Brien and Propes appear to have gone on hiatus.
In any event, Little Texas was done (untill Howell, Gray, O'Brien and Propes got the band together a couple of years ago), thus freeing up its frontman for other gigs. But Rushlow's first post-LT outing was a real doozy. In the late 1990s, comedians (and labelmates) Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall were often subject to gimmicky "remixes" of their comedy sketches, featuring an appropriately-themed chorus sung by a country singer or session vocalist. In fact, Little Texas had previously participated in the fun "Party All Night" from Foxworthy's Games Rednecks Play. Rushlow took the singing role on title track of Foxworthy's underwhelming 1998 album Totally Committed. (Interestingly, instead of the comedy segments just being spliced in as usual, they were completely re-dubbed by a noticeably weary-sounding Foxworthy.) But Rushlow's strong voice still elevated it at least somewhat.
Finally, in 2000, Rushlow got his big chance at a solo breakout when he signed with Atlantic Records. "When You Love Me," his first bow, only made it to #60. By no means a bad song, it was a sturdy mid-tempo about that one woman who makes her man feel better. Slicker and more country at the same time, with big drums and steel guitar crossing paths, it could easily have been a contender to separate him from the pack. Though most of the new acts in late 1999-early 2000 were nothing to write home about, there were some standouts: Brad Paisley had wit and charm; Phil Vassar had prominent piano and strong storytelling skills; Eric Heatherly was rockabilly; and Chris Cagle had a similar Southern boy energy.
But the lack of success of "When You Love Me" was easily compensated by the potent ballad "She Misses Him." A look at a woman dealing with her Alzheimer's-affected husband, the song was sympathetic to his cause and the woman's emotions with lines like "She misses his gentle touch and the way he used to make her laugh." Also helping was Rushlow's decision to sing in a lighter, softer range than he ever got to use in Little Texas. The strings and piano set it solidly into pop territory, but the storytelling smarts were clearly country, even in an era where other sympathetic ballads were being released in large numbers (on April 21, 2001, it was right behind Tim McGraw's "Grown Men Don't Cry" and a few rungs above Keith Urban's "But for the Grace of God").
Unfortunately, right after "She Misses Him" hit the Top 10, Atlantic Records closed its doors due to a long period of decline. John Michael Montgomery, Tracy Lawrence, and a handful of others got the honors of moving to Warner Bros., but Rushlow was clearly the weak link, as he instead ended up on the independent Scream label. Scream re-released the album (as Crazy Life) with a bonus track, and pushed out two more singles ("Crazy Life" and "Love, Will (The Package)"), but neither made much of a dent.
Perhaps life outside a band wasn't in the cards for Rushlow, who would later remark to CMT that life as a solo act "just never really felt right." In 2003, he founded the group Rushlow with his first cousin Doni Harris (guitar, banjo), Kurt Allison (lead guitar), Tully Kennedy (bass), Rich Redmond (drums), and Billy Welch (keyboards). The sextet signed with Lyric Street, keeping DiNapoli behind the boards but somehow feeling a bit more organic. Their first release, "I Can't Be Your Friend," also boasted a clever lyrical twist: "This is where it's gotta end / 'Cause I can't be your friend anymore," initially seeming like it's pointing at a breakup, becomes a dedication to be her lover instead: "I wanna be your man / But I can't be your friend anymore." (Interestingly, Belgian dance duo DHT covered the song in 2005.) While all this was going on, Little Texas's four remaining members reunited, briefly taking in Steven Troy as new lead vocalist before assigning the role to the scratchy, snarling Porter Howell. Seals, meanwhile, romped around for a bit in Hot Apple Pie — who are neck-and-neck with Hanna-McEuen for "act who was most shafted by DreamWorks Records closing in 2005" — before going solo again.
However, Lyric Street's restructuring blunted the band's momentum, also taking down several other great acts, like Brian McComas and Sonya Isaacs, with it. It took several months to release the next single, "Sweet Summer Rain." This love nostalgia song, probably the only song ever to name-drop Bennie and the Jets, fizzled out, and Rushlow was done… or was it? Rushlow and Doni Harris scored a new deal with Show Dog in 2006-07. As the duo Rushlow Harris, they released the slick, shiny, energetic "That's So You" and the moving soldier ballad "Bagpipes Cryin'" (perhaps inspired by the concerts that Rushlow played for overseas troops?). But since Show Dog has proven a near-total inability to get a hit out of anyone not named Toby Keith, Rushlow Harris split up again without any more songs. Rushlow is now flying solo again; Kennedy, Allison, and Redmond joined David Fanning in Jason Aldean's road band (in addition to pulling double-duty as the production team New Voice Entertainment for labelmates Parmalee and Thompson Square), while Billy Welch is now in Jake Owen's road band, and Harris is apparently out of the picture.
Rushlow's career path is very interesting in how fragmented it is. Little Texas clearly had their own thing going, but mysteriously and abruptly dropped off after Seals left. (Maybe they had stayed their slick path just a little too long — to be fair, their 1997 album did show some growth, but it was too little, too late.) And Rushlow himself got the short end of the stick not once, but twice by label-related issues that were beyond his control. He probably would've cut off the solo album early anyway, given his expressed discomfort as a solo act, and Rushlow's album probably would've gone nowhere regardless, given Lyric Street's desire to hyperfocus only on Rascal Flatts. But if he had chosen to form Rushlow earlier, and signed with another label, then he might've been able to stay within his slick country-pop wheelhouse to much higher returns. But, as one of LT's biggest hits says, there's no way to know what might have been.
Tim Rushlow currently hosts writer night events in Nashville called "Rushlow in The Round."