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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

At the Spokane fair, Shenandoah’s Marty Raybon: ‘We don’t have a fan club – we have a friends club’

Shenandoah, the country music band who formed in Alabama in 1984, performs at the Spokane County Interstate Fair on Monday. (Chuck Arlund)

Legendary country band Shenandoah formed in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in 1984 and released “Reloaded” in March 2018, its first new music in two decades featuring the group’s greatest hits and three new songs, “Noise,” “That’s Where I Grew Up” and “Little Bit of Livin’.”

Shenandoah, whose current lineup is Marty Raybon, Mike McGuire, Travis Mobley, Brad Benge, Jamie Michael and Donnie Allen, is headlining the 2019 Spokane County Interstate Fair in Spokane Valley on Monday with another longtime country group, Restless Heart.

Raybon chatted over the phone Wednesday ahead of the performance, and he was one of the politest and most gracious interviewees in this journalist’s 23-year career. There needs to be more people like him in this world. Here are highlights from the interview:

Please tell me about your latest single, “Little Bit of Livin’,” from “Reloaded,” your first new music in two decades.

“Little Bit of Livin’” is a lighthearted and lovely song. It makes you feel good, really good, like you can lighten your load and turn the radio up. It reminded us a lot of “Next to You, Next to Me.” It has bouncy fiddle work and a bouncy tempo. When we heard the song, we said, “We’ve got to do this. This sounds like a Shenandoah song.”

You worked with Michael Ray on “That’s Where I Grew Up” vocally and with the video. How was that?

That was an absolute delight. Michael has become a good friend of ours. He’s a star in his own right and a very talented guy. When he met us, he told us, “I’m a big fan of yours, and I’d do anything to work with you.” We told him in return that it was our honor.

It has been a great relationship, and we’ve gotten to know his girlfriend (and now fiancée) Carly Pearce. When we were in Minnesota, Carly joined us onstage to sing “Vicinity of the Heart” with Alison Krauss. Carly is a singer’s singer.

Shenandoah has been together since 1984, which is astonishing. What is the secret to the band’s success?

We’ve hopefully remained interesting and sustainable because of the hit the records that have made people sing along and enjoy themselves. We’ve spoken to a lot of fans, and it has allowed us to recognize and realize not only the fun but also the lasting friendships.

We’ve befriended some awfully good guys more than anything. We don’t have a fan club – we have a friends club, thousands of friends. This has all only been because the folks have made it possible, and I’m awfully grateful. We have nothing to worry about because we never forgot where this began.

You rejoined the band in 2014 after a 17-year break. You’re probably tired of talking about this, but why did you leave, and why did you return?

All of us were just burned out. We were working like mercenaries. We were being sued by four different acts, and we were working like fiends to pay attorneys and settlement fees. I didn’t want to leave them high and dry, but there was a great deal of burnout for all of us.

During those 17 years later, there were three or four occasions where we talked about doing it again. In April 2014, Mike McGuire called me and asked, “Do you still want to do this Shenandoah thing? I think everyone is interested.” It was probably the providence of God that got us started and then back together. Life has been good, and the current “Triple Threat” tour with Blackhawk and Restless Heart has been a blast.

Shenandoah has had at least 13 No. 1 hits, including “The Church on Cumberland Road,” “Sunday in the South,” “Two Dozen Roses,” “Next to You, Next to Me,” “If Bubba Can Dance (I Can, Too),” “I Want to Be Loved Like That,” “Vicinity of the Heart” and “Rock My Baby.” Is there a favorite among the top hits?

I’d say “Two Dozen Roses.” It’s like a sparkplug when we perform it in the show. When Mac McAnally and Robert Byrne were writing it, I told them that I wanted them to write us a tune that we could really sink our teeth into and really get into it. I love the song! When I first heard it, I knew that it would be a smash, and the band agreed. Even today, when we go into the intro, the fans know that intro.

Shenandoah has won Grammy, Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association awards. Is there an award that is the most memorable or means the most to you?

To me the Grammy was very, very special, and Alison Krauss has become a dear friend of ours. But the award that means more to me than anything, and maybe the band disagrees, is in 1989, we were named favorite newcomer in the TNN Viewers’ Choice Awards. It was the fans who voted, the crowd, the people, and that was really special.

It was so genuine, and it meant the world to me. You try to give back to people what they give you. In Spokane, we are contracted to do 90 minutes, but we can do more than that because fans will yell this out, yell that out – requests, obscure songs that show that they’ve purchased our albums.

We want to take them far away from everything that is going on in their lives, that’s dragging them down and putting them in ho-hum spirits. We want to pound fun, enjoyment and excitement into them. We want them to think that they didn’t witness a show – they were part of one. That’s what we come to do – to give fans the best 90 minutes or two hours of their lives.

Who are some of your favorite artists in country music today?

I just love Keith Urban. He’s the real deal – he’s a songwriter, entertainer, guitar player and instrumentalist. He’s the whole package. I love the Rascal Flatts boys. Their “Bless the Broken Road” is already a classic and will stand the test of time. I love what Kacey Musgraves is doing –

she is creating some really fresh music. And of course Michael Ray and Carly Pearce.

What do you still enjoy about Shenandoah after all these years?

I love the camaraderie – what we share with each other and people. There is a genuine-ness with us and the fans. The reason why we do it is it’s not about just making a living and raising a family. We have a genuine respect for fans, and it brings out the best in us.