Over the course of his decades-long music career, Terry McBride has been a man of many hats. Once a music-loving kid from Texas, over the course of his career, music has taken McBride and his songs all around the world, but as fate would have it, it was music that brought him back home to Texas, where he’s enjoying revitalized success with his newest album, Rebels & Angels and its chart-topping single, “Callin’ All Hearts.”
In between fronting an award-winning trio, McBride & the Ride, through the early nineties, writing songs that have topped the country music charts and his new era of success, McBride has had quite the roller coaster through the industry. Uneasiness with being the center of attention, a band breakup and settling into life as a songwriter, McBride has made it out the other side, all the while, still continuing to grow as an artist and adding to his already impressive resumé.
Before McBride’s ride began, he was an impressionable young kid in Texas. His father, Dale McBride, an accomplished musician in his own right, introduced him to artists that would become his heroes, like Willie Nelson, Guy Clark and Ray Wylie Hubbard, and bought him his first guitar at just nine years-old. Though his dad wanted him to practice his new instrument, McBride says that his father eventually became more hands-off to gauge his son’s interest in it.
“My dad was very serious about me practicing and learning guitar,” says McBride. “When I was younger, he showed me a few things, but then he just left it with me to see if I had any real interest in it. I did, of course, because I wanted to be just like my dad.”
Not only was McBride following in his father’s footsteps, he was soon sharing the stage with him as well, making the leap from high school bands to travelling the country on a tour bus with his father’s band.
“I had just graduated high school, and my dad needed a bass player. He actually made me audition for the band,” McBride says with a laugh. “There were two older guys that auditioned as well, and my dad let the piano player, who was the musical director of the band, decide who got the job. Fortunately, I knew the material better and had a decent audition and won the job. I went right from high school to driving the bus, playing bass and opening for Ronnie Milsap and Barbara Mandrell. It was a great experience.”
Though his father eventually put his music career on the backburner, McBride remained determined to make his mark on the industry; delving into songwriting, touring with Delbert McClinton, deepening his love for music and keeping the faith that his break would come.
“In the beginning, there’s no money and fame, you have to want it really, really bad, and I certainly did. Music naturally has a way of weeding people out,” says McBride. “I fortunately got a couple of good breaks just by hanging in and continuing to work at writing songs, and that’s what eventually opened the doors for me.”
His first big break came when his songs made their way to Tony Brown, head of MCA Records, leading him to leave McClinton’s band, and eventually, after a string of musical connections, landed him a record deal.
“I was getting into my mid-to-late twenties, and I knew I couldn’t be just a bass player; that wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” says McBride. “I continued writing songs, and they eventually made their way to Tony Brown, and he loved them. He said the demos were so good and so different. He wanted to fly to Austin to hang out with me, and if I was the real deal, he said he would sign me to the label. I was hoping I was the real deal, whatever the hell that was [laughs].”
As it turned out, McBride was the real deal. And though he was initially signed as a solo artist, the label needed a new group after the Desert Rose Band changed labels, so Brown orchestrated a band with McBride, then-Lyle Lovett band member Ray Herndon and Emmylou Harris band member Billy Thomas. They became McBride & the Ride.
“We were fortunate, we didn’t struggle in a Winnebago or anything like that, we already had a record deal and we had an amazing opportunity,” says McBride. “Tony thought it would work out perfectly. Ray is a natural baritone and Billy is a high harmony guy. People loved harmony, it’s what was working at radio, and it eventually became our calling card.”
Though the band was manufactured and hadn’t been in the trenches together, McBride says he felt an immediate connected with Herndon and Thomas.
“Our chemistry was pretty immediate, and we hit it off personally,” says McBride. “They’re great musicians; guys anyone would want to have in their band. We just clicked.”
As the trio entered the studio to record what would be their debut album, Burnin’ Up the Road, McBride says he felt pressure to live up to the band’s record deal and the gravity of it.
“I was feeling a tremendous amount of pressure; a lot of it self-imposed. We were now labelmates with George Strait, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill and The Judds,” says McBride. “There was a lot at stake, the label was putting a lot of money and faith behind us. I didn’t want to let anybody down.”
