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Hotels & Highways: Terry McBride on His Life in the Business

Sit down for a chat with Terry McBride and you’ll feel more like you’re sitting down with an old friend than a celebrated songwriter. There are many sides to Terry McBride; bass player, singer, songwriter, guitarist, husband, family man. My favorite happens to be the storyteller; if you’re willing to spend some time listening, he’s willing to spend some time telling you about his adventures, laughing and joking to make you feel like you were a part of the ride from the start. If you don’t know know his name, you do know his music. As a writer with Brooks & Dunn for thirteen years, McBride had a hand in penning some of the most well known songs in country music, including “Cowgirls Don’t Cry”, “If You See Him/If You See Her” and “Play Something Country”, among various others with artists like George Strait and Josh Gracin. A true artist’s artist, McBride is a skilled instrumentalist and singer in addition to his songwriting talents. Like so many musicians, McBride’s love affair with the industry began as a young man under the tutelage of his father, back home in Texas.

“I fell in love with music early on because my dad was an entertainer; Dad was a touring, traveling, singing songwriting guy out of Texas. My dad was also my hero and I wanted to be just like him. I begged and begged for a guitar and finally, for my ninth birthday, I got one. Music has been a serious thing for me since then, even though I was just a kid when I started. I was obsessed with trying to learn to play the guitar. There were a lot of characters coming into our house, and I loved it all. I was taken by the whole scene and by the guys who were musicians. The way they acted, the things they said, the songs they played – I wanted to be just like them.” McBride credits his devotion to learning the guitar to his father, even though his Dad had mixed emotions about his son following in his footsteps. “Dad was always a great teacher to me, but he was a very serious guy so I had to practice and do well or he just wasn’t that interested. I had to show him that I was progressing. I don’t think he really wanted me to be in the business. I think he was hoping I would do something else, but I started playing with him pretty early on, after I proved I could do it. I feel like a lot of it was that he was grooming me to make it; he was a guitar player and I needed to fit in with his band to keep practicing, so he went and bought me a bass guitar when I was about twelve. I love playing bass now, and I did it for years. That’s how I made my way as a starving musician in the Austin, Texas scene – as a singing bass player.

McBride & The Ride

From starving musician in Austin to band member of McBride and the Ride, a group of men personally selected by Tony Brown to play together, McBride’s adventures in and out of Nashville have been wide reaching and thrilling. Some may call it luck; I prefer to call it stone cold talent and careful decision making. “I knew after a while, when I was going in and out of Nashville and doing gigs on the road with Delbert McClinton, that I had reached a point where I didn’t just want to be a bass player anymore.  I knew if I didn’t focus on writing I’d never get ahead in it- this writing a little bit and then going back to bass would last forever. I met a couple named Bill Carter and Ruth Ellsworth in Austin and Bill was putting a band together called “Bill Carter & the Blame” to tour with Stevie Ray Vaughan. I auditioned and got the gig and we toured everywhere. We did some fantastic shows with Stevie.” It was during his time with Bill and Ruth that McBride started to see success with his songwriting, ultimately leading to the formation of McBride & The Ride in Nashville.

“Bill and Ruth had been writing for Stevie and were having some success; they got a song recorded by The Fabulous Thunderbirds and were just a really cool, happening couple. Bill and Ruth really kind of took me in during that tour and I showed them some demos of my songs. When we got off the tour with Stevie they brought up maybe writing some country things together. We ended up cutting some really cool demos in Austin and sending them down to Jody Williams at BMI in Nashville. Jody agreed to pitch our songs, but also mentioned that whoever was singing them needed a record deal. Of course my thought was, well, great, the person singing those songs is me- I’m coming to Nashville, get us a record deal! And that’s exactly what Jody did; he got us a meeting with every major player in town and unlocked every opportunity a person could possibly want.”

