FAMILY MATTERS -- RASCAL FLATTS

Rascal Flatts share their success -- and hearts -- with those closest to them

Story by David Scarlett

The three members of Rascal Flatts have shared plenty in the past two years -- awards, standing ovations, a million-selling album and a string of hits, including their latest, "I'm Movin' On."

Even so, lead singer Gary LeVox has something that makes him the envy of his bandmates, Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus -- a wife and family.

"The older I get, the more I feel the urge to settle down and have my own family," declares bass-playing Jay. "My sister up in Columbus, Ohio, has a neat son and a daughter, and I've fallen head over heels for them. Even more now,

I want to have my own family. Of course," he adds with a laugh, "with her kids, I can hold 'em as long as I want to, then turn around and give 'em back!"

Guitarist Joe Don feels the same way but confesses that the demands of his schedule would make it difficult to do just now.

"Oh, absolutely!" he grins. "I want to have a family and beautiful kids running around one day. But I know right now I couldn't -- there's just no way. I don't know how Gary does it. Hats off to him and especially his wife, Tara -- bless her heart. They've got a little girl named Brittany, and Tara's such a great woman and takes such good care of that baby. They have a good strong team together."

It's no surprise that Jay and Joe Don are looking forward to settling down. Gary's made married life look pretty appealing -- in spite of the hectic travel and frequent separations that can test even the best relationships.

"We knew we were gonna work a bunch," declares Gary. " 'Cause you have to as a new artist. Just get out there and beat the street. Which is fine, that's a dream come true.

"And it hasn't really brought a whole lot of stress, because I couldn't have been blessed with a sweeter wife and a more patient, understanding person. I'm worse than she is -- I'm the one out there on the road goin', 'Baby, I wish I was home!'"

While Gary would like to be home more, he loves knowing that Brittany, who's nearly two, is in the best possible hands.

"The big reward for me is that my wife gets to raise our daughter, not KinderCare," he declares. "Tara gets to stay home every single day with her. That was part of her dream as a child growing up, to be a mom."

Joe Don and Jay may not be ready to hear the pitter-patter of little feet anytime soon, but both have a special someone to miss when they're on the road. Joe Don has been dating SHeDAISY's Kassidy Osborn for nearly eight months -- and he can hardly wipe the grin off his face.

"The first time I saw her," he recalls, "it was on TV. Their 'Little Good-byes' video had come out. And, I've gotta be honest, I couldn't take my eyes off her! This was before we even got the record deal with Lyric Street, and it was so ironic that we ended up on the same label the girls were on.

"When we finally had a conversation, she was so cool, so humble, so relaxed. We just hit it off immediately as friends -- and it kind of blossomed from there. Neither one of us expected this to happen, but it's happened!"

Romance has happened for Jay, too. But he's keeping the identity of his special lady under wraps -- for now.

"She has a job with CMT," he reveals. "I met her on the Jo Dee Messina tour we were on last year. But it's so crazy, I rarely even get to see her. It takes a very, very, very special person to put up with the lifestyle that we have to lead. And she is. She travels for a living, too, so she definitely understands.

"But when I'm in town, we just enjoy watching TV or cooking dinner at the house. We also both love to shop! And movies are something we're both really big into."

Does Jay have any concerns about fan attention intruding on a night out with his girl?

"I count it as a blessing," declares Jay. "I love the fans, and being recognized is gratifying. You could walk into a place and people not care at all who you are!"

Given the group's incredible success after just one album, that's not likely to happen anytime soon -- and Gary, Joe Don and Jay don't take it for granted. That's especially true because of the overwhelming success of "I'm Movin' On."

"I definitely feel like it was a career tune," declares Gary. "Ray Benson from Asleep At The Wheel told me once, 'Gary, you know what, people wait a lifetime or a career to cut a song like that -- and never get it. Just feel proud that you got one.' "

The guys are proud, and more than grateful for their success. It has led to everything from their new homes to the gifts they can now give parents and other family and friends who've supported them through tough times.

But the guys haven't forgotten the early days. Back when Gary listened to the Opry on his grandma's radio, Jay dreamed of a career in music while installing glass for his grandfather's company, and Joe Don stood in front of a mirror, holding his guitar and dreaming of playing before thousands of people.

It's their impact on people that Gary, Jay and Joe Don appreciate most.

"Our record label received a letter from a lady who had a 9-year-old daughter named Hillary," recalls Joe Don. "She was born with cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair. She had never spoken a word. Then one day Hillary pulled her wheelchair in front of the TV to watch CMT, and the 'Movin On' video came on. Her mother heard her start to make sounds that sounded like she was humming -- and it became obvious that she was trying to sing along.

"After the song was over, Hillary's mother asked her if she liked the song, and she just grinned and said, 'Yes.' Her mother said she cried for hours and just wanted to write and thank us for her daughter's first word."

"That's why we do what we do," adds Gary. "For no other reason in the world. Nothing else matters when you get a response like that. You just go, 'Wow.'

"And you thank God, and you know what you do is ordained."

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