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Thankful to escape a close call with muggers on an L.A. street, Ty Herndon returns to remind new fans of the hits he had before

After a short break from radio, Ty Herndon was ready to return. His comeback song, "Heather's Wall," had become a hit video and the Alabama native was eager to give his fans a new batch of songs. Then Ty hit his own wall -- and found himself facing an unexpected identity crisis.

"I got a lot of new fans from 'Heather's Wall,' " he explains. "But people at my shows kept saying, 'Man, I had no idea you sang all of those other songs -- how long have you been doing this?' I've had four No. 1 records, three No. 2s and a bunch of Top 5s, but I don't think people really knew who I was."

Ty went to his record label and suggested postponing his planned album of all-new music, proposing instead a greatest-hits album "to remind people who Ty Herndon is," he says. "I didn't want to throw out a new album and have people go, 'Who's that guy?' "

The record company agreed, and released This Is Ty Herndon: Greatest Hits in advance of Ty's "new" album, which is now planned for release sometime next year. His recent hit, "Heather's Wall," is the bridge between Ty's old hits, like "What Mattered Most" and "Hands Of A Working Man," and the new music. Interestingly, "Heather's Wall" is a song he really didn't want to record.

"I thought it was a little too controversial for country radio," admits Ty, "because someone gets killed. But the song is about eternal love. It's about a guy who gets killed in a bank robbery, and this woman who just worshiped the ground he walked on."

Ty will never forget one particular listener's phone call when he visited a radio station. "A lady told this story about how her husband was killed in an accidental bank shooting," he says. "She said the young man who attempted to rob the bank had a wife and a baby waiting outside and they were hungry. Then she says, 'By the way, my name is Heather. You didn't know it but you've recorded the story of my life.' I was floored."

In an eerie case of life imitating art, Ty experienced his own act of random violence in April when he was mugged on a Los Angeles street.

"I'd dropped my friends off at this restaurant and there was a long line at the valet," recalls Ty. "I said, 'Aw, I'll just go park the car myself.' "

As he was walking back from his parked vehicle just a couple of blocks away from the restaurant, "these three guys jumped out of their car and held me at gunpoint. My dad once told me, 'If you're ever in a place where your mortality's questioned, see the face of God.' And that's what I did."

Then Ty was saved. "I don't know her name," he explains, "but a sweet lady lived in a nearby house. She came out her front door and yelled, 'I've called the police!' " The muggers fled. "I would've been killed if she hadn't done that," says Ty. "So, whoever you are, little lady, if you read Country Weekly, thank you!"

Ty isn't letting the incident stop him. He's recently purchased a home in the Hollywood Hills north of Los Angeles, where he's started a film and TV production company with a friend from high school. He splits his time between L.A. and the Dallas home he shares with his wife, Renee. And he's just released a new single, "A Few Short Years," from his greatest-hits CD.

"It's about hitting the road, stopping at the Texaco, buying a beer and an ice cream cone and just getting out of town," he says with a smile.

And he's getting out of town a lot this summer. "I'll be touring big time. I'd like for people to start knowing who I am again," he confesses. "And then eight months or so down the road, when people are remembering my music, I'd like to come with something really special -- the new album, which is also called This Is Ty Herndon.

"Or," he adds, "maybe I'll call it This Is Ty Herndon Again!"

--Wendy Newcomer