TRICK PONY, America's orneriest and feistiest barroom-rockin', butt-kickin', hard-core honky-tonk band, looks you straight in the eye and lays down its new album, R.I.D.E.
Mixing their dancin'-and-drinkin' sound with lyrics that reflect the past challenges confronted by Ira Dean, Keith Burns, and Heidi Newfield, R.I.D.E. IS one "ride."
Drawn together in ways that only the tightest of bands can understand, nobody puts on a show like these three -- certainly no "one" woman put on a show like Heidi before she crashed onto the scene -- from her head-first stage dives, to body-surfing into the audience, to hitting the bar for one fast shot before returning in time to hit the next verse.
TRICK PONY has done all that...and they're still doing it. Judging by the passion, pain, celebration and flat-out, honest-to-God country soul of R.I.D.E., they'll be doing it for a long, long time...
TRICK PONY's journey began in 1996 with a statement of faith in their mission, as Keith and Ira left two steady backup gigs -- with Joe Diffie and Tanya Tucker, respectively -- to start from scratch with their own group. When Heidi joined them, the group jammed into high gear and hit the highway, tearing through the Southern circuit and building their reputation for playing -- in every sense of the word -- harder than any other outfit in the territory.
TRICK PONY made Nashville's famous Wildhorse Saloon their home base and scored a major label deal. Sparked by three singles, including the Top Five hit On a Night Like This, their first album, TRICK PONY, exploded in 2001: the album went Gold; the Academy of Country Music awarded them the "Top New Vocal Group"; and they won an American Music Award as "Favorite New Country Artist". A year later, they followed with ON A MISSION, another package of great songs and raucous performances...but things were getting complicated.
Unlike ON A MISSION, their second album, which was recorded partially in hotel rooms and while on tour, their new release, R.I.D.E., is the product of undivided attention, with no distractions. It began with their own songwriting and an exhaustive search for outstanding material. They listened to hundreds of blind demos – without songwriter identification or publisher information -- nothing to go on but the music itself. Although it would have been more time-efficient to rely on some favored middleman, quality was all that mattered.
Chuck Howard, who produced the group's first two discs, as well as projects for Eddy Arnold, LeAnn Rimes, Hank Williams Jr., and other headliners, once again proved essential from the earliest stages. With a sharp ear for matching the material with the artist, he brought in songs like Ain't Wastin' Good Whiskey, knowing that it was right for the group, despite an odd lyrical twist or two. Laughs Ira, "It's almost an anti-drinking song, which is kind of funny coming from us." He continues, "But that chorus is huge, and crowds go ape when we play it live."
Other song inspirations on the album came out of the blue. While waiting to play at Farm Aid, the group hung out with Los Lonely Boys, who played on one of their recent compositions, Senorita. That was all it took for TRICK PONY to realize that even with its Tex-Mex flavor, this would be a perfect fit for R.I.D.E.
Still, Heidi, Ira, and Keith remained their own best sources. Working together as a group, in pairs, or paired off with other writers, they came up with a set that builds on the throwback raw vibe that they had reintroduced to country music -- and yet they managed to visit places they had never been. For instance, Nothing To Lose pulls as much from Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan as from Hank Junior. They even surprised themselves -- Ira co-wrote Cry Cry Cry with Jeffrey Steele as a tear-it-up rockabilly showcase for Heidi, but everyone was so taken with his own demo, that they sent him back to re-write the song from the male view, and to sing it himself.
Keith's titles include When I Fall, a collaboration with Billy Dean, and Sad City, which he wrote with Mark Oliverius during a visit to Los Angeles. Keith remembers, "We were sitting by the pool and this line came up: 'Sad city, when the sun goes down.'" He continues, "I looked at Mark and said, 'You know what? It feels like everybody's sad these days.' That was enough to put myself into the story -- a guy working a regular, day-to-day job on an assembly line."
It was also enough to lure Darius Rucker, from Hootie & the Blowfish, onto R.I.D.E. Says Keith, "We were backstage at Farm Aid, passing the guitar back and forth. I played him Sad City and he said, 'Dude, I've got to cut that.' I said, 'Well, we're doing it on our record. Why don't you come in and sing it with me?' And he did."
