Noted for his poignant ballads, Texas-bred vocalist Collin Raye has tested his warm, smooth tenor on everything from hard-core country to hard-driving rock and roll. Securing his niche as one of the most popular “contemporary country” vocalists in Nashville, Raye defends his eclectic taste in music. “Critics jump on me for singing those non-country songs—asking how can a true country artist sing those songs,” he noted in a Los Angeles Times interview. “[But] country has changed so much in the past few years that a country artist can sing anything.” Raye’s three platinum albums, as well as the ever-growing crowds of hatted and booted fans that continue to flock to his stage performances, seem to confirm his belief.
Raye was born Floyd Collin Wray in DeQueen, Arkansas, on August 22, 1959. He was raised across the border in Texas, where he soon picked up the nickname “Bubba.” It was virtually inevitable that music would figure prominently in Raye’s life: his father was a bass player and his mother sang backup vocals for Sun Records greats like Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins when they came to town.
Along with his brother, Scott, Raye started his own band while still in his teens. By 1980 they had moved to the northwestern United States and eventually came to roost in Reno, Nevada. As part of the brothers’ lounge act—called, not surprisingly, the Wray Brothers—Collin got some of the most valuable training of his career, and he ranks it more highly than working the dance-hall circuit, the traditional training ground for country artists. “In Nevada, all you were looking at was people sitting there,” he told Country Music’s Bob Millard. “I always had a great band, but we had to go that extra mile. We had to make’em laugh. We had to give them songs that would make’em want to hold each other’s hands. We had to make’em get up and have some fun.”
After recording several singles for local fans, Collin and Scott parted ways; Collin Raye then went solo and made tracks to Nashville, where he was signed to Epic Records in 1990. His debut album, All I Can Be, was released in 1991. “Love, Me” hit the Number One spot on the country charts and hung on for three weeks in 1992, eventually garnering the singer a Country Music Association (CMA) song of the year nomination. Helped by the momentum of several other chart-topping ballads, All I Can Be went gold and then platinum, beginning a trend that would continue for Raye’s first three albums.
Raye’s second effort, In This Life, reached million-seller status with the help of its title cut, a Number One hit that
For the Record…
Born Floyd Collin Wray, August 22, 1959, in De-Queen, AR; divorced; children: Jake Wray, Brittany Wray.
Formed a lounge act with his brother, Scott Wray; performed as the Wray Brothers, Reno, NV, mid-1980s; recorded several singles on Mercury before dissolving act; went solo and signed with Epic Nashville, 1990; released solo debut album, All I Can Be, 1991; released Extremes, 1994; appeared in film Street Justice, 1994.
Addresses: Record company —Epic Nashville, 34 Music Square East, Nashville, TN 37203.
quickly became one of the most popular wedding ballads of the early 1990s. The album’s success proved to Raye that he was on the right track, especially in his selection of material. “When I’m looking for songs for my records, I’m looking for songs that are about things I’ve felt or I’ve seen,” he explained in an Epic press release. “But I also want those songs to be the kind of song that people will feel are their own. When you get out on the road and people start telling you all these stories about what the songs have meant to them, that’s when those songs really take on a deeper meaning.”
Raye’s third album, 1994’s Extremes, made fans see a more socially aware side of their favorite singer. The single “Little Rock,” a song about the life of a recovering alcoholic, not only reached the Number One spot on the charts and the final cut in the contest for CMA song of the year but also reached out to many listeners who had been touched by alcoholism. After the release of “Little Rock,” Raye used the accompanying music video to promote Al-Anon, a support group for children of alcoholic parents. The song was also the momentum behind a series of public service announcements he later filmed. Raye’s public-mindedness was further broadened by his son, Jake, who was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy. “My son’s disability matured me a great deal,” he confessed to Millard. In addition to spending a great deal of time with both his children—he also has a daughter, Brittany—Raye devotes time to several charities, including the annual Special Olympics and the Emily Harrison Foundation for children.
Extremes signalled a shift for the well-known country balladeer. The soulful devotion that resonated throughout most of his first two albums was replaced by the rowdy buffoonery of the Lyle Lovett-penned “That’s My Story” and the saucy Number One hit “My Kind of Girl.” “I knew early I was tagged’a balladeer,’” Raye explained to Millard, “which is wonderful for people to say’boy, this guy can really sing a ballad,’ but that’s not all that I am about. “To prove that there’s more to the singer than a sad, slow song, Extremes also contains a cover of Waylon Jennings’s “Dreaming My Dreams, “which Raye told Country Song Roundup contributor Jennifer Fusco-Giacobbe is his “favorite song of all time.” He added, “It’s my way of thankin’ Waylon Jennings … because without Waylon, I probably wouldn’t have a career. He laid the foundation, he made me do what I wanted to do.”
