Song by song, concert by concert, they continue to add to their stature. They were, for starters, the top-selling artist of 2006--in all genres of music. They scanned five million units, meaning that 1 of every 14 country CDs sold last year was a Rascal Flatts record. Their last CD, Me And My Gang, sold more than 721,000 copies in its first week and went on to sell four million copies, leading the band to become the top-selling artist in all of music, the first time in 15 years a country artist achieved that milestone. Their “Still Feels Good Tour” wrapped in early 2008 as the best selling country tour for the first quarter of the year. Rascal Flatts has also become one of the most consistently awarded acts in history, with their 2008 ACM Vocal Group of the Year award, their sixth, tying them with all-time super-group Alabama for most consecutive wins in that category.
The trio has long been accustomed to working with the best songwriters in the genre, and Still Feels Good is no exception. Jeffrey Steele, Neil Thrasher, Wendell Mobley, Hillary Lindsey and Tony Martin all contributed songs, and "Take Me There" boasts the ultimate in superstar writers--Kenny Chesney, who co-wrote the out-of-the-box smash with Thrasher and Mobley.
"That's a very special song," says Joe Don. "We knew it when we heard the demo, which we got at the 11th hour. It's just a great sentiment that speaks to the women big time. It shows the power of a great song."
Beyond the opening single, the album contains yet another measure of the talent and versatility Gary, Jay and Joe Don bring to their art. Still Feels Good reflects their biggest contribution as songwriters to any of their CDs. Jay teamed with Thrasher and Mobley for "No Reins," an exhilarating look at a woman embracing her freedom, and Gary worked with the same duo to write the title cut, a celebration of lasting love, and with Thrasher and Michael Dulaney for "Bob That Head," a bit of power country about the joys of riding around town in a tricked-out truck with a great sound system. All three teamed up on "Winner At A Losing Game," which brings lustrous harmonies on loss and heartache, and "She Goes All The Way," a bit of aural sensuality written with Monty Powell and featuring the first-ever Rascal Flatts duet, with Gary trading lead vocals with his longtime friend Jamie Foxx.
"He said he'd do it if we sing on one of his records," adds Gary with a laugh, "so it's a pretty good swap! He's an incredible talent and he came to Nashville just after finishing his comedy tour to work with us on it."
Throughout the project, the harmonies are rich and scintillating, and critics say Gary continues to bolster the case for himself as one of popular music's most technically proficient and emotionally moving vocalists.
"I think lyrically this is the strongest album we've ever done," says Gary. "It's genuinely taken us to the next level. I think that in working with [producer] Dann Huff, the four of us have really got something special when it comes to capturing on CD what we do live. It perfectly captures the way we've grown as songwriters, as musicians and as people, and it's the proudest I've ever been of a project."
The relationship between the group and Huff, who produced Me and My Gang and has also worked with Faith Hill and Keith Urban among others, has quickly grown into one of Nashville's most inspired.
"We learned how to work with Dann last time," says Jay, "and because we had that foundation established, we were able to do even better things with him and he was able to pull even more out of us. I honestly think this is the best music Rascal Flatts has made."
Together, they are crafting music that is as exhilarating as it is distinctive, with impeccably soaring harmonies and feel-good grooves. Though they deal with the gamut of human emotion, the cumulative feel of a Rascal Flatts record is life-affirming, and fans by the millions have responded positively and passionately.
The Rascal Flatts love affair with those fans began with "Praying For Daylight," the first single from their double platinum self-titled debut album, released in 2000. It was the first of four hits from the CD, and the fourth, "I'm Movin' On," would establish the group's ability to combine song and performance in a way that defines a moment and moves past hit to standard. It was a process they would repeat with "Bless The Broken Road," "What Hurts The Most" and "My Wish" as they came to define a new generation of country fans. With each new album came new milestones. The now triple-platinum I Melt came as they won the CMA Horizon Award and led to nods as both the ACM's and CMA's Vocal Group of the Year. Feels Like Today, released in 2004, debuted at #1 in both pop and country and has sold 5 million copies. It spawned the #2 tour of 2005, with 750,000 fans in 70 cities, and led to a host of awards and honors, including Grammys for Country Song of the Year ("Bless The Broken Road") and Vocal Performance. It also marked their emergence both as co-producers and as bona fide superstars. Along the way, they have released nine #1 songs and 17 Top 10 hits and sold 17 million albums.
With Me And My Gang and now Still Feels Good, they take another step in an epic journey that began near Columbus, Ohio. Gary and Jay were second cousins from a musical family, long on both dreams and talent. Jay took his voice and instrumental skills (he plays guitar, bass, keyboards, mandolin, and others) to Nashville in 1992, earning his first record deal as part of a Christian group called East to West. In 1997, he finally convinced a reluctant Gary to leave behind his job with the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and follow his musical dreams as well.
Jay landed a gig in Chely Wright's band, and there he met Joe Don, who had nurtured his own dreams and talent in tiny Picher, Oklahoma. Jay and Gary were working in a Printer's Alley nightclub, and when their part-time guitarist couldn't make it one night, Jay invited Joe Don to sit in. A few bars into the first song, they knew they had something special. They recorded some demos, which caught the favorable attention of Lyric Street Senior VP of A&R Doug Howard and led to musical history.
Through the years since, they have played the Opry, appeared on the soundtrack of CARS by recording the song “Life Is A Highway,” which became one of 2006’s most digitally downloaded tunes and also a multi-award nominated song. Most recently, they did a fiery cover of the Beatles' "Revolution" for the Evan Almighty soundtrack. All have settled into happy married life--Gary has two daughters, Brittany, 7, and Brooklyn, 3--and all are committed to sharing their good fortune. To cite just one charity, they have donated $2.2 million to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.
They remain in awe of the success they have earned through the years.
"We dreamed some big dreams," says Joe Don. "We were looking for the rocket ride. But I don't think we ever dreamed the things that have happened to us. Everybody in the industry sees the same charts and sales figures every week, and for us to see our names at the top of those lists gives you a whole different perspective. It's gratifying and it's humbling."
"We just want to make the best music we can," adds Jay, "and I think we've been surprised ourselves with how much the fans have loved what we've done. It's incredible how much we've been blessed."
For Gary, the bottom line is consistent and easy to understand. "We've worked really hard from day one," he says, "and we know who employs us. It's the fans, and we've tried to give back to them musically what they've given us. We love them like they love us."