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As frontman for Shenandoah for a decade, Marty Raybon enjoyed the success that came with gold albums, multiple awards and five No.1 hits.
But in 1997 he left the band to pursue a higher calling.
"I had a lot of people say, 'Man, why are you walking away from this?' " remembers Marty. "I said, 'I'm not -- it's just time to move on.' I got a chance to share my faith about the Lord Jesus Christ."
Though he found fulfillment in an evangelical ministry of preaching and care, Marty longed to return to his first love -- bluegrass. The Alabama native had made his musical debut in the '70s playing in his family's band, The American Bluegrass Express. "It was an itch I'd been needing to scratch for a long time," he says. "I don't think you ever get away from bluegrass."
So Marty went into the studio and recorded his new album, Full Circle, singing everything from bluegrass classics to stripped-down versions of two Shenandoah hits on which he originally sang lead, "Next To You, Next To Me" and "Ghost In This House."
Marty's excited about returning to the stage but confesses that being out of the spotlight hasn't bothered him a bit. "Honest to God, I haven't missed anything about it," he says. "When you're a 'star,' it's so easy to get caught up in that. But if that's what you're all about, when that goes, 99 percent of you leaves. The only thing I've missed more than anything is riding the bus with Shenandoah. I love the fellowship we had when we traveled, the fun we had, the laughter -- even the arguments."
As for reuniting with Shenandoah, he says, "I don't know if that will ever happen, or if there would be enough interest out there."
Marty did send his former bandmates an advance copy of Full Circle. "They liked it, but I'll be honest with you -- they were not real crazy about bluegrass," he admits with a laugh, "no matter who sent them the CD. And that's fine."
Now, Marty's focusing on the future -- with a nod to his past.
"You can never really quit what you are," says Marty. "Somebody could say, 'He can play those bluegrass festivals all he wants to, but he's still the lead singer of Shenandoah.' And you know what? I always will be. But I'm not doing it now. I've always loved bluegrass and I can't wait to get out there!"