It all begins when the lights go down. For Gary LeVox, Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus, it has been that way since they were playing for a handful of people in a club in Nashville's Printers Alley. These days, of course, they play for more than ten thousand screaming fans a night, drawn by state-of-the-art production and sound, and by spectacular vocal harmonies in service to an ever-expanding catalogue of hits. In between, it was the magic of those performances that catapulted Rascal Flatts into the front ranks of entertainers in all genres.
By any measure, Rascal Flatts is in elite territory. In 2005, the group earned its third consecutive ACM and CMA Vocal Group of the Year awards, and added Billboard and R&R Artist of the Year trophies as well. The trio also picked up its first three Grammy nominations, and their "Bless The Broken Road" received the Grammy for Country Song of the Year. Rascal Flatts was the most played artist on country radio in 2005, spending ten weeks at #1 on the radio singles charts.
In addition, their Feels Like Today CD was the year's best-selling country album, with sales of more than 2.5 million in 2005 alone, according to Soundscan. It finished at #7 in all genres. In less than five years on the country music scene, the group's CD sales have soared past 8 million, with Feels Like Today at quadruple platinum, and Melt and Rascal Flatts both at double platinum.
The fans have watched the rise to superstardom of the group that got its start well over a decade ago in Columbus, Ohio, where second cousins Gary and Jay learned to love music during frequent family jam sessions. 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 met Joe Don when both landed jobs in Chely Wright's band. Joe Don had grown up in tiny Picher, Oklahoma, gleaning influences from his brothers and sisters, whose tastes ran the gamut of musical styles. As he and Jay worked in Wright's band, Jay and Gary were working in a Printer's Alley club with a part-time guitarist. When he couldn’t make it one night, Jay invited Joe Don to sit in. A few bars into the first song they sang, 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.
With their first album out, they hit the road hard, gaining thousands of new fans and opening for the likes of Alan Jackson, Jo Dee Messina, and Toby Keith. Their star rose dramatically from the outset and reached dizzying heights with the release of "I'm Movin' On." The milestones kept coming. They played the Grand Ole Opry, appeared on the soundtrack of We Were Soldiers, and recorded "Walk The Llama Llama," a song penned by Sting for The Emperor's New Groove soundtrack. Along the way, they were the subjects of two one-hour live television concerts and were given the 2001 CMA Horizon Award and ACM's New Vocal Group of the Year.
The hit songs and relentless work ethic drove them inexorably toward platinum status and a host of awards and milestones. Their debut CD was one of only three million-selling debuts in half a decade, and it spawned four top-ten singles. They toured with Brooks & Dunn and Kenny Chesney, headlined their own tours: CMT "Most Wanted Live Tour," 2003 "I Melt" and 2004 & 2005's "Here’s To You Tour." They received the 2002 CMA Horizon Award, the ACM's Song of the Year award for "I'm Movin' On," and the CMT Flameworthy Favorite Group or Duo Award for the "These Days" video.
They view all their successes as spurs to further creative excellence. "When we started our career," says DeMarcus "there’s no way we could have dreamed this. We've surpassed our goals in just three albums. We are humbled by country radio for playing our songs and for the support of Lyric Street Records and our amazing fans."
As they have grown musically, they have continued to reach personal milestones. Gary is married, with two daughters, Brittany, 6, and Brooklyn, 2. Jay married a former Miss Tennessee in 2004, and Joe Don has wedding plans this year. Their growth as people is reflected in the ever-increasing depth of their music, and they are enjoying both the effort and the rewards.
"The three of us have wanted to do this since we were kids... we are nowhere near done yet!"