Though the band’s first offering to radio, “Every Step of the Way,” failed to chart, it provided McBride the opportunity to hear himself singing a song he wrote coming over the airwaves for the first time. Although it was an unforgettable experience that hit him in the heart, it also hilariously hit him in the wallet as well.
“I was driving my red Camaro and listening to KASE 101 in Austin, Texas. The DJ said, ‘Ladies and gentleman, McBride & the Ride,’ and our song came on. It was unbelievable,” says McBride. “The next thing I knew, I was being pulled over by the police. I was so excited that I wasn’t paying attention to the speed limit. I had to be the happiest guy to ever get pulled over by the cops [laughs]. The officer asked why I was going so fast, and I told him that my song was on the radio. He looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, and I’m Johnny Cash,’ and proceeded to write me a ticket.”
The album’s final two singles, “Can I Count on You” and “Same Old Star” charted at number 15 and 28 respectively, but it was the band’s sophomore album, Sacred Ground, and that gave the band their next big break. The title track topped the charts, and the following two singles, “Going Out of My Mind” and “Just One Night” each peaked at number five.
“We were very appreciative by the time we had big-time success, because we realized from those first two singles that it might not happen. There was no guarantee that things would line up like we thought they would,” says McBride. “After those three songs were hits, we were headlining. There were endless fairs and festivals. It was a fantastic, wonderful experience.”
After one more album, Hurry Sundown, and another top three single, “Love on the Loose, Heart on the Run,” the label’s focus shifted more towards McBride and less on Herndon and Thomas. Feeling left out, Herndon and Thomas left the band.
“I was getting all of the attention and spotlight. It was hard on me because I love those guys and they were just as big a part of our success. Our success is what broke us up,” says McBride. “There was an inner turmoil that created a rift that we couldn’t repair. The focus was more on me, which was not any of my doing, but those guys felt like they were being left out.”
Following a name change to Terry McBride & the Ride, a self-titled album was released in 1994. McBride says the split took a toll on him, and when the newly-minted band’s self-titled album failed to produce a top 40 single, McBride asked to take some time away from his artistry.
“Recording that album was so strange. There were a lot of hurt feelings and disappointment. I should have taken some time to get my shit together; I went right from a band that broke up into a new one. I wanted to move forward as a solo artist, but the label said that if I wanted to continue with them, I had to continue as a band,” says McBride. “I wasn’t writing a lot at the time, and I wasn’t in a good place mentally. We had probably already been to the top of our mountain, and that album and the three singles didn’t do well. I lost my love and desire to do it. That’s not a good place to be when that’s what you do for a living. I finished up the dates for the rest of the year, got my management and agent together and told them I wanted to take some time off.”
Undeterred, McBride continued putting pen to paper, and began getting cuts from some of the biggest names in the genre, even forming a relationship with the frontman a multi-platinum duo.
“I knew I had to do something. I pulled myself up by the bootstraps, and songwriting is what kept me going forward. That’s when I started getting songs recorded,” says McBride. “George Strait and Brooks & Dunn recorded my songs, and when Brooks & Dunn recorded ‘I Am That Man,’ Ronnie Dunn said he wanted to come by my house, and we hit it off like old high school buddies. I ended up going on writing trips with him, and they recorded several of my songs.”
One of those songs, “If You See Him/If You See Her,” recorded by Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire, skyrocketed to number one on the charts, however, it came surprisingly close to not happening.
“Ronnie told me they were looking for a duet with Reba. I had a writing appointment with Jennifer Kimball and Tommy Lee James, and I told them if we could come up with something, I would get it to Ronnie. I’ll never forget Jennifer coming into the write and saying, ‘What if Reba goes into a bar and is talking with her girlfriends, sayings if they see him to let him know that she was thinking about him.’ We got really nervous, because we knew if we didn’t screw it up, it could be a hit,” says McBride. “We took the demo to Ronnie, and he loved it. He took it to Reba and she loved it. When labels and management got involved, the whole thing blew up. Brooks & Dunn was on Arista and Reba was on Universal, so the labels couldn’t figure out how to release it. We had written this song that fit these two artists perfectly, and the whole damn thing was getting blown out of the water. It was so disappointing. To Reba and Ronnie’s credit, they couldn’t get the song out of their minds, and they called a meeting to make it work. The only thing they could think of was to have both of them release their albums on the same day, and that was the title track on both. Reba came in at number one and Brooks & Dunn came in at number two, it was a pretty big moment.”