"Matter of fact," continues Keith, "he stayed at my house for three days and we wrote two or three more songs -- one of them, Autumn Jones, is on the next Hootie album."
When they were ready to record, TRICK PONY set aside a block of time to do nothing else but create music in a Nashville studio. They turned the clocks toward the walls -- no deadlines. These sessions were too important to rush. Standing in a semi-circle, facing each other just as they had done in countless saloons and concert halls, the group members found the focus that they needed to bring each song to life.
From the girl-talk humor of the first single,The Bride, to the dust-blown heartbreak of Stand in the Middle of Texas, they hit it again and again, with Chuck Howard often tossing in some spontaneous bit of inspiration -- whether it be adding the banjo to the front of the mix on The Bride, or bringing in two drummers to double the intensity of Cry Cry Cry.
Maryann's Song is a standout on the album, for reasons that have everything to do with the roller-coaster emotions that Heidi was riding at the time. On one hand, she had recently fallen in love with her now-husband, and set her wedding date for June of this year -- a passage in life that allowed her infuse songs like Nothin' to Lose and When I Fall with a newfound depth of feeling.
At the same time, her mother, Maryann, was in her last stages of the illness that would take her life in February. Anger, grief, and joy swirled through the process of her writing this haunting, gospel-flavored song, but Heidi laid it down in time to play it for her mother during her final days.
It was late at night when she opened the studio door and cut Maryann's Song with Keith on guitar and Pat Buchanan on slide. The crickets and nearly inaudible brook heard at the beginning of the song, were the only sounds that the three were hearing themselves as they played and sang through the tune -- with no rehearsal, and in one take. "We counted to four and went with it," Heidi says. "I was crying throughout it all. When we finished, I begged Chuck to let me sing it again, but he wouldn't let me do it because, he said, he could tell the pain I was in as I sang it -- and that's what's missing from today's records." Heidi continues: "He was right. When we finished, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. We all stood up and had a moment of silence. I'll never forget that moment, as long as I live."
"We actually were about an hour from going onstage on the Montgomery Gentry tour when we found out that Heidi's mother had died," says Ira. "Montgomery Gentry offered to let us cancel, but Heidi said, 'No, we're going to go out and play.' And we did that song that night. I tell you, there's a lot of strength in that five-foot-two woman."
Maryann's Song is just one of several cuts on R.I.D.E. that Heidi describes as "career-changing." Says Heidi, "Up to doing this record, Trick Pony was just scratching the surface. Sure, we're very country. Let's face it, no matter what I sing, it's going to sound country."
"But that doesn't mean we've shown all our cards," continues Heidi. "Songs like When I Fall show a different side to us -- a Tammy Wynette vibe that will make people realize that we're not just a party band. And of course Maryann's Song touches on something that all of us experience at one time or another."
In May of 2004, TRICK PONY found a new home at Curb Records, thanks to Chuck Howard's long working ties with the label, and Mike Curb's enthusiasm for the band. "Mike believes in this album as strongly as we do," Ira insists. "We'd been standing by our guns on R.I.D.E. for a while, so it was great to have somebody there beside us at last."
With artists as diverse as Montgomery Gentry, Hank Williams Jr., and Kid Rock snatching them up as opening acts, with nominations last year for a Grammy, a CMT Flame Worthy Music Video Award, five Academy of Country Music Award nominations, and their ACM contention this year for "Top Vocal Group," TRICK PONY seems poised to exceed even Curb's expectations. New fields to conquer lie just over the horizon -- Ira, for example, is determined to be the first stand-up bassist to play through a wah-wah pedal on The Grand Ole Opry.
Their roots, the source of all their energy throughout R.I.D.E., will keep them moving wherever they go. "I'm never going to be Celine Dion," Heidi smiles. "I'm a honky-tonker, down to the core. We're a honky-tonk band. And if that means that we get a little bit raunchy, if it means we talk about drinkin' and cheatin' or about being in love or making love and we sing it from the heart in a stone cold country song, well, I'm proud of that. We've never done all of that better than we've done on R.I.D.E."
--- from the official Trick Pony website