Restless Heart is yet another band riding the present wave of country music popularity and diversity. The group’s soft country-rock sound harkens back to the Eagles and America, finding fans among the country and rock crowds. According to Chris Heim in the Chicago Tribune, Restless Heart “sits squarely in the middle of the country music mainstream. The band’s sound, a smooth, mid-tempo pop-country blend with tight, Eagles-like harmonies, is a relatively safe distance from either the radical traditionalists or hip country rockers. And with its striking commercial success, the group can no longer be viewed as interlopers.”
Though many crossover artists tend to be viewed with suspicion, the members of Restless Heart have been able to place hits on the pop charts without alienating their core group—the younger generation of country fans. Guitarist Greg Jennings told Who’s Who in New Country Music that the band appeals to “a new age of country listeners—people who grew up listening to both country and rock music in the sixties and seventies.” Jennings added: “It’s this sort of hybrid listener that our music particularly appeals to, because it’s got country harmonies but a sort of rock edge to it.”
When Restless Heart formed in Nashville, most of its members came from other parts of the country. Original lead singer Larry Stewart was the son of a gospel musician, born and raised in Paducah, Kentucky. Both Dave Innis and Greg Jennings were from Oklahoma. They moved to Nashville more or less by chance and wound up working as session musicians in the recording industry there. Stewart was also employed in Nashville as a vocalist and a producer, but he met Innis at Belmont College, where both were business majors. Jennings, Innis, and Stewart began to jam together and help each other find work in the Nashville studios.
Jennings was close friends with Tim DuBois, a professor at Vanderbilt University who also wrote songs. In 1983 DuBois decided to put together a band to record the music he had written. He recruited Jennings and Innis, who recommended Stewart for vocals. The group was rounded out by the addition of John Dittrich on drums and Paul Gregg on bass. The initial outlook for the group was not terribly rosy. DuBois invested his entire life savings—some $40,000—into making the recordings, and the young musicians had yet to arrive at a philosophy or a style that they thought would work.
Innis is quoted on those days in Who’s Who in Country Music.”We didn’t have a record deal and Tim was paying us out of his savings account,” he said. “We
For the Record…
Members include John Dittrich, drums, vocals; Paul Gregg, vocals, bass; Dave Innis, (left band, 1992), keyboards; Greg Jennings, vocals, guitar; and Larry Stewart (left band to pursue solo career, 1991), vocals. Backup musicians include Chris Hicks, guitar, saxophone; and Dwain Rowe, keyboards.
Group formed in Nashville, TN, 1983; signed with RCA Records, 1984, and released debut album, Restless Heart, 1985; albums have yielded more than six Number One country singles, including “The Bluest Eyes in Texas,” “Til Still Be Loving You,” and “Big Dreams in a Small Town”; have made numerous live appearances in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Awards: Vocal Group of the Year Award, Academy of Country Music, 1990.
Addresses: Record company —RCA Records, 1 Music Center N., Nashville, TN 37203.
decided that instead of doing something that we thought we could get a deal on, let’s do something we believe in. Let’s have fun and make the kind of music we want to make, so if we get a deal we can really hold our heads high and be proud and continue to play the songs for years to come.”
Restless Heart emerged from the studio in 1984 with a demo tape that reflected their West Coast country-rock roots. They took the tape to RCA Records and were offered a contract on the spot. In the Akron Beacon Journal, Stewart recalled that the executives at RCA told him: “Don’t change a thing. We’ve been looking for a band like you for years.”
A debut album, Restless Heart, was released in 1985, and the group’s first single, “Let the Heartache Ride,” rose to Number 23 on the country charts. In 1986 the band put out its second album, Wheels, which produced their first Number One hit, “That Rock Won’t Roll.” Another single from the album, “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” made it to Number One on the country charts and became the group’s first crossover hit, climbing into the Top Ten on the Adult/Contemporary charts—a feat unequaled by any other band in nearly five years. Wheelswon the Gold Record Award in 1988.
