"I always loved rock 'n' roll," says Billy Ray. "That was a heavy part of what I was as a young juvenile delinquent. I tried from my first album to rock like any other Southern rock band."
Billy Ray produced Brother Clyde's self-titled debut album and wrote or co-wrote most of the songs -- with a rock 'n' roll attitude. That meant no rules, no limits and no preconceived ideas. Just following his artistic impulses in whichever direction they took him -- from the punishing fury of 'Crawl,' to the aching despair of 'Lately,' which sees Billy Ray tangling in a fiery duet with New York rapper, King Phaze.
"My emotions are so revealed on this record," says Billy Ray. "When you compare the image of Billy Ray Cyrus these last five years compared to what I was living, this gives you a glimpse of the man behind the curtain. It wasn't the fairytale. This is real."
The idea for Brother Clyde was originally hatched in 2009, by Billy Ray, Jeffrey Steele, Phil Vassar and Bad English frontman John Waite. They planned to be a super group. But due to individual busy schedules, rehearsals kept getting put on hold. Billy Ray was in Vancouver, B.C. shooting his 2009 film, 'Christmas in Canaan,' when his path crossed with Morris Joseph Tancredi, a young musician who happened to be his driver on location. When Tancredi asked Billy Ray what he'd been doing musically, Billy Ray played him the first song he'd written for Brother Clyde. It was 'Crawl,' a song that was inspired by the horrific 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai.
"It saddened and angered me so much," Billy Ray reflects. "All that blood, people crying ... I just cranked up my amp and played, 'You better crawl.' It came as ugly as it sounds.
"(Tancredi) said, 'That's straight up alternative rock.' Then he said, 'I have some stuff of my own you've gotta hear.'"
One of those songs Tancredi had written, 'Lately,' ended up being Brother Clyde's first single.
"'Lately' ... that is a really powerful record about the sign of our times," Billy Ray told The Boot back in January, upon just returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. "Seeing what is going on in our world, this song is going to speak to a lot of people. The music is going to translate."
The album also features a surprisingly hard-rocking duet between Billy Ray and Dolly Parton, 'The Right Time.'
"Dolly said she wanted to rock," he recalls. "She came to my studio, brought homemade corn, mashed potatoes
and a spread of country cooking. We ate, played guitar for an hour ... then she just kicked ass. She became like Tina Turner! You could tell, she really wanted this."
The album ends with an all-star, live cover of Johnny Cash's, 'I Walk the Line,' recorded in 1998 at a time when Billy Ray was feeling cut adrift from the country music scene in Nashville. "I was at a place in my life where I didn't fit in with all the hat acts Nashville had at the time," he remembers. "I just wanted to rock."
Assembling drummer Owen Hale, keyboardist Johnny Neil, bassist Allen Woody, guitarists Mike Estes and Ed King, and harmonica player Michael Jo Sagraves, they taped the song in Johnny Neil's basement. "We started recording ... the whiskey bottles are out, smoke's in the air, the ambiance is just rock 'n' roll," Billy Ray remembers. "Somebody spilled some whiskey, tension rose to fever pitch and that was that. But I held on to that track."
Billy Ray was lucky enough to have the chance to play that emotion-charged track for the Man in Black, who praised him for his original interpretation.
"What I've done with Brother Clyde is what I hoped I could do," says Billy Ray. "Close one chapter and start a new one. It's a wonderful feeling to be able to say I can do what I want to do."
Brother Clyde will release their self-titled album on Buena Vista Records/Fontana, August 10. The album's first single, 'Lately' is available on iTunes now.
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