Every once in a long while, the story writes itself. And the journey that brought accomplished performers -- and first cousins -- Tim Rushlow and Doni Harris to this point is so well scripted, it's a wonder they didn't see it coming. Fortunately, a friend with a keen eye for music saw a happy ending on this duo's horizon and opened their eyes to how seamlessly it all fit together.
That visionary soul is none other than superstar Toby Keith, who not only saw something that was meant to be, he put his money where his mouth was and signed Rushlow Harris to his own label, Show Dog Nashville. And though Tim and Doni are still less than halfway through recording their album, the rush release of their debut single "That's So You" speaks to the rapid, visceral reaction their music is already receiving from radio and the music industry.
"Some rough MP3s of the single were sent out to give a few radio people a preview," Tim says, "and immediately my cell phone started ringing. They were like, 'Don't send us something this good if you don't want it on the air.'"
"With other deals we've had there have been so many meetings and you always felt like you were walking on eggshells," Doni adds. "This time it's all coming to us and it's a great feeling."
Of course, parts of this tale have been told before. Rushlow fronted Little Texas in their early '90s heyday, and scored hits as a solo act on Atlantic and as the namesake of the band Rushlow. Harris earned his stripes in the band Lariat and later joined cousin Tim in his band.
The tougher side has been documented as well, as both Tim's solo deal and the band's tenure fell apart before the music had much more than a fleeting chance at success. But even those disappointments, considered in the scope of a duo more than 30 years in the making, have their place.
"If those deals hadn't broken down, we wouldn't be here," Tim explains. "We're thankful things have happened like they're supposed to, even if at the time it was painful -- not just to your ego, but the fact that you're dragging families through this stuff. But where we are now, we wouldn't change a thing."
Tim's mother and Doni's father are brother and sister, and the family's ties were woven with music. "My dad was a musician and singer in Detroit," Tim says. "But it was kind of hard in the sixties for a white boy to make it as a musician in Detroit. So he joined the Air Force."
The young airman was based at Tinker AFB near Oklahoma City following his enlistment, but never put down his love of music. He answered an ad in the local paper that read, "Band Looking For Singer" and went for an audition.
"The band was all of my mother's brothers," Rushlow says. His father got the gig, and eventually the girl. The band, Moby Dick & The Whalers, became a big draw regionally.
Tim and Doni were the first children born in their respective families, and they not only grew up around each other, they grew up around music. "Our grandmother's house was where all the rehearsals were held," Tim explains. "We grew up with guitars, drum sticks, bass drums, our grandfather's fiddle -- whatever you could find to beat on or play on, you just grabbed it and went."
The Rushlow family moved to Texas when Tim was in grade school, but summers were spent back in Oklahoma where the cousins ran hard, fished and played music together. After high school, both moved full bore into music.
"He had a band called Lariat he sang for, I was singing for Little Texas before we had a record deal," Tim says. "We would literally pass each other in vans and trailers playing all the same clubs."
Another band, Easy Money, was playing the same circuit and a friendly rivalry developed. Fronting that band was a singer and songwriter named Toby Keith. "We would go hear each other all the time," Doni says. "It was always, who could fill the club to the rope, where three people had to leave before three more could go in. It was that kind of competition, but we were all friends."
Success came first to Rushlow and Little Texas, which sold millions of albums and tickets based on smash hits including "What Might Have Been," "God Blessed Texas," "Kick A Little" and "Amy's Back In Austin." Keith, who emerged on the national scene a few years later, once offered Doni a job playing guitar for him. The thought occurred to Tim, as well.
"I always thought he'd end up in Little Texas with me, but he was successful with his band so I never could pull him over," Rushlow says.
By the late '90s, Little Texas had run its course and Tim, fresh from a two year hiatus, came back with a solo project on Atlantic. Singing backing vocals on the album -- Doni Harris. "He called me and said he needed those blood harmonies," Doni says. "That was the seed."
"When I went out on my radio tour, I took Doni," Tim says. "We did 70 shows acoustically, the two of us, and fans started to see us together a lot."
Though Tim scored a top 5 with "She Misses Him," Atlantic was consolidated into Warner Bros. and the deal collapsed. Frustrated, Tim and Doni decided to do it old school, forming a band and hitting the club circuit. Tim booked the shows, they pulled a trailer with their van and developed a sound all their own.
Lyric Street signed the band, dubbed Rushlow, and the single "I Can't Be Your Friend " promptly marched up the charts. Then, abruptly, label restructuring forced them from the roster.
Keith, meanwhile, had negotiated his release from Universal and formed his own label. "I kept talking about the band with Toby," Rushlow says. "Finally he said, 'Man, you guys are cousins. You're a duo. Roll with that and see if it feels right.'
"When we were kids in my grandmother's house we always dreamed about doing something together and it seemed like a real cool thing," Tim continues. "But because we've been successful in our own rights, it kind of got put aside. When Toby suggested it, it just made so much sense."
As they got to work on the music, they recognized just how well their abilities blended. "He's been a lead singer all his life and I've got a real high, smooth voice," Doni says. "Since we were kids it's always felt natural to jump in there with the high harmony part above him."
"I never really sing anything the same way twice," Tim adds. "He always goes exactly where I go without saying a word. With our guitar playing, there's an unspoken vibe that just works. That's just a thing you have in families. He's just there."
As discussions with Show Dog progressed, Keith reacted strongly as Tim and Doni explained their musical family. "He remembered Moby Dick & The Whalers," Tim says. "We told him about sheet music we have of their songs that has 'Rushlow/Harris' listed as the songwriters. He said, 'See, it's bloodline. It's heritage. This is supposed to be.'"
Tim and Doni cut four sides and delivered them to Show Dog in May. "We figured we'd get the rest of the album done by September," Tim says.
"Toby called me the week before the ACM awards and said 'Hey, we're dropping everything else we're doing over here. My staff is freaked out over you guys. We're coming with the single now. We'll roll you out at the awards, I'll personally escort you around to radio and do the interviews with you. And starting August 11 you're opening my tour through the end of the year.'"
And just that fast, Rushlow Harris are riding a wave of energy by which even they are astounded. They're splitting their time between promoting "That's So You" at radio and recording the rest of the album with co-producers Christy DiNapoli and Derek Bason.
"It's interesting all the stuff that's happened, and we've ended up here," Tim says. "We've been through enough to know that at this point, it's all about the music. We won't be outworked, but the songs have to be right. We're getting our shot."
"You know you've got something cool when you can't wait to share it with everybody," Doni adds. "We're in that spot right now."
--- from the official Rushlow website