Subsequent Restless Heart albums sold well, with more than a half dozen singles in the country Top Ten. The group’s hits include “Fast Movin’ Train,” “The Bluest Eyes in Texas,” “Big Dreams in a Small Town,” and “Dancy’s Dreams.” In the spring of 1990, the Academy of Country Music named Restless Heart vocal group of the year.
The band’s success was even more remarkable in light of the press it received. Most critics scorned Restless Heart’s music, calling it “faceless” and “fabricated,” the product of a cadre of mediocre studio musicians. Critics notwithstanding, the public responded to Restless Heart—especially those listeners who preferred acoustic rock to hard-core country. The group’s sound may be derivative, but the songs are fresh and moving, and the vocals exceptional. As Andrew Vaughan noted in Who’s Who in New Country Music, “Restless Heart have proved that soft country need not mean boring country.”
In December of 1991 vocalist Larry Stewart announced that he was leaving the group to pursue a solo career. “We had finished our last concert date of the year,” Dittrich recalled in The Tennessean.”Larry called a band meeting ... and announces his resignation. Our jaws dropped.” Though the parting was an amicable one, the band was at a loss without their enormously popular lead singer. The critics, who had never been kind, predicted doom for the group. The remaining members auditioned several vocalists before deciding to split the singing duties among themselves. “There was music deep inside of us that needed to come out,” Gregg revealed to Country Spectacular, and jokingly added, “Now we each get to star in our own video.”
Despite the critics dire predictions, audiences across the country responded enthusiastically to the newly pared-down band. Though the Abilene Reporter-News noted that “a few of the songs ... longed for [Stewart’s] voice in front of the group’s dynamic harmony,” they concluded that “the show rolled along just fine without him.”
Restless Heart’s sixth album, Big Iron Horses, which includes “Mending Fences,” “When She Cries,” “Born in a High Wind,” and “As Far As I Can Tell,” was released in October of 1992, and the band set out on a promotional tour that was cut short before the year’s end. It was announced in December that keyboardist Innis, whose battle with alcoholism had been adversely affecting his performance, was no longer with Restless Heart. To fill the gap, the remaining trio enlisted the aid of keyboardist Dwain Rowe and guitarist and saxophone player Chris Hicks.
The success of Big Iron Horses, selling over 500,000 copies, carried the band through 1993. By the end of the year, Restless Heart was back in the studio working on their next release, 1994’s Matters of the Heart, which David Hiltbrand described in People as “a sweet suite of pop-heavy country.” Drummer Dittrich, pondering the changes Restless Heart has seen since its inception, articulated the band’s feelings: “I think we’ve taken a giant step as far as getting down on record who Restless Heart really is as a band. And I think you’re going to see and hear a lot more of that from us in the future.”
Restless Heart, RCA, 1985.
Wheels, RCA, 1987.
Big Dreams in a Small Town, RCA, 1988.
Fast Movin’ Train, RCA, 1990.
(Contributor) Home for the Holidays, RCA, 1990.
Big Iron Horse, RCA, 1992.
Matters of the Heart, RCA, 1994.
Vaughan, Andrew, Who’s Who in New Country Music, St. Martin’s, 1989.
Abilene Reporter-News, April 28, 1992.
Akron Beacon Journal, March 25, 1990.
Billboard, April 24, 1993.
Chicago Tribune, March 9, 1990; March 11, 1990.
Country Music, May/June 1992.
Country Spectacular, 1993.
Entertainment Weekly, November 20, 1992; June 3, 1994.
People, June 13, 1994.
Salt Lake Tribune, July 4, 1992.
The Tennessean, January 30, 1993.
Wichita Eagle, October 26, 1990.
—Anne Janette Johrtson
"Restless Heart." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/restless-heart
"Restless Heart." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved March 23, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/restless-heart