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The Hats Are History

Lonestar weathers change to find the right look, the right sound - and a pair of monster hits

Story by Wendy Newcomer - Cover Photo by Chuck Jones

We've all had our opportunities to be solo artists and do other things. But that's the great thing about this band - we chose to do it as a group."

Lead singer Richie McDonald is talking about how Lonestar used teamwork to weather sluggish record sales, a significant member change and an image switch in the five and a half years since their songs first made it onto radio. Even after the group's initial No. 1s, "No News" and "Come Cryin' To Me," they were lost in a pack of competing new bands.

Then along came the runaway success of Lonestar's blockbuster album, Lonely Grill, powered by their now-signature ballad "Amazed" - and its stunning eight weeks at No. 1. And now their latest single, "I'm Already There," from their just-released album of the same name, has entrenched itself for another multi-week run at the top of the charts.

"When we made Lonely Grill, we were coming off of the Crazy Nights CD," recalls keyboardist Dean Sams. "Even though we had two No. 1s and two Top 10s, we'd only sold 225,000 records. In our minds, we were on our last leg. Songwriters would look at us and go, 'Lonestar? - I don't know about them,' and maybe wouldn't give us their best songs.

"But going into I'm Already There," he continues, "we were coming off of three and a half million records sold with Lonely Grill. [With] four No. 1 singles - songwriters were very forthcoming with their songs. It was very easy this time; as they wrote them, they would give them to us."

Now at the helm of a musical juggernaut, the Lonestar guys marvel at how their lives have changed.

"Trying to make a living playing music is hard," declares drummer Keech Rainwater. "I've been in survival mode for a long time. If I needed to call a creditor and talk my way into putting off a bill so I could pay the rent, I would. I've eaten Ramen noodles and tuna fish for years.

"But obviously, with the success of Lonely Grill, we've been able to make a little bit of money. I've been able to afford things that I couldn't before, like a house. That's a very exciting feeling, knowing that you own a piece of land and your own home. Just not having to worry about how you're going to pay your rent at the end of the month is great."

Keech smiles. "But I still eat Ramen noodles and tuna fish," he adds, "only because you get used to something and it's hard to change. There's no caviar at my house!"

In 1998, just before Lonestar landed on the musical map for good, the band went from five members to four when bassist John Rich left to pursue a solo career. And then they went through a significant image transformation. Lonestar's look - jeans, boots and cowboy hats - had been true to their Texas name, but by the time Lonely Grill was released in 1999, the hats - and most of the other "western" accessories - were history.

Through the course of a couple of albums, the wind blew hard and blew those hats off," jokes Keech. In reality, after the mind-boggling crossover reach of "Amazed," the hats just didn't "fit" anymore. The band decided to go for a more tailored, well-groomed look.

"I'm not the most hip, fashion-oriented guy," confides Dean, "but I like the changes we made and the clothes we're getting to wear. I think we're all very comfortable with it. It fits the music a lot better - and the music fits us a lot better. It's a good marriage."

The latest product from this happy union is "I'm Already There," co-written by Richie. He got the idea after a particularly heartbreaking phone conversation with his son, Rhett.

Read More in the Current Newsstand issue (Aug 7th)