JUST WHAT THEY DO

Trick Pony goes gold, hooks up with country's hottest tour and rocks a video congregation

Story by David Scarlett * Photo by Joe Hardwick

The three members of Trick Pony move to center stage of the old church. Framed against a backdrop of massive organ pipes, they're standing beneath a chandelier with more than 1,000 glistening crystals. Faces look down from the balcony, intently awaiting the musical message from the three-voice choir.

What'll it be? "Amazing Grace"? "Abide With Me"? "I Saw The Light"?

Not today, brothers and sisters, not today.

The tape begins to roll, and a cappella harmonies float toward the heavens as Trick Pony rocks the rafters with It's just what I do when I can't get no lovin'! It's the opening line of "Just What I Do," the third consecutive hit from the group's self-titled debut album -- and almost certainly the only song ever to include references to Picasso, the Wright brothers and Jesse James.

As they film the video for the tune, cameras shoot and re-shoot each member of the popular trio -- Keith Burns, Ira Dean and Heidi Newfield -- from every possible angle. And they're not just standing behind the microphone, swaying to the music. No way.

Ira leaps off his new chrome-plated bass amplifier, Keith tosses his painted guitar through the air and Heidi's all over the stage. Looks like they've been "moved by the spirit" in this old Atlanta church.

"I had never heard of this place," declares Heidi, "But the history behind it is really great. It was built as a church in 1911, then became the House of Blues [the music club] for the 1996 Olympics, and now it's The Tabernacle [an entertainment complex]. It's got a vibe. And you can tell there's been some great music played here. You walk in and feel a sense of history."

Trick Pony's making a little history of its own with "Just What I Do," the first single featuring someone other than Heidi on lead vocals -- in this case, Keith, who co-wrote the tune with Ira.

"When we formed the group," explains Keith, "it was always set up that Heidi was gonna be the lead singer. When we do a concert, Heidi sings nine songs, I sing four or five and Ira sings a couple.

"But I view it like a basketball team, and we play different roles. Some games, you're gonna step up and score more points. Some games, you're gonna just dish out the ball because somebody else is gonna shoot more. And that's the way I feel about this. I love it."

With good reason.

The single is Trick Pony's fastest rising yet, and it has helped propel album sales past the magical 500,000 milestone -- to gold record status.

"The charts come out every Monday," explains Ira. "So you live your life a Monday at a time. But the true test is album sales. And it's amazing that 500,000 people went out and bought our record. We've got 500,000 fans. It starts and ends with the fans."

Heidi was in her car when she got the call about going gold. It was a moment she'll never forget.

"Honestly, I started to cry -- and I don't cry easily," she recalls quietly. "But a gold record tells you, OK, you're gettin' started now. There are so many great acts out there, in country and other genres -- a lot of people to choose from. And the fact that somebody spends their hard-earned 15 bucks on a Trick Pony CD -- that means the world to us."

Sometimes fan commitment goes way beyond buying a CD.

"We had one guy do his whole two-week vacation around us," smiles Keith. "He followed us for two straight weeks!"

Keith responds to a suggestion that perhaps they need to start selling season passes to their shows. "Like an amusement park!" he laughs. "How much would you charge for that?"

It's a safe bet there won't be any season passes available this year as Trick Pony plays 43 dates on the

Brooks & Dunn Neon Circus & Wild West Show tour.

"Talk about welcoming us with open arms," exclaims Heidi. "Brooks & Dunn have been extremely hospitable. They're as good as it gets. For those of us looking to get to that level, these guys are a great example to learn from."

The same could be said of a redheaded singer from Texas who joined Ira, Keith and Heidi on a very special track for their next album, set for fall release.

"On the last album," recalls Keith, "we played with Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. And our producer asked us, 'If you had one other person you'd like to record with, who would it be?'

"Ira said, 'Two more -- Paul McCartney and Willie Nelson.' And I said, 'Don Henley and Willie Nelson.' And Heidi said, 'Ray Charles, Bonnie Raitt and Willie Nelson!' "

They all knew it had to be Willie.

"It was just perfect," grins Heidi. "They asked, 'Which song would you want to cut?' And all three of us, simultaneously, said, 'Whiskey River.' "

Working with Willie was, they all agree, a once-in-a-lifetime memory. Partly for the music, but mostly because, well, it was Willie.

"He's my new favorite guy in the whole world," declares Keith. "He's genuine and just such a kindhearted human being. And his talent runs so deep."

"Willie was the coolest," adds Ira with a big grin. "He comes off the bus with his guitar in his hand and says, 'Let's make some music.' And I said, 'You mind if I hold your guitar?' -- the old one with the hole in it.

"And he says, 'Play it!' So I played his guitar. And we sat there talking and watching the Grammys together."

Willie is one of the few artists I know of who gets better with time," adds Heidi. "And I'm standing across from him thinking, 'I'm singin' with Willie Nelson! I have arrived. I can die now!' "

Ira felt the same way, but for a slightly different reason.

"Other than the gold record and seeing me do what I love to do, seeing me play with all the guys he turned me on to makes my father more proud than anything," declares Ira, whose dad put his own dreams of guitar playing stardom on the back burner to raise his family.

"I was talkin' to Pop the other day, and he said, 'The only thing left is you gotta play with Merle Haggard. When you do that, I've gotta be in the studio.'

"And I said, 'Pop, when I play with Merle Haggard, you will be in the studio!' "

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