Posted January 2018
If you’re a country music fan and, more specifically, a country music fan in the nineties, you are quite familiar with country star, Collin Raye. His music dominated the country air waves with hits like, ‘Love, Me’, ‘In This Life’, ‘My Kind of Girl’, and “I Can Still Feel You’.
Recently, Collin and the co-writer of ‘Love, Me’, Max T. Barnes, re-teamed for one of Max’s songs, “I Can Sleep When I’m Dead” from Max’s album of the same name.
The three of us had the privilege of meeting up in Nashville to discuss the song and other subjects.
As we settled into our chairs at one end of a very long conference table in the cavernous conference room that the interview took place in, we engaged in a little small talk about getting older but these being the best times of our lives. Collin was enthusiastic about where he is in life now.
“I’m having a lot more fun than I had in my thirties forties. The pressure’s gone. There were so many things that happened between 1991 and 2003, let’s say, that I didn’t get to enjoy ‘cause the business – everything was so competitive and you’re trying to win this and you’re trying to win that and you’re trying to outdo this and you’re trying to outdo that because there are so many people pushing you to do that. So, it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, I love the fact that I don’t have big label pressure.’ And people say, ‘Oh, sure, I bet you miss it.’ No, I don’t.
“Aaron Tippen and I were talking not too long ago. He was talking about one of the labels that sprang up - a Nash Icon or something like that – there was going to be some money thrown at. There was going to be some albums from some of our generation. I said, ‘I think that would be nice.’ And he said, ‘Really? Do you really want to do that again at this point?’ And I started thinking about it. I thought, ‘No, I really wouldn’t’ because you give away a lot of everything including your creativity. Do you really want to do that dance again to gain what? And the answer is, ‘No.’
Since both men have been in the music business long enough to see a lot of changes, I asked them if the business is broke and does it need fixing. Max shared his answer first.
“People ask me this a lot. Music changes. It always does. It comes through cycles. Everybody knows that. It’s nothing new. I remember when there was a time where we thought country music was so hot with Lee Greenwood and Barbara Mandrell. Looking back, they seem traditional. “And, then, Randy Travis and Ricky Skaggs broke it wide open with traditional stuff and everybody was, like, ‘Ah! That’s water to a thirsty man!’
“We’re going through a time now where there’s a certain music going on and I don’t begrudge those folks at all because it’s their time. There’s some good music going on. There’s time for everything and we had our time.
“Though I can say this: you were saying before about there’s still room for folks who love Collin Raye and Aaron Tippin and I would venture – I don’t know what’s in their pocket, but you can do as well now where they are as, maybe, when the big record companies had their hands in their pockets. They’re probably still doing very well and with their hands out of their pockets. Now they’re enjoying life and getting to do what they want. Now, all these young artists have the record label’s hands in all their pockets – not just the front one. They got t-shirts, the touring, otherwise, nobody’s selling CDs.
“It’s a very different time and I applaud anybody who sticks their neck out – including the record companies – trying to sell music because it’s a very tough time with all the digital streaming, what’s available. Nobody knows what’s going on. Nobody knows who’s going to be the next Blockbuster Video – shut down and irrelevant. We’re going through a very unusual time. I don’t begrudge any of the new music.”
Collin chimed in by adding, “Yeah, I think that’s it exactly. I think, for me – I’m glad to hear you say that, too, because I don’t understand it, either. Because, I mean, I don’t know – and I think there’s a lot of people at the major labels that don’t know what’ we’re supposed to do. All they’re thinking of is the bottom line. ‘Therefore, I’m going to take a piece of your touring. I’m going to take a piece of your publishing. Because they’re thinking, ‘If we’re going to risk any money at all’ which, from what I hear, they’re not even willing to do that. They expect you to bring your own money. So, to me, you think, ‘Well, what good is a major label going to do for you, then?’
“Okay, they have a machine. They have some control at radio and stuff but even that, radio doesn’t have the power that it had when we were out there. You know what I mean? There’s some acts – some rock and roll and alternative acts – that did it first. But that internet is a powerful thing if you know what you’re doing.
“My granddaughter – her and her mom went to L.A. for a little three day thing to see Brooklyn and Bailey live at the Roxy. I played at the Roxy back many years ago. It’s just a cool place to play. Roxy is like the Whiskey (a Go-Go). They went to see them. Brooklyn and Bailey are these two YouTubers – two sisters. Their mom had a thing called Cute Girls Hair Styles. It reached millions, right? Then, Brooklyn and Bailey started their own little thing and they’re way more. They’re, like, the biggest YouTube sensation. They’ve got 11 or 12 million followers. They both sing a little bit and now they’re putting music out.
“They went out and the place was packed. A big buzz about it. They didn’t do that with a record label. They did it by building a brand on the internet for free!”
