Lonestar making musical memories in Harrington

Country music group Lonestar, made up of, from left, drummer Keech Rainwater, lead singer Richie McDonald, keyboard player Dean Sams and guitarist Michael Britt, plays Harrington Raceway and Casino’s Exhibit Hall Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. (Submitted photo by Jon Paul Bruno)

HARRINGTON — Although his band Lonestar went on to become one of the most successful country groups in history, founder Dean Sams says he put the group together back in 1992 for simply a chance to slow down.

“I was working four jobs during the week. I was a limo driver for the Sheraton Music City here in Nashville from 4:30 in the morning to 11:30 in the morning. I was driving a 24-passenger bus. I waited tables starting at noon and I had a solo gig four nights a week until 2 in the morning,” he said.

“I was also working weekends for a country revue show at Opryland USA. I was killing myself there for a while.”

In the late 1980s, he moved to Nashville from Garland, Texas with the intention of becoming a solo artist.

“I finally decided to put a band together because the man upstairs blessed me with enough intelligence to know that as a solo artist I wasn’t nearly good enough to get a record deal as I would be with a band,” Mr. Sams, the band’s keyboard player, joked during a telephone interview Monday afternoon.

With tunes such as “No News,” “Mr. Mom,” “I’m Already There” and the mega-smash “Amazed,” Lonestar will play Harrington Raceway and Casino’s Exhibit Hall Feb. 10 at 8 p.m.

The band has sold more than 10 million records, notched nine No. 1 country hits and placed nine more in the top 10.

Lonestar, which includes four members now, started out as a quintet back in 1992 with John Rich as the band’s bassist and second lead vocalist. He left the group in 1998 to pursue a solo career and then became half of Big and Rich in 2003.

In 2007, lead singer Richie McDonald left the band to spend more time with his family and also start a solo career. He returned in 2011 in time for Lonestar’s 20th anniversary tour in 2012.

The rest of the band is comprised of guitarist Michael Britt and drummer Keech Rainwater.

After about 500 dates on the road, Lonestar finally got its first record deal with BNA in 1995, releasing “Lonestar Live,” recorded at the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville.

The band’s debut single, “Tequila Talkin’,” was released that August, peaking at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot Country chart. It was included on its self-titled debut album, which was released that October. The next single, “No News,” became the band’s first No. 1 single in April 1996.

Together now 26 years, Mr. Sams has a few reasons for the band’s longevity.

“I’m a big dreamer but you can’t fulfill your dreams without a lot of hard work, ambition and a strong work ethic. All of us have the same drive to be successful,” he said.

“We’re all from Texas and we all grew up similarly. We all really care about the music and care about the fans and we try to focus on the right things instead of the wrong things.

“Coming up, maybe we didn’t quite focus enough on the success part of it and we weren’t going to all the parties and worrying about being seen. Sometimes to a band’s detriment you’ve got to play the music games with the powers that be and perhaps we didn’t do that very well. But I’m good with that. What it comes down to is taking care of our bosses, who are our fans.”

A testament to that fan support came last year when Lonestar was nominated for a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Country Group 13 years after their last gold record.

“That was a real ‘What the heck’ moment,” Mr. Sams said.

“We have nothing really current out right now. You’ve got all these young acts that we were nominated with but the fans are so loyal. We didn’t win but we thought we won by just being nominated.”

It’s those connections with the fans that Mr. Sams says matters most to him.

“I’ve lost both my mom and dad and I really didn’t know what they were thinking at the end of their lives. And it gets you thinking what you are going to be the most proud of at the end of your life,” he said.

“For me it won’t be the number one records, it will be the connections that we made. We’ve gone to Iraq and performed for the troops three times. After every show, we’d stand out there and shake the hands of everyone who wanted to stay. Sometimes there were 2,000 people. I can remember vividly seeing the biggest, baddest, strongest, tallest men with tears in their eyes saying ‘Thank you. Coming over here with your music helps us more than you know.’

“It’s those types of memories along with the parents whose little kids are battling cancer and some who have lost the battle and tell us that our music has gotten them through a tough time. It’s knowing that you’ve made that lasting impression on people that will be most important when I get to the end of my own life.”

And when it comes to just making music, “everybody in the band is pretty dang good,” he said.

“Michael and Keech are great musicians and I’ll put Richie up against any vocalist out there. We were doing a show recently where he was really sick and could hardly talk and he killed it. He sounded awesome.

“He was beating himself up afterward but I’ll take a sick Richie over a healthy anyone else. And I may not be the greatest musician but I think I’m a good leader. I can get everybody together and say we have this many songs to do and make sure everybody stays focused. I think all that makes for who we are.”

Although primarily known as a country band, Lonestar has achieved success appealing to a wide audience of musical tastes.

Their 1999 power balled “Amazed” spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the country charts. It later reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well, becoming the first song to top both charts since 1983, when Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton accomplished the same feat with “Islands in the Stream.”

“We’re heavily influenced by a lot of different music,” Mr. Sams said.

“Richie has always been into people like Mac Davis and Michael Martin Murphy. Michael stays hip and is up to date with all the current rock bands out there now. Keech is into 70s and 80s rock and the first thing I ever learned to play on the piano was “Stranger in My House” by Ronnie Milsap. I loved George Strait and Alabama but I was also into Journey and Chicago. Those great harmonies are what attracted me to them.

“I think if you dissect our music, you can pull a little bit out of all of the artists that I just named.”

Following up on their previous album “Never Enders,” released in 2016, Mr. Sams says Lonestar is planning on next doing an acoustic record covering their greatest hits and songs by other artists they have done in concert over the years.

The list of hits is long and Mr. Sams says sometimes people who come to the band’s concerts don’t realize how extensive that list is.

“We were playing a big fair once and there were a couple of girls in the front. They were maybe 21 or 22 years old. They were bobbing their heads and we went into “My Front Porch Looking In.” And I could see that one of them turned to the other and said ‘Oh my God. I love this song.’ You get pretty good reading lips doing this,” Mr. Sams said.

“A little while later we did ‘Walking in Memphis.’ I could see the same girl saying, ‘I didn’t know they did that.’ I looked out at her and said ‘Yeah we do that song too.’”

Tickets are $44 for the 8 p.m. Harrington show and can be purchased online at www.harringtonraceway.com, by calling 888-887-5687, Ext. 5246 or stopping by the Casino Gift Shop. All ages are welcome.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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