McBride wound up taking every meeting Williams set up for him; the last of which was with Tony Brown. “Tony really liked what he heard. He said “I’m gonna fly to Texas and if you’re the real deal, I’m gonna sign you”.  I didn’t know what the real deal was, but I was hoping I was it. So Tony flew to Texas and we hung out and he ended up signing me in 1990. Tony had kind of a running list of folks who he thought would be cool in a band and Ray [Herndon] and Billy [Thomas] were on it. Ray had been playing with Lyle Lovett, who Tony was producing at the time, and Billy was playing with Emmylou Harris, who Tony had been associated with for a long, long time. Once we got together to rehearse we hit if off immediately. Tony and I are still good friends today. He’s one of those guys who’s always hung in there with me. I’ve always looked up thim, and he’s never wavered in his loyalty to me. It’s an unwavering friendship; he’s never gone away from me no matter what I’m doing. I appreciate the so much, and I appreciate Tony.”

McBride’s initial success with McBride & The Ride would lead him to the ACM Awards and a chance meeting with Ronnie Dunn in a hallway- a meeting that would cement their lasting friendship and artistic partnership

Ronnie Damn Dunn, Guy Clark, and Other Songwriting Adventures

It is natural for one to think of Brooks and Dunn and Reba McEntire when one thinks of Terry McBride; McBride had a hand in writing some of their best songs. “I actually met Kix Brooks before I met Ronnie Dunn. We had a number one song in 1992 called “Sacred Ground” that Kix co-wrote, so I met Kix at the number one party- which, by the way, is a great way to meet a guy. A little while after that Brooks & Dunn and McBride & the Ride were nominated in the same category for New Group of the Year, so I met Ronnie at the ACM Awards in Los Angeles in 1992. He was there with his wife Janine, I was there with my wife Cathy, and he stepped off the elevator and I went “Ronnie Damn Dunn!!” He stopped, with his accent, and said “Terry MaaaacBride!” I was thrilled because he and Janine were such fans of mine, but I was shocked because I was such a fan of his. “Neon Moon” had just come out and I loved that song. I kept on with my band until 1995, and I started getting some cuts with guys like George Strait, John Anderson, and Brooks & Dunn. One day I went up to the label and Kix and Ronnie were there and Ronnie said “hey we’ve got a new bus; we’re finally getting off the band bus. Why don’t you come by the house, let’s write a little bit?” We got it together and really hit if off and I wound up with an invitation to join him on his bus on the way to California. We went to California for fifteen days and wrote ten songs. We wrote a couple hits out of that and then Ronnie said: “you know, I’ve enjoyed this so much – when the bus is rolling you be on it.” That turned in to thirteen years, the last three of which I was actually in the band with them playing bass.”

From songwriter to bass player was, like most things with McBride, part happy accident, part talent. “It all started because I played with them once on the road in an emergency.  Danny Ray, their bass player, his father had passed away and his flight had gotten grounded so he couldn’t make it back for this big festival they were playing. I was out riding my bicycle and they said, “You gotta get in here and play, Danny Ray can’t make it.” I thought, oh my gosh, I hadn’t played bass in years. He had a five string bass. I’d never played one so I had to take one of the strings off. I had to borrow some in-ears and one of them kept popping out. I was a nervous wreck. When the shower was over they started joking that I could play bass with them any time. Eventually they let go of Danny Ray and Ronnie invited me to join the band. Ronnie was like, “Hey man, we let Danny Ray go, take the job, you’re out here eating our catering every night anyway. We’ll just put you to work. Nothing’s gonna change, you just ride with me like we’ve always done, we’ll write songs. If you take the gig, the first night we’ll fly up to Omaha Nebraska and open for the Rolling Stones.” And that was my first night in the band. We had a lot of fun, a lot of hits, and I loved every minute of those thirteen years with those guys.

Though much of McBride’s success was garnered during his time with Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, his respect and love for songwriting started much earlier than their introduction. “I was always interested in songwriting and had so much respect for the guys who were writing the songs when I was a kid. Dad had Billboard Magazine so I could go in there to see not only the charts, but see who was writing the songs.  It was always as important to me to know who the writer was as it was the guys who were playing. I had a love affair with songwriters and always hoped I’d get to that point one day where someone would cut a song I wrote. I was a closet songwriter, like most people are, til you really break out, like I did with Bill and Ruth. I went from home demos to writing songs with folks who had seen some success, and they started introducing me to all these guys who were their friends and writers.”