About two years later, another big moment came as McBride reunited with Herndon and Thomas to record Amarillo Sky, released in 2002, coming nearly ten years after their last album together. Though the trio enjoyed making the album, lack of radio and touring support led to the band once again calling it a day by year’s end.
“Ray was the instigator of us getting back together. He was very vocal about breaking up, but he was also very vocal about us getting back together,” says McBride. “We were so proud of that record and that song [the title track]. Unfortunately, the label felt like it was more of a regional song. We went out and did a few shows, but nothing really came from it. Dates were few and far between, and it went away about as quickly as we put it together.”
After spending the better part of the next decade and a half focusing on songwriting, McBride returned to artistry with his debut solo release, Hotels & Highways, putting him back on the map and back on the charts.
“I really had no desire to get back into the spotlight or be a performer. I was working as a writer with a publisher, and a couple of the guys that were running the company were very adamant about getting me to do it again. I had been writing songs for other people for so long that I didn’t really have any songs for me,” says McBride. “When we wrote ‘Hotels & Highways,’ we thought it was a really cool song. One of my co-writers, Matt Rogers, was supposed to sing on the demo, but he didn’t show up to the session, so I sang it. Our other co-writer, Tommy Cecil, took my scratch vocal home, tuned it and sent it back to me, and he said I sounded really good on it. I couldn’t believe it. We found a couple songs, I wrote a couple more, and all of a sudden, we had an EP!”
After returning to the Texas charts with the title track and “Boots Off,” McBride doubled down on that success with his debut solo album, Rebels & Angels, released in October of 2020. The lead single from the album, “Callin’ All Hearts,” topped the Texas country music charts in March of 2021, 31 years after the release of the first McBride & the Ride album was released. This time around though, he’s feeling no pressure with the music he’s releasing.
“I don’t have to sell a million copies anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to be successful, but that pressure is gone, and it’s made it more enjoyable. I like that I have freedom now. I get to cut my own path. You’d think by my age, you would have things figured out, but I’m still searching for exactly who I am and who I want to be moving forward,” says McBride. “I think I still have something interesting to say and share, and that’s what keeps me going forward. These last 30 years have flown by, it’s quite shocking.”
McBride says after listening through Rebels & Angels, he hopes his new material stands up with his entire body of work and that listeners sense that he is still growing and getting better at his craft.
“I want to listen to this album and feel like the quality of my music is a common thread. I still want there to be growth. Hotels & Highways was my first solo project, and this is my first solo album. I’m trying to keep the music interesting for me and the people listening to it,” says McBride. “I want to write and release songs that speak to me. If somebody likes it, that’s the big payoff. I get a thrill out of hearing people say they enjoy my music. It’s slowly helping me down the road I want to continue going on.”
Part of that road will be travelled with Herndon and Thomas, as McBride & the Ride have reunited in 2021 and will be hitting the road again.
“We’re going to be hitting the road again in April, and it’s going to be a lot of fun! These are going to be our first dates in 20 years, and the band still plays great,” says McBride. “We’ve gotten ourselves a nice little bus to jump in. It’s going to be just like the good old days.”
As he navigates his way through the uncertainty that is 2021, McBride has high hopes of returning to the stage, both solo and with McBride & the Ride, and bringing his music to the people that still want to hear it.
“We have our dates with McBride & the Ride, and there’s a string of solo dates as well, and there will be more throughout the year,” says McBride. “This year’s going to be interesting, but I’m looking forward to playing!”
With decades of industry experience under his belt, McBride says he is having more fun than ever and is eternally grateful to those who have helped him get to this point.
“It’s pretty crazy, I’ve far exceeded my shelf life in this business. I don’t take it for granted. I’m very fortunate to still be able to do this,” says McBride. “I’ve dedicated most of my life to this, so it’s nice to see that not only is it paying off, I’m still enjoying it. It’s amazing that people still want to hear my songs all these years later.”
*Terry McBride, McBride & the Ride and Terry’s songwriting credits are all featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*