An hour before opening for Kenny Rogers at the Stranahan Theatre, Billy Dean is sitting in a small basement practice room, quietly strumming his guitar and answering questions about where he has been the last couple of years.
The Academy of Country Music's new artist of the year in 1992 disappeared from the charts in the late 1990s after recording seven Top 10 hits, including “Somewhere in My Broken Heart” and “Billy the Kid.''
As he tells his story, it's a reminder that entertainers are human and sometimes fame isn't all it's cracked up to be. On top of the country scene in 1996, Dean's world and his marriage fell apart.
“I knew I wasn't myself. ... My spirit had withered. It was the darkest point in my life. It was an unhealthy time where I was chasing the money, and I lost touch with my spirit. My dreams were coming true, but it wasn't what I expected it to be.''
It was too late to save his marriage, but it wasn't too late to learn to be the man he wanted to be. His children, Eli, 9, and Hannah, 7, were his teachers.
“I've been raising my kids for the past four to five years. I needed a break, and they needed me, so I said, ‘I'm going to stay home.'”
Hannah is a country music fanatic, Eli can't stand the stuff. They spend half their time with Dean, the rest with their mom.
“I cook, clean, play with the kids. I've discovered the hardest job on the face of the planet is being a mom.'' His face breaks into a wide grin. “But I wouldn't trade it for a Garth Brooks-type career. It's made me a better man.''
Dean has done some acting during his recording hiatus. He appeared with Crystal Bernard in A Face to Kill For,' which appeared on cable this month, and he considers his co-star one of his closest friends. Mostly, though, Dean has spent time on his Nashville-area farm, reading, soul-searching, and, of course, learning to be a better dad and a better person.
Toledo was one of his first stops on his musical comeback - a comeback that was launched with much prompting from Hannah, who loves to get out on stage and introduce her dad. A new single will be out in the spring, and an album release will follow in the summer. Dean recently turned 40, and he worries that might be too old in an industry that's getting younger all the time, but Kenny Rogers told him: “It's not the messenger, it's the message'' that fans love.
“I feel that now that I've cemented my relationship with my kids, I can travel again. Now I get to be a little selfish and rekindle the flames of my career.''
TOLEDO NATIVE Jimmy Hurst, the International Bluegrass Music Association guitar player of the year, will be in town this weekend. He'll be a special guest on the Sunday Afternoon Ramble with J.J. O'Shea and Jim Van Deilen at 7 p.m. tomorrow on WCWA-AM (1230).