|Country artists tend to have a thematic niche. Horses. Heartaches. Honky-tonks. Others, including Collin Raye, have a soft spot for homespun values—story songs that esteem family and faith. Between tour stops, Raye spoke with us about his image, raising teens and "A Soldier's Prayer."|
Is it true that you sang professionally when you were a teenager?
I started playing music earnestly for money when I was 15 years old, and I have never looked back. In my twenties I worked in Nevada and was making really, really good money as a cabaret performer. The rest came much later. The typical guy today gets a record deal when he's 24 or 25 years old. Well, when we released All I Can Be in 1991, I was already 30. That's when "Love, Me" came out and went to No. 1.
That one's great because it chronicles a couple's lifelong bond, ending with the anticipation of a heavenly reunion. Radio needs more songs like that. So how do you choose material?
I get pitched a lot of "meaningful songs" because I've had success with them, but the message has to sound real to me. "Little Rock" [about an alcoholic's attempt to right the ship] sounded like [writer] Tom Douglas had that in his heart and he had to say it. So did "I Think About You" and "Really Not That Different." But I can also tell when someone has sat down and tried to write something important to pitch to me, which can feel pretentious. So I just have to wait and see if a demo moves me and if it's something I can make my own. Often, faith-oriented songs and family-oriented songs are what move me, so I wind up doing a lot of those. It comes back to the old Shakespeare thing: "To thine own self be true." Every time I've ever done that, I've won.
Are any of your hits especially meaningful because they related to something you were going through, personally?
The first one that pops into my head is "I Think About You" because it's about a dad appreciating his 8-year-old daughter's innocence in a culture quick to exploit young women. I have two children—a daughter and a son. They're grown up now, but the first time I heard that demo Brittany was about 12. Like most dads, I was very sensitive to the way we men have a tendency to look at women and how our society objectifies them, sexually. What that song made me do is say, "You know what, even if that woman is trying to get noticed like that and it's her own doing, she's still somebody's baby girl. She is somebody's daughter."
You've already guided your children through the teen years. What advice would you give to parents who are currently facing those challenges?
I always went out of my way to try to make every day fun. Not always in an expensive, elaborate way. Sometimes the best fun is the simple stuff. But they always knew I cared deeply about every little aspect of their lives and that, if I had my druthers, I'd rather be with them than anyone else on earth. I am very proud of the fact that my kids are 24 and 22, and if you ask them who their best friend is, they will tell you me. That means so much to me. I have totally different relationships with each, but I'm in their everyday world and they are in mine. They know they can come to Dad with a problem and that they are unconditionally loved. I also have two little grandbaby girls now, and I see Brittany doing the same things with them that I did with her. That's the kind of thing that makes your heart soar.
What has the Lord taught Collin Raye, country singer?
When I've let go and realized that God was driving my ship, I have succeeded and touched people. The most recent example is my new song "A Soldier's Prayer." It's about healing and reminding our soldiers that God has not abandoned them. We just sent MP3s to certain radio markets and all of these big stations started playing it before we'd even pressed it to CD. Even "Love, Me" didn't get the immediate phone response that song has received. I feel like I'm just hanging onto the tail of a rocket about to take off. The Holy Spirit is doing this, showing me every day, "See, if you just take your hands off the wheel, I'll use you for something far bigger than yourself."
What makes songs so powerful?
Music is God-created. It's a communication gift He gave us that transcends all boundaries. Language. Culture. Race. It's universal. I also think music has a way of forcing someone who relates to it to look into themselves. What may be difficult for someone to say out loud to a spouse, a parent, a friend or a child, music can say for them. It's like a bridge in relationships and in society, so it's a humbling thing to get to be the person who makes it.
Published June 2007