I said that maybe what we’re seeing is the way it was in the original days of country and gospel music. You did your own recording, marketed out of the back of the car, and you were in charge of the whole means of production from soup to nuts to which Max piped in and said, “There’s a scene in Coal Miner’s Daughter that I think about all the time. It’s when Loretta was in the back of the car with the kids and her husband, Doo, was driving around to all the radio station, giving them all records. Everybody remembers the scene. Now, we couldn’t get buzzed in the door. It would be hard because there would be so many layers to stop these people from coming in. And even if we got in the door, there’s nobody in there.
“So, like you’re saying, the internet, Collin, it’s the Wild West and you can do just like Loretta Lynn did in those days – while the other’s going on. It’s very strange.”
So, what has been the response to the new video, “I Can Sleep When I’m Dead”?
Max: “People hate this song. Ha! Ha! We’re here to squash and to put it to bed for good. Ha! Ha! This is the front end of the launch. People seem to get a kick out of it. Bobby Bare said, ‘There’s two middle aged guys who don’t give a crap.’ That’s not what he said but he said there’s two or three laugh lines in there that he loved. I didn’t ask him what he thought. He just offered that up.”
Collin: “He liked it, though. That means a ton.”
Max: “I think people just enjoy it because like we said before: it’s not that we don’t care. We do, but we don’t. We’re having fun. Collin’s doing great. He’s got a lovely life. I’m blessed. I’ve got a great life. We’re having fun. I think you can see it on the video.”
Collin: “You might have heard Max say earlier, talking about the buddy songs are kinda gone by the wayside. There hadn’t been anything like that in a while. The George and Merle – the album they made back in the eighties; these buddy/party songs. So, it’s kind of refreshing. And what I’d say about it, too, is when you get to those up-tempo kind of rowdy ‘we’re going to go out on Saturday night and have fun’ songs, often in recent years, in my opinion, they haven’t been well written or they were written quickly to where it was basically a hook. ‘This is the hook. We’re just going to keep repeating it over and over and over again.’
“This song’s a well-constructed song. Very clever. It’s got a lot of high points. Musical hooks happening. Lyrical hooks happening as every song that he writes does. Again, the big push has been a real push in Europe, you know, and the one thing I’ll say about European fans is they pay closer – right now – they pay closer attention to lyrics; to things like that than our American fans do. They’re like what the American fans were, say, back in the nineties. I mean, Rodney Crowell. Rodney Crowell couldn’t get arrested today in the United States because his songs are just too deep; too clever; too well written; too poetic. Over there, it’s a different story and they don’t care what you’ve done lately. It’s like, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen you on the late-night talk shows in a long time so we’re not interested.’ They don’t care. They like music! They like good songs and good music. It’s a joy to play over there and I think they’re going to eat this up.
“Don Williams, who we just lost, as big as he was here, he was a giant over there. Why? Because he was good!”
I couldn’t help but notice that their first hit, “Love, Me,” has the imagery of death and now, “I Can Sleep When I’m Dead” obviously alludes to it, too. I asked if this was coincidental or did they consciously plan it that way.
Collin: I think it was coincidental. Ha! Ha!
Max: Part Two!
Collin: “Our last collaboration, if you will, was a heavy song. A beautiful song about love beyond the grave. I thought it was kinda nice that we get together all these years later and do something that, for me, compared to hits that I’ve had, it’s far more ‘that’s my story and I’m sticking to it’ than it is, ‘Love, Me’. I think that’s kind of refreshing. For people who know that Max wrote ‘Love, Me’ and here we are, all these years later, instead of trying to redo that again . . .”
Max: “Just wait until our third song, in twenty-five years . . . “
Collin: “Of course, you’ll have to come see us at the home to see us perform!”
Warren Zevon wrote a much darker song with a similar title, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”. I had to ask if his song was on Max’s mind while he wrote and recorded this song.
Max: “No. Leslie Satcher and I wrote this song many years ago. As songwriters, we don’t fully research. It was totally innocent. Back in those days – which is not the same way today - back in those days, writers would never write a song if they’d even heard the title before. So, no, I’d never had that thought.”
Collin and Max go back a lot of years, so I asked them to tell me about that relationship and how much of the new video reflects that relationship.
Collin: “We’d never hung out and done that before. Although I’d be up for it if you wanted to. Ha! Ha! With Max and me, we’d always been friends and I think there’s always been a mutual respect since “Love, Me”. I mean, obviously, he handed me a career, basically. I remember when we found that song, it was over at Opryland Music Room is where I’d heard it. Jerry Fuller and I – my first producer – we were going around. There was a lot of artists – I remember Davis Daniel, Rob Crosby had records come out that same week or two that my All I Can Be – my album – was. Looking back on it – and I remember the feeling of, ‘Man, this is just a dice roll because no matter what we did, no matter how good or not good this album is, either people are going to dig it nor they’re not going to dig it. It’s either gonna break through or it’s not.’ and that song was the reason it broke through. All of a sudden, I was legitimate overnight. People started taking me serious. ‘Oh, he’s an up-and-comer’.
