Billy Ray Cyrus
Crystal Grand Music Theatre
Saturday, October 21
Doors: 6:30PM | Show: 8PM
Garth Brooks was far and away the biggest country music star of the 1990s, but Billy Ray Cyrus was the artist who best exemplified how Nashville's take on the music business had changed in that decade. Brooks was the first country act who was introduced to the world with the same degree of marketing savvy and commercial calculation as a major pop star, and with results nearly any pop star would envy. Cyrus' first album debuted on the Billboard album charts at number one, and would stay there for 17 weeks in 1992, supported by a music video that sparked a new dance craze and a wave of publicity that made him one of the most talked-about people in America, and one of country music's first real-deal sex symbols. To many, Cyrus became a symbol of Nashville's new commercial acumen, while others saw him as evidence of how far country music had strayed from its roots. Caught somewhere in between was Cyrus himself, a performer who found he had to prove himself as an artist after he had become one of the greatest popular successes of all time.
William Ray Cyrus was born in Flatwoods, Kentucky on August 25, 1961. His father, Ron Cyrus, was a politician who spent 21 years in the Kentucky House of Representatives before retiring from office in 1996. The elder Cyrus was also an amateur guitar picker, Billy Ray's mother played piano, and his grandfather, a Pentecostal minister, played the fiddle, and family jam sessions were common in the Cyrus household, dominated by country, gospel, and old standards. Billy Ray's initial attempts to teach himself to play his father's guitar were foiled by the fact he was left-handed while his dad was right-handed, and it was years before he finally picked up the right instrument and learned to play.
While Cyrus enjoyed music, he had a talent for baseball, and attended Georgetown College on an athletic scholarship. But academics and baseball took a backseat to music after he picked up the guitar; he and his brother formed a country-rock band called Sly Dog, and in 1982 they landed a standing gig at an Ironton, Ohio roadhouse, prompting Cyrus to quit school and pursue music full-time. Sly Dog broke up after a fire burned down their home club as well as their gear in 1984, and Billy Ray relocated to Los Angeles in hopes of kick-starting his career.
Cyrus had little luck in California, and moved back to Kentucky, but booked shows in Nashville as often as he could, refining his trademark blend of country and rock. In time, Cyrus attracted the attention of veteran country star Del Reeves, and when Cyrus landed a spot opening for Reba McEntire in Louisville in 1990, Reeves encouraged A&R men at Mercury Records to give him a look. After seeing Cyrus on an arena-sized stage, they quickly signed him to a record deal.