SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

It's almost eerily appropriate that "I Will Survive" is Wild Horses' first hit. "It's our band's life story!" declares lead singer Angela Rae. "It's really strange how it all tied together."

Indeed, the Wild Horses saga is one of survival. They've played as many as 250 shows a year for over a decade, enduring one setback after another, to finally seize the brass ring. "If we're overnight successes, it was a really long night," deadpans lead guitarist - and Angela's husband - Michael Mahler.

Wild Horses formed in 1989, with the core members all hailing from the same Texas county. They set up camp in Nashville, where they soon won a battle of the bands. "We thought we had made it," chuckles Michael.

Instead, the band - which also includes guitarist Joe Lee Koenig, bass player Stephen Kellough and drummer Ralph "Thundersticks" McCauley - would spend years on the road being cheered by enthusiastic crowds, yet ignored by record labels.

"We're pretty different," says Michael, "and for a long time record companies weren't looking for different - they wanted something that was already out there. It was maddening."

In the meantime, the band grew into a family operation. Michael and Angela now have a 7-year-old son, Ralph and Stephen each have three children, and Joe Lee - the only currently unmarried member - also has a son. The band itself became like family, too. "We really understand each other," reveals Angela, "and everybody's got a great heart in our band."

Then professional good luck came their way. First the producer who was working with them hooked the band up with Epic Records, and they finally had that elusive record deal. Then, some folks from the Professional Bull Riders rodeo organization heard "I Will Survive" and snapped it up for the new PBR compilation album, Dancin' With Thunder.

As Michael points out, the track is a perfect match for the PBR. "They're surviving every time they get on a bull!" he explains. "And it's a good fit for us, because most of us have lived on ranches and raised cattle. It's nothing we can't relate to."

With that first hit under their belt, Wild Horses is now recording its first album, due out next year.

" 'I Will Survive' is probably more rocking than the rest of what we're doing," reports Michael. "But it's all going to be earthy and energetic. Big harmonies, Angela's rough-whiskey vocals, a lot of mandolin and acoustic guitar - it's gonna be cool, man!"

- Chris Neal

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