“It’s weird how this business is. It’s the song, right? Period. But, yet, if you’re the guy that sang the song, all of a sudden, it legitimizes you, too. I never felt the feeling, ‘Oh, he’s going to be a one hit wonder.’ They attach it to me even though I didn’t create that piece of music, you know. He handed me a career on a silver platter. I’ve said often times that any number of artists would’ve had a hit with a song like that and I was just the lucky guy that got it, so my sense of gratitude has always been really, really strong. So, when we reconnected again and just saw each other, ‘Man, we gotta do something! We gotta do something together!’ Plus, I respect Max not only as a writer but as a singer and he’s a great artist in his right and love to hear him sing and he’s just an idea guy. That’s one thing – as I’ve gotten older – I’ve run dry on those. I don’t have a lot of fresh ideas – not just as far as the songs – but a lot of fresh ideas of things to do because my professional life has become so automatic. I tour eighty-five to a hundred dates a year. I’m gonna sign my songs. I change the set list just to keep it from getting boring, but that’s what I do.
“Once in a while, I’ll do an album. I did a tribute album to Glenn Campbell three years ago. I just have these little projects I do but I don’t have a lot of fresh ideas. He’s (Max) is full of them.”
Max: “Full of it. Ha! Ha!”
Collin: “He’s always got something cool going on. Always has a cool idea. A very creative, fertile mind so I just love getting to do anything with him at all. I hope we have a lot of success with this and they’re going to be screaming for a follow-up. It would be kinda cool, like I mentioned earlier, the Mo and Joe, just a more cerebral version of Mo and Joe. No offense, Mo!”
When I asked if there is another “Love Me” in there between the two men, Raye chimed in first.
Collin: “Wouldn’t that be sweet?”
Max: “It would be amazing. You know, ‘Love, Me’ or the songs of that era, I’m not sure that they would go or that they would make it. I think there were so many things that lined up for us on that song. We don’t want to forget Skip Ewing as a writer on that song, too. The lay of the land was just right for it. Collin’s an amazing artist. He did a perfect job on it. It was produced wonderfully. He was with a great label who could put it out there. A year later or a year before or a five or ten or nine, I don’t know if it would’ve worked. But we had that one, didn’t we?”
Collin: “We had that one! I’ve heard people say, too, like we were talking a few minutes ago about doing an album. If you could get onto a major label and someone wanted to do an album with retro artists or whatever, and the say, ‘Wouldn’t you love to have another hit?’ and you go, ‘I got plenty. I got plenty of ‘em. I got more than I can play in a show.’
Max: “That’s when you’ve done well.”
Collin: “We don’t play half of them! We play the big ones. The ones people want the most, you know? I don’t know even know what a hit would look like today. It would probably be an internet hit. The window of country radio is so small now. I mean, some of them are playing ten songs; twenty at the most. It’s not like in the old days. I don’t even know if Max came up with a song like that again, where the home would be for it. Online, iTunes that promote that. And great things can happen from that. It really is like the wild west. You don’t really know what to do. So, let’s just throw stuff out there and see what happens.
“Right now, a song like ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead has a pretty good upside of what it could do worldwide because it’s fun but it’s clever. Like I said, I think it’s going to do really well in Europe. You never know what might happen here. Because, this thing here I’m pointing to – laptop – it levels the playing field for the entire planet. Everybody’s got one. Most people do. And the internet is there for everybody. So, you just never know.”
Max: “Love, Me’ is a good case of this, not to keep going back to it. ‘Love, Me’ took off and it was very big. It went five or ten years. It had this very, very long tail where it’s played, now, a lot, still even. Somebody said on Facebook the other day, ‘Would you rather write a number one song that people kinda forgot,’ which I’ve written those, too – ‘or would you like to write a number thirty song for Glenn Campbell in 1967.’ Well, that number thirty song was ‘Gentle on My Mind’, which is the most performed song of all time. So, in the end, they one. Imagine the airplay on something that’s been played 7, 8, 10 million times or more.”
Collin: “I’ve had a lot of number ones and a lot of number one parties but several of those – I can name two or three number ones that I had and you’d go, ‘huh?’. But, ‘That’s My Story (And I’m Sticking To It’ - the Lee Roy Parnell and Tony Haselden song. I think it peaked at number 6. Next to ‘Love, Me,’ that song everybody knows. It will keep on going – it became kind of a catch phrase with people. The number? It’s always beautiful when it happens but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to last.”
As to what kind of album would these two legends would like to make that they haven’t done yet – individually or together, Collin answered first.
