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Collin Raye struggles through tough times to come out on top

Story by Chris Neal

It's a warm, clear day in Nashville, and Collin Raye is preparing to go out and greet it. For the moment, he's sitting on his tour bus, which is parked at the Nashville baseball field where he's shooting part of his new video, "Ain't Nobody Gonna Take That From Me." The song is about holding tightly to the valuable people and accomplishments in life, despite the troubles that come your way. It's a subject Collin has learned a lot about lately.

"It's been kind of a tough year," he says, shaking his head. "It's been a year of awakening about people and some of their agendas. I feel a little alone at times, like it's me and my kids against everybody else. So this song really hit me because of that - because regardless of the negative things I've dealt with lately, there have been some wonderful moments, and that's what I cling to."

In fact, much of Collin's upcoming new album, due in October, deals with the trials and tribulations he's faced recently. "I've always felt like my records were a window into my life," he says. "This new record is a mirror image of what I've been living through the past couple of years. I was writing and looking for songs that said something about where I was emotionally."

What he's been living through includes trouble with business associates, the enduring sting of his broken-off engagement of two years ago and disappointing sales of his 2000 album, Tracks. "Because the last album didn't go platinum, it's like being hungry again," he says. "I want to get back up there, I want to come back smoking."

To get there, the album has to be just right. So on the bus today, Collin has been sifting through the 20 tracks he's recorded to select a final lineup of songs. "I'm having to slice off a lot," he says. "I love all 20, so it's like cutting off fingers."

Actually recording the album, however, was more like pulling teeth. "A lot of personal distractions crept in, but I had to suck it up and finish the record anyway," he recalls. "They say that whatever you put into something you get back multiplied - if that's true, this album should sell 10 million copies. We bled for this record."

Although he's hesitant to get into the particulars, the biggest personal distraction for Collin was the pain of watching the woman he was once engaged to find happiness with another man.

"Nobody wants to realize the other person has totally gotten over it," he says, "and in my case, she found new life with someone very close to me. You move on, but if you love somebody enough - and in my case, I was prepared to marry her - it leaves a big ol' bruise."

The result, Collin says, is that he's become gun-shy about new romance. "I'm glad it turned out the way it did, but at the same time it doesn't charge your batteries up for another go at it," he says. "The thought of stepping really heavily into something like that again is spooky. Everybody loves and everybody loses, but when something like that happens to you, you become really guarded.

"Sometimes I just throw my hands up and go, 'Maybe I'm supposed to go solo.' "

Collin's refuge in the turmoil of the past year has been his children, 18-year-old Britanny and 16-year-old Jake, and his first grandchild, Britanny's 14-month-old daughter, Haley. "That's the one constant in my life," he says, beaming. "I've always counted my blessings, but boy, never so much as I have this past year. Everybody's healthy and safe, we're all okay, and that's what keeps me going."

The arrival of little Haley in June 2000 was one of the events that initially turned Collin's life upside-down, especially as Britanny and Haley live with Collin in his Nashville home. "That was one of the big, big issues that was tough to deal with," he says. "I was only in shock for about 72 hours when my daughter became pregnant - we got over that pretty fast. But having that addition to the family was unexpected, and has made it extra tough to be me. I get very little sleep these days!"

But having Haley around has been a tremendous positive change for Collin, no matter the price. "That's one of the things that has made life sweeter," he says with a smile. "Haley's doing wonderful. We're blessed that she hasn't had a sick day in her life yet, with the exception of a little cold here and there, a little teething fever and stuff like that."

A knock on the door tells Collin the video crew is ready for him out on the baseball field. The video for "Ain't Nobody Gonna Take That From Me" is a straightforward depiction of the song's lyrics, which include carefully drawn scenes of the singer as a boy hitting a home run, as a young man being tempted into crime and as a parent treasuring his children.

Sometimes I think there's something to be said for just visualizing what's already in the song," Collin explains. "A song like this is what it is. It's a statement about those times in everyone's life when something happened that was so good, or you did something that you're proud of. It justifies your existence a little bit. Nobody can take that away from you."

Those moments, those accomplishments and the people he loves have all made the journey worth it for Collin Raye.

"Most of the unexpected things that have happened to me in the past few years have been really good," he sums up, as he emerges from the bus and into the mid-afternoon sun. "A few have not been, and those were just little life lessons. I try not to complain about it, because I have a great life."