Billy Ray Cyrus Biography

Billy Ray Cyrus' 2012 CD Change My Mind. Photo credit: Melanie Swerdan for Blue Cadillac Music

It isn’t every day that a person receives a letter of support from his hero, but it happened to Billy Ray Cyrus. It was June 1992, and the singer, songwriter, and guitarist had just struck it big with his debut album, the eventual 9x-platinum-selling No. 1 Some Gave All, fueled by the best-selling but critically drubbed single "Achy Breaky Heart," which spent five weeks atop the Billboard Country chart. Amid dodging slings and arrows from the press, Billy Ray received a letter of support from Johnny Cash, who wrote: "Thirty-six years ago I was working with Elvis and saw him take the same kind of flak you’re taking now. Congratulations on the way you’re handling it all. In your case, as in Elvis’, the good outweighs the bad. Let ’em have it. I’m in your corner."

Before Some Gave All (which held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Top 200 chart for 17 weeks in a row and became the best-selling debut album of all time by a male solo artist), Cyrus was living in his Chevy Beretta, having spent the previous decade chasing music stardom until Harold Shedd at Mercury Nashville Records offered him a record deal in 1990. "Everything was going crazy, so you can imagine what a letter from Johnny Cash meant to me at the time," Billy Ray recalls. "I thought, ‘If Johnny Cash says he’s in my corner, then I guess everything’s going to be all right.’ Nothing else mattered."

Perhaps Cash recognized a kindred rebel spirit in the Southern-born Billy Ray, who went on to enjoy a 20-year-career in the spotlight during which he has sold millions of albums worldwide, charted nearly 30 singles (including three No. 1 country hits), and racked up multiple film and television credits. The Kentucky native has come a long way since spending Saturday nights at his Papaw Casto's house by the railroad tracks listening to him play fiddle while his mother played piano and his father played guitar. "We’d sing old standards like ‘(Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey’ and bluegrass, Southern gospel kind of stuff," Billy Ray says of his childhood. "The night would turn over into Sunday morning and I’d go to my other grandfather’s church. He was a Pentecostal preacher, and my dad would call me up to sing ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ with his gospel group the Crownsmen Quartet. That music is in my blood, and that’s what I wanted to capture on this new album Change My Mind."

Change My Mind, Billy Ray’s thirteenth studio album, is a stellar collection of ten songs that hearken back to Billy Ray’s roots in bluegrass, Southern rock, gospel, and country music. "I’m not country because I’ve had success on the country charts," he says. "I’m not country because somebody said I was. I’m country because I’m Billy Ray Cyrus from Flatwoods, Kentucky, and I grew up listening to country music and bluegrass music and outlaw music and southern rock, and hard-ass rock and roll. I’m a little bit of all of that stuff."

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