A version of this column appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Restless Heart still beating after 30 years
Column: The influential country band, which features three Oklahoma natives, is bringing its “30 Years & Still Restless” anniversary tour to the Sooner State for a show Saturday at Sugar Creek Casino in Hinton.
“Boy, do we ever have some Okies in this band that like to cause trouble. I can vouch for that,” said Restless Heart lead singer Larry Stewart with a laugh in a recent phone interview. “I think there’s a song in here somewhere about Oklahoma and trouble.”
He may be a Kentucky boy himself, but Stewart, 54, has been making music with a trio of Oklahomans for three decades.
Best known for its 1980s and early ’90s hits like “That Rock Won’t Roll,” “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” “Why Does It Have to Be (Wrong or Right),” “The Bluest Eyes in Texas” and “When She Cries,” Restless Heart features three Oklahoma-born musicians in its lineup: Altus native Paul Gregg (bass, vocals), Bartlesville native Dave Innis (keyboards, vocals) and Oklahoma City native Greg Jennings (guitar, vocals). Drummer John Dittrich, who hails from New York, completes the lineup, which has remained constant since they signed with RCA 30 years ago.
“It’s mindboggling that we’re still alive, much less still together. We’re very proud of the fact that, frankly, in the last 30 years, there’s only two bands out of Nashville … — out of country music and maybe out of any genre for that matter — that still has the original members in it. And that’s us and Diamond Rio,” So for us to be a band that all the critics said we wouldn’t be together this time next year back when we first got together … to think that we’re still together 30 years later when they didn’t give us a chance, we’re proud of that,” Stewart said.
The band is bringing its “30 Years & Still Restless” anniversary tour to Oklahoma for a show Saturday at Sugar Creek Casino in Hinton.
“We brought so many different influences when the five of us came together. … “When we got together in Nashville, which is where we met, there was three guys from Oklahoma and two producers from Oklahoma — Tim DuBois and Scott Hendricks — so they brought a lot of Oklahoma with them,” Stewart said.
“I think a lot of our sound was really in the songwriting, especially with Tim, who in the very earliest days brought the songs that he was writing and then put us in the studio with the money he had made with Alabama hits and ‘She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft).’ “Some of the music just had that earthy kind of lyrical content … but we then brought this kind of contemporary sound because of our vocals. All five of us sing on every song, so we had a big vocal sound and harmonies.”
Their harmonies drew comparisons to The Eagles, who weren’t considered a country act those days, and Their contemporary sound didn’t go over well with some of Nashville’s Music Row establishment.
“It was during the era of The Judds and Ricky Skaggs and George Strait and Randy Travis. It was very traditional at the time,” Even though we all grew up in these more traditional influences instrumentally and vocally — except for our drummer, who grew up in New York and loved the Big Band thing, oddly enough — when you put the whole sound together, it became contemporary,” Stewart said.
“Of course, as years have gone by, you listen to our music now, some of our No. 1 hits, and it’s almost traditional compared to some of the (new) stuff.” … It’s really funny how it kind of transitions and how country music has changed over the last two decades.”
Although many critics hated their harmony-heavy ballads, Restless Heart placed more than 25 singles on the charts, including six consecutive chart-toppers, won a Top Vocal Group trophy from the Academy of Country Music and earned four Grammy nominations. They also successfully crossed over and scored hits on the adult contemporary charts.
“Country radio just really accepted us with open arms from Day 1 for some reason — thank goodness — and we were able to kind of find a stretch there where we were lucky,” he said.
Stewart left the band in 1990 to pursue a solo career, before the release of the 1992 crossover smash “When She Cries,” and Innis departed two years later. In 1994, the remaining members disbanded. With the exception of Innis, the group got back together in 1998 to record a few new tracks for a greatest hits compilation and embark on a yearlong tour with Oklahoma native Vince Gill. Restless Heart restarted for good around 2000.
“All five of us kind of came together and really realized how lucky we’d been and really got some guys that have some hard feelings towards each and we all did a group hug. Everybody buried some hatchets … and we decided, hey, let’s go do a couple of shows and see if anybody cares. Well, here we are 12 years later or so still hitting the road, still doing shows, in the studio working on two or three different projects,” and we’re really excited about some of the new music we’re working on,” Stewart said.
In 2007, the quintet released the live album “25 and Live,” to sell at shows and online. Along with updating the live record for the band’s 30th anniversary, the group is working on an acoustic set of its smash singles and fan favorites, a covers collection featuring Peter Noone and Jim Messina and an album of new material. In concert, Stewart and his cohorts play old hits, new music and a tribute medley honoring the artists who helped them break out three decades ago.
“We’re taking it seriously. We’re serious about what we’re doing … and we’re not just sitting on our past laurels,” he said. “We’re very honored to think that we could still get onstage together and sing and play and people would want to come out and hear us play these songs. We’re blessed. We feel very fortunate.”
Restless Heart’s “30 Years & Still Restless” Anniversary Tour
When: 8 p.m. Saturday. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Where: Sugar Creek Casino, 4200 N Broadway, Hinton.
Information: (405) 542-2946 or www.sugarcreekcasino.net/entertainment.