Collin: “I always have these pet projects in my head of records I’d like to do. I love the creative process of making new music. So, right now, I’ve redone the greatest hits called, ‘The Big Twenty-Five – Twenty-Five Hits. Twenty-Five Years.” We re-cut everything, which was a chore. That’s coming out hopefully the first of December.
“I’d love to do a bluegrass album. Why? To show that I can. My thing as a singer, I consider myself a chameleon. I like to do different things just to prove to myself that I can because I won’t make a record that I don’t think is quality. I wouldn’t do anything just to cash in on whatever. I’d like to make a really cool bluegrass album because I love bluegrass music and I’ve never got to ever record any of it. I’d like that. I think that would be a challenge for me. Singing bluegrass music, it’s putting to the side everything I’ve learned to be a singer over the years. It’s a whole different thing and I’d love to try that.
“Also, to do a big band album, which is a total opposite of what I just described. Why? Because I can. I love to be that sorta guy, ‘Oh, Collin can sing anything.’ Our shows, we do a couple of rock and roll covers towards the end because it excites the crowd. I always pick songs that I don’t think anyone else can sing. If you’re going to do a Bob Seger cover, don’t do ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’. Don’t do that. Do something like – we do, ‘Get Out of Denver’ or ‘Rock and Roll Never Forgets’ just so that people will go, ‘Wow! I didn’t know he could do that!’ That’s not an ego thing. I feel that’s the kind of thing that keeps me fresh. ‘Not only can he still sing his songs, you never know what he’s gonna do.’
“I could do some records like that and then I would love to do another kind of an Americana record like Don Henley did – Cass County. Even he – this rock icon – wants to be in that world. I would like to make a record – tap into my favorite writers and say, ‘What’s something that you don’t think anybody else will cut but you think is a really, really good song. Let me cut it’ and make a record like that with no vision of trying to get radio. Nothing like that. Just make a really good album full of great songs and I think my fan base would love that. So that would be the new music record that I would like to make. Those other projects would be just fun little sidebars I know people would love.”
Max: “I’m gonna stick with country. My fan base is in Europe. I’m over there a lot. I have a home full time there now. Ireland. People tell me – I’m hooked up with some of the people in the business like I am here – probably the top guy over there was just over here last week and he said, ‘They’re sending us music people country to country we don’t want.’ That’s why the anonymity. It’s not that they’re bad. It’s just not who they want. They want country music. They want that good ol’ Don Williams that just gets your heart with the thud of a kick drum. I grew up with that stuff, stuff. So, I’m gonna stick to with that and try to give them what they want because I love it, too.”
As I stated earlier, both men have been in the country music business a very long time. With so much accomplished, I asked both of them how they want to be remembered and what they hope their legacy is after they’ve left this earth.
Max: “I’ll jump right in there. I raised two great kids. I stayed married my whole life. The rest of it, you can have.”
Collin: “I agree. I’m not married but I’m really, really proud of my kids and I’ve got an awesome granddaughter. That’s my world. I think everybody has an identity. I think that’s where so many people go wrong, today. They don’t have an identity, so they turn to gangs or drugs or whatever because they don’t know who they are. They don’t know what they’re supposed to be. You have to see yourself what you see yourself as. And, like Max, I don’t see myself as an entertainer. That’s just my job. Ken Craig had told me at one time – he managed me for a while – and he said, ‘Your career is not your life. It’s a means to a better life.’ I think as long as you see yourself – what would you want on your epitaph. What would you want on your tombstone, it’s not going to have anything about music or anything. I hope my family loves me. They love spending time with me. And I hope people always say, ‘He was a great dad and granddad, you know? And let the music – which is a whole separate entity – live and breathe on its own and that’s up to the public whether how long something’s going to be remembered.
“I think back on some people – some great people. I’m a big history guy. I’ll be reading about somebody who did something just earth-shattering that we needed. We homeschool Maddy and I teach history and social studies and I was teaching her this week about the industrial revolution – Eli Whitney and Jethro Tull. Not Ian Anderson’s band but the guy who invented these farm implements that changed the world forever.
“Let’s use him, for instance. When you think of Jethro Tull. If you’re a classic rock guy like me, you go, ‘Oh! Ian Anderson. Martin Barre. A great band!’ It’s like, ‘No! No! No! They named that band after a guy that changed the way we eat food and changed the way we produce food. But, he’s forgotten’ And What he did was far more important than anything I’d ever done. Eli Whitney making the cotton gin was way more important than my contribution to humanity. But he’s kind of forgotten, you know? There’s people who don’t know who Napoleon was.
“So, glory, as General Patton said, is fleeting. It comes and it goes and, so, you can’t put any emphasis or any value on that or what the work you did. That’s just going to be what it is.”
You can keep up with Collin at his website, CollinRaye.com, and with Max at MaxTBarnes.com.