In fact, Raye names Highwaymen alumni Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash among his greatest influences. “Waylon and Willie and George [Jones] and them guys, they basically built the foundation for this thing,” he asserted in the interview with Millard. “They brought a lot of people to the table.” And Raye’s fourth album, I Think About You, brought more fans to his own table, as the album’s first single—the musical fairy-tale “One Boy, One Girl” —hit airwaves across the country. But the release also finds Raye in a more realistic state of mind in the thought-provoking “What If Jesus Comes Back Like That, “a song that ponders the form the Second Coming might take in today’s hard-edged, urban world. Critics have predicted that I Think About You will follow in the tracks of its three predecessors on its way to platinum status.
In contrast with his continuing reputation as a country balladeer, Raye puts on shows noted for their high energy, and he often adds country spins to tunes by such notable rockers as Rod Stewart, Elton John, and the Eagles. “Our obligation as artists is not only to ourselves, but to the industry, to bring more people to country music, “Raye explained to Fusco-Giacobbe. “If we give them a good show we might capture the people who went to see a country artist to take a look at this’country thing.’ But if they come and see a guy standing there, just strumming a guitar, they can go, ’l can listen to that on tape. There’s nothing there.’ So if we go out there and really break our necks, they’re gonna go,’I like this stuff.’”
All I Can Be, Epic, 1991.
In This Life, Epic, 1992.
Extremes (includes “Little Rock” and “That’s My Story”), Epic, 1994.
I Think About You, Epic, 1995.
Country Music, September/October 1994; November/December 1995.
Country Song Roundup, July 1994.
Country Weekly, June 14, 1994.
Los Angeles Times, February 13, 1994; October 10, 1995.
Music Row, April 8, 1994.
Additional information for this profile was provided by Epic Nashville, 1995.
Born: DeQueen, Arkansas, 22 August 1959
Best-selling album since 1990: I Think about You (1995)
Hit songs since 1990: "Little Rock," "In This Life," "Love, Me"
Collin Raye's appealing tenor voice, which in its grittiness recalls Don Henley of the 1970s rock band the Eagles, graced a long string of country hits during the 1990s. Softer than Alan Jackson yet falling short of John Michael Montgomery's sticky sentimentality, Raye used his songs to tackle difficult social issues such as alcoholism and child abuse. Over the course of his career Raye has proven his versatility with performances that range from pure country to sophisticated pop balladry.
Growing up in Arkansas, Raye and his brother Scott frequently performed with their mother, a well-known local country singer who opened for stars such as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash when they came to town. In the late 1970s the siblings formed the Wray Brothers Band, enjoying a minor country hit with the single "Reason to Believe" (1983). After the group disbanded, Raye was signed to Epic Records as a solo performer. His first album, All That I Can Be (1990), was a solid effort highlighted by "Love, Me," which hit number one on the country charts in 1992. The sentimental song, in which the narrator describes the death of his grandmother, became a favorite at funerals—its lyrics have often been carved in tombstones. On the hit "In This Life" (1993), in which a man ruminates upon his imminent wedding, Raye again displayed his ability to craft heartfelt, convincing songs marking life's passages. Not surprisingly, the song was soon a popular choice for wedding receptions.
In 1994 Raye moved in a more challenging direction with "Little Rock," an unsparing portrait of an alcoholic struggling to get his life on track. With lines such as "I haven't had a drink in 19 days," "Little Rock" brought a new level of realism to country music, putting a human face on a misunderstood disease. Given that alcohol has historically been represented in country lyrics as a palliative for depression, Raye deserves credit for his honesty and courage in tackling this subject. By the mid-1990s Raye had become known for addressing at least one social issue per album. The Walls Came Down (1998), for instance, features "The Eleventh Commandment," a harrowing account of child physical and sexual abuse: "she's so ashamed she's Daddy's secret love." At the same time, Raye became a spokesperson for Childhelp USA, an outreach organization for abused children. Although Raye's 2000 album, Tracks, sports a mainstream country-rock production in keeping with the hit sound of late 1990s artists such as Shania Twain, his next release, Can't Back Down (2001), is a more versatile set that combines a varied array of musical impulses. On "I Can Let Go Now," a heavily orchestrated pop ballad, Raye delivers one of his subtlest performances, his voice displaying softness, range, and flexibility.
Although Raye performs all types of material with conviction, he was best known in the 1990s for daring songs that set a new standard for lyrical maturity in country music. His earnest, pleading voice informs his songs of life, love, and death with an unwavering layer of sincerity.
All That I Can Be (Epic, 1990); In This Life (Epic, 1992); Extremes (Epic, 1994); I Think about You (Epic, 1995); The Walls Came Down (Epic, 1998); Tracks (Epic, 2000); Can't Back Down (Epic, 2001).