Rascal Flatts performs at the CMA Music Festival June 10 in Nashville.
In theory, every great band should have a glorious beginning, like a rags-to-riches story or a signed-on-the-spot discovery in a honky-tonk.
For Rascal Flatts, it was much simpler. One of country music’s most successful bands ever began with a heart-to-heart talk between cousins.
“I told [Gary LeVox] that I felt he had an unbelievable natural ability and gift that he was wasting there in Columbus. He needed to at least try to give it a shot and come to town and try to make it,” Jay DeMarcus said.
At the time, LeVox was counseling the disabled and teaching work skills at the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. At night, he was winning karaoke contests in bars around the Ohio State campus. His younger cousin, DeMarcus, had moved to Nashville about five years earlier and was working with a Christian group, East to West.
“At the time, we were starting to creep into our upper 20s, and I told him, ‘If you don’t take a shot during this small window of time, it might pass you by forever.’ To be honest, we had no ambitions to be a band. I wanted to produce Gary and get him a record deal.
“Gary came down and got a taste for it and got bitten by that bug. Soon enough he was calling me up and saying, ‘All right, I’m going to come live on your couch for a while and see what we can do.’”
A short time later, Gary and Jay had a gig at Nashville’s Fiddle and Steel Guitar bar, and when their guitarist called in sick, DeMarcus got his pal Joe Don Rooney to step in, and that was pretty much the start of a magical ride that has lasted for 12 years and resulted in 14 No. 1 singles and more than 21 million albums sold.
When they come to Toledo Thursday night, Rascal Flatts will be playing songs from their eighth album, “Changed,” which recently debuted atop the Billboard Country Albums Chart. They will also be in town with the newest star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They received that honor in a ceremony on Sept. 17.
“It’s mind-boggling, something we never really dreamed of,” DeMarcus said of the new star. “It’s very humbling, and we’re so honored.”
While many acts who have been around more than a decade begin to lose their relevance on country radio, Rascal Flatts seems to be maintaining its edge. “Banjo,” the first single off the new album, became a No. 1 hit in May, and “Come Wake Me Up” is quickly nearing top-10 status.
“Your career begins and ends with songs, and we’ve been able to get our hands on some songs that have resonated with the masses, and people have been able to identify with our music,” DeMarcus said. “Our music has encouraged people through some tough times, and it’s also allowed them to take a break from life. Music is one of the world’s greatest healing balms, and we’ve definitely gotten a hold of some music that appeals to the masses, and we’ve been so honored.”
One of those songs that resonated with fans was “I’m Movin’ On,” a song that wasn’t even meant to be a single. Gerry House, a DJ in Nashville, played the song because his wife liked it, and the phone lines lit up with people requesting it.
“That song caught fire and grew legs, and that song alone ended up selling us 500,000 records.”
It also proved to be a turning point mentally and emotionally for the guys, who had the same doubts as any other new artist.
“We were on the Toby Keith tour, and that song just took off. I remember looking out at the crowd and seeing their reaction to the song,” DeMarcus said. “I remember thinking that at the very least we’ll get to do another record. We might be on to something.”
The ride has not always been easy, but DeMarcus said the love and respect the three men share for each other has been able to get them through any potential pitfalls.
“It’s tough being in a band. We’re married to our wives, but we’re also married to each other. And one takes as much work as the other. We’ll fight like brothers, but in the end, all three of us understand that the whole is greater than the individual parts. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do on our own.”
Their unique perspective on the challenges that bands face led them to the lineup for their current tour. The entire card is made up of groups, with the Eli Young Band and Little Big Town taking the stage before LeVox, DeMarcus, and Rooney.
“This has been so much fun for us. At the end of the night, we do something special where we bring all the bands back on stage. The show focuses on music this year,” DeMarcus said. “We’ve spent so much time in the past doing gimmicky things like lasers and explosions. We’ve scaled it back and made it more about the music. We cram a whole lot of music into our hour and a half.”
Rascal Flatts, along with special guests Little Big Town and the Eli Young Band, will be in concert at the Huntington Center on Thursday at 7 p.m. A limited number of $50.25 tickets are available, and they can be purchased at Ticketmaster locations, online at ticketmaster.com, by phone at (800) 745-3000, or at the Huntington Center box office.
Contact Brian Dugger at: email@example.com or on Twitter @DuggerCountry.