“When I got signed to MCA I felt like I was in a whirlwind; I got to write with pretty much everyone I idolized. My very first co-write ever was with Guy Clark, who was a hero of mine while I was growing up in Texas. It was surreal to walk in the room and not only hang out with a guy you idolized, but it was nerve racking. When you get started in this business, whether you’re writing or singing or managing, you’re in awe of these people, and suddenly working with them is a lot to take on, even if you have the same kind of talent. It can do your head in- you want them to think you’re great and you want to fit in and have them think you’re cool – especially around guys like Guy Clark! Then you realize they’re people and they’re dreamers, too. Guy made me feel so welcome, and after that day it really felt almost like I belonged in this world. If I could make it through the day with Guy Clark I could make it through a day with anyone. But it’s still a weird business today. You sit down with people you’ve never met, say hey how ya doin, and then you pour your hearts out to make something. It’s a strange thing, but it’s kind of a cool thing.

Hotels & Highways: Terry McBride, the Solo Artist

McBride’s 2017 EP, Hotels & Highways, pulled McBride out of a musical hiatus and back into the spotlight. Now using his songwriting talent for his own solo career, McBride is in the middle of a small tour through Texas to close out 2018 and his newest project- what will hopefully become a full-length album to be released in 2019. “I have that same energy and excitement as I had when I was a really young guy. Even though I’ve had success and I’ve experienced a lot of things, I still don’t know what’s going to happen moving forward. I’m doing some smaller shows and working on a new album, and it’s kind of exciting that there’s no guarantees. I’ve seen a really great response with the smaller venues I’ve been performing in, and I’m excited to do more in 2019. Before, when I was in bands, I was only one part of the performance. Now, performing alone, I can let my guard down and really be myself with my fans. Most of the time I don’t even have a setlist, I just wing it and let the crowd take me in whatever direction I feel like it needs to go, whether it’s brand new songs or old ones I’ve written and other people have cut. A lot of people don’t realize I’ve written these songs and I feel like that’s what they take away from it most of all. They come to see me because they liked something I’ve done and they leave going, “I had no idea he did all that.” That’s a good feeling too. It makes me feel like I’ve done something in that 70 or 90 minute slot I’ve got up there. There’s a connection you can’t find anywhere else.

“As far as new music goes, I’m working with Luke Laird a Lot. Luke Laird has had twenty number-one songs now; everything from “Pontoon” to “Drink in my Hand”. I actually met him while he was dating one of Ronnie’s daughters and we took him on the road with us. Luke Laird is a kid who has paid his dues; he set up meet and greets, did a little bit of this, little bit of that, little bit of everything. He learned the business on the road and I always liked him. We just went into the studio and cut the first three songs of my new album and they turned out pretty cool. He’s a pretty contemporary guy and what I do is obviously more traditional, but we’re finding a cool combination of the two. I think having Luke involved with this project is going to help me achieve a really fresh, new sound. It’s not going to be anything so drastic that I’m rapping; I would never do that, but I don’t want to throw it back so old school that nobody gets it, either. We’re working on a sound with a little bit of an edge and a coolness. Ronnie wants to do something with me on my record, and I’m looking at pulling Delbert McClinton back in for a song. I’m really excited about what we’ve got going on.”

If you’d like to catch up with Terry McBride he’ll be playing the following dates in Texas to close out 2018:

12/27/18 Dosey Doe, The Woodlands, Texas

8:00 pm Tickets: $20-25

12/28/18 Poor David’s Pub, Dallas, Texas

8:00 pm Tickets: $25-$40

12/29/18 Hudson’s on Mercer, Dripping Springs, Texas

8:00 pm Tickets: $20-$25

McBride’s Hotels & Highways is available on Spotify, Apple Music, and his website. Be sure to follow him on Facebook to keep up with everything coming in 2019!