By Benjamin NunnallyTimes Staff Writer
Country music megastar Collin Raye is headlining the Alabama Chocolate Festival Saturday, but it’s not his first trip to the Gadsden area.
The multi-platinum singer — known for No. 1 hits like “Love, Me,” “In This Life” and “My Kind of Girl” — traveled all over the South during the early parts of his 25-year recording career, stopping at venues around Northeast Alabama, including shows at The Fuzzy Duck, a now-closed venue. He’ll be back on a local stage at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the festival, which is in the Rainbow Plaza shopping center in Rainbow City.
We spoke to the singer about his upcoming greatest hits album, “The Big 25,” featuring all-new recordings of hits throughout his career, as well as how he’s grown as an artist, and most importantly, his favorite kind of chocolate:
Have you ever been to the Gadsden area before?
It’s been a few years. I want to say we did an outdoor show, like a downtown, street festival kind of thing? Then there’s a club that used to be there — is it The Fuzzy Duck? When we first started touring in ’90 and ’91, we played this nightclub, there were a lot of clubs in the South that would bring in national country acts, and we played there like twice a year for the first three years, and I think it was called The Fuzzy Duck. And it lived up to the title, too!
You’ve got killer memory to still have that tucked away. I guess you don’t forget a name like “The Fuzzy Duck.”
You don’t forget The Fuzzy Duck!
You’re playing at our annual chocolate festival, so I’ve got to ask you: As somebody who travels the world, what’s your favorite kind of chocolate? Do you like anything special or unusual?
I know most people nowadays are into dark chocolate and different things like that, but I’m just a classic Southern boy who loves milk chocolate. You can’t go wrong with it. I’m a sucker for those kind of candy bars. I’ve been to Switzerland a number of times, and it’s like one of the chocolate capitals of the world, and I have never eaten anything in Switzerland, any fancy, high-dollar chocolate, that tastes as good as a Snickers bar. Milk chocolate rules, in my opinion, so this chocolate fest ought to be a lot of fun. When I saw this on the schedule, it definitely made me smile.
Every gig is special in its own way, I’m sure, but when it’s attached to something fun, it must really stand out.
Oh, yeah. Things like that are for the whole family, the old folks can come, the kids can come.
That’s true. You’re going to have multiple generations out there, people who know you from when you started and people who have discovered you more recently. How do you make a setlist that delivers for the range of people in the crowd and also keeps you interested?
I like being different and I like to shake things up, and I know artists who have gotten to this point, 25 years in, like I have, and are pretty much married to those same 15 or 20 songs they’re going to play every night. I love shaking things up and pulling out songs that people don’t remember. I loved artists who did lots of different things, and that’s what I wanted to do. I love doing that in my shows as well. Any type of outdoor function, you want to keep it rockin’ and keep it lively, and make sure there’s plenty of energy going. I have fans getting on up there in age now, that attached, say, “Love, Me” or “In This Life,” who have attached that to a wedding or a funeral, they expect to hear those songs delivered with sincerity. And you may have some kids there too who say, “I don’t know this guy, but he seems nice,” and you want to play to them, too.
You mentioned how you like it when artists evolve over time. As you get older, your values are bound to change in terms of what you want to do and put out. Is there anything you feel has changed about you as an artist over the last 25 years of recording?
My goal when I decided I could sing a little bit, my goal was never to be rich and famous. My goal was to be a good musician, to be good enough to be a recording artist, and if I got that chance I wanted to leave something good behind that people would remember me for. Be better on Saturday night than you were on Friday night. And I guess over the years, I feel like I’m a better singer now than I was. I give God the credit there, because there’s really no explanation why a guy that sings as high as my songs in the ’90s, and as much pressure on myself to sound distinctively different, the fact that at 56 years old that I can do that better, I think now, that’s an amazing thing, and I don’t take credit for that. I’ve taken care of myself, and my voice is still strong. I’m a better phraser, strictly talking about singing now, I can phrase words better. I listened to the original recording of “Love, Me,” which started everything, and I feel like I’m listening to a 15-year-old kid. That was the best I could do at that time, and everyone loved it, but I listen to the way I sing it now and it’s night and day, not even close. I think every artist should strive for that. I also love feeling like I’m in the band moreso now than I did back then. When that was all happening, you’re on a treadmill, there’s so much pressure on you just to produce, produce, produce. There’s always something going on and people pulling at you, so you kind of forget, I’m a musician that always just wanted to be accepted in a band and have people like what I do. Looking back on it, I’ve gotten to a point where I can step back and look at what we’ve done and what we’re doing now, and feel like, “Hey, I’m just the front guy in this band.” It’s not about me, I’m not trying to be a big star.
If you’ve hit a point where you don’t have to be that big star — you can play where you want to, people know who you are and you get to tour, but you’re not under anyone’s thumb — that’s where you want to get to as a musician.
Yes, it is. There’s so many people that don’t get that. I remember as a kid, my family loved music, obviously, my mom was a huge Elvis fan, and my brother and I listened to everything. I went through a period where I was really into British rock, and loved country music. But we always liked the good stuff. I wouldn’t buy into something — I won’t mention a name — but an act would come along and it would be fluff, shallow and not worth paying attention to. There was a difference between those kind of acts and people like Waylon Jennings and (Merle) Haggard, this person is really good at what they do. When they sing or write, it makes me feel something.
Those guys would go play even if nobody came to watch.
Exactly. I’m going to do this whether people like it or not, and it’s such an incredible blessing that people do like it. I did about 104 dates last year and probably will do that again this year, and for a guy my age, that’s been around this long, that’s a lot. I would have never thought that 25 years in, I’d be able to work that much doing this. I thought hopefully I’d have a little money saved up and a local gig somewhere to play my songs and entertain a small group of people. That would still be fine. The fact that people will still come fill up a room, that’s such an incredible blessing.
That attitude is reflected in choices that you’re making at this stage of your career. “The Big 25,” the new CD you’re working on, isn’t just a greatest hits album, but a collection of fully re-recorded songs from throughout your career.
We cut all 25 hits and three bonus tracks, 28 songs on the record, which was obviously a huge undertaking. Other artists have done this, and it’s a great business move, because we own these masters, so that all makes sense. We took great pains to try and make this better, but still walk the fine line where we can’t take too many liberties with the arrangements. People expect “My Kind of Girl” and “I Think About You” to start a certain way, and those signatures have to be there, and we’re going to stay in the same keys. I’m not going to drop the keys, I’m going to prove I can still sing like that, the same way. I feel like I’m a much better conveyor of words now. And the songs are way better than the originals. I hope the fans, when they buy it, they’ll be pleased. It was a labor because it was so hard, but it was a labor of love. We were able to look back and say, “You know, we did all right.”
Raye performs at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Rainbow Plaza Shopping Center, 3225 Rainbow Drive, Rainbow City. The festival is from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is free for the festival and show. Visit www.rbcalabama.com for a full event schedule, and www.collinraye.com for more about the artist.
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