Something more powerful than music has kept Carolina Rain on its winding road to success.
The stunning harmonies and powerful voices of this country music trio are reasons enough to propel it forward. But when the chips are down and the going gets tough, something more is needed. And that something is friendship.
"If one of us is down, the others pull him up," says tenor singer and mandolin player Jeremy Baxter. "We found out early on that we all had the same goal. There's never been anyone pulling the cart in a different direction. We've always moved forward together. This is a united front."
"We look back over everything that has happened to us over the past seven years, and we wouldn't trade the experiences for anything," says lead singer Rhean (pronounced "wren") Boyer. "Because during that time, we became friends."
"This is a family," adds baritone singer, guitarist and banjo player Marvin Evatt. "We have fun together. That's one of the coolest things about this group."
Carolina Rain's debut album, Weather The Storm, is certainly a fitting title and solid proof that togetherness and determination pays off. Recorded at Clint Black's home studio, the album comprises 12 tracks that seamlessly flow from carefree, upbeat grooves to stirring emotional cuts. Each song highlights the group's spine-tingling three-part harmony layered against the rustic tones of mandolin, banjo, fiddles, steel and acoustic guitar. This trio organically creates a sound that is rich yet breathable, allowing the voices and instrumentation to resonate through.
Carolina Rain's talents are so dazzling and so self-evident that the group should have vaulted to instant stardom years ago. Instead, the group's bonds have been strengthened by a climb that has sometimes been painfully slow.
"It feels like we have been waiting forever for this moment," says Jeremy. "We're finally getting the opportunity to go out there and do it."
"We know it's going to be hard work," says Marvin. "But knowing that you're going out there on the road with your brothers makes it all OK. We've all had to keep the faith that this will all work out. I'm ready. I've been ready. We're all ready."
"We are thrilled to be able to release this music and to show folks what we can do," adds Rhean. "We love making music together. We go to church together; we fish together; we go camping together; we write songs together."
On the surface, they couldn't be more different. One comes from a Tennessee bluegrass-gospel family band. One was classically trained in South Carolina and was once Broadway-bound. One played in rock bands and ran with a Virginia biker gang. But when they sing, Jeremy Baxter, Marvin Evatt and Rhean Boyer are blood brothers.
Raised in Lebanon, TN, a rural town on the outskirts of Nashville, Jeremy began singing and playing mandolin at age 16. The Salem Singers, his family's bluegrass-gospel group, changed its name to New Grace when he joined. He performed in area churches throughout his teen years.
"I never really thought about becoming a country music artist. I just really enjoyed singing. In high school, I sang in choir. Then I went on to The Vol State Singers when I was a student at the community college in Gallatin, TN. When I met these guys and we formed Carolina Rain, this just kinda fell into my lap."
Marvin grew up singing in Central, SC, a town near Clemson. His father taped him performing "Hound Dog" when he was only five years old. By the time he got to junior high, he was studying harmony seriously. He attended Andrews College in Georgia on a voice scholarship, sang opera arias, harmonized in gospel quartets and was being groomed for Broadway musicals when he abruptly decided to move to Nashville.
"I had dreamed of getting into country music my entire life, but was too scared to do anything about it. I literally woke up one morning, went to my Mom and Dad's and said, 'I think I'm going to move to Nashville.' I packed every single thing that I owned in the back of my little Ford pickup truck and took off. It was pretty hard for my voice teacher to take."
Rhean grew up in Virginia Beach, VA. Both parents were musical and Rhean got his first guitar at age seven. He was mesmerized. By the time he reached high school, Rhean was a local rock star. But by then, he was also destroying his talent.
"When I was about 13, me and my buddy each drank five wine coolers and got falling-down drunk. And that started off my drinking career. With me, a musical career couldn't co-exist with that. Drinking and drugs stole my music from me. I left home at age 17 on a bad note. Drunk. I grew my hair long, got my first tattoo and was living with a bunch of bikers, The Southern Riders. I was really not heading to a good place."
In 1989, he packed up and moved to Music City. Five years later, Rhean hit rock bottom, got sober, found his faith, picked up the guitar again and started writing songs. He has already had his works recorded by Lee Greenwood, the Canadian band Doc Walker and others.
Rhean took a job as a security guard at Belmont University in Nashville. New arrival Marvin applied for a similar job in 1999, and the two were soon riding around in a squad car, writing songs together. A few months earlier, Jeremy had walked into choir practice at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Lebanon to find Rhean sitting in his spot. He sat down beside him, and they heard one another's voices for the first time. Then Rhean brought Marvin with him to services. They got Jeremy a security-guard job at Belmont, and the trio began rehearsing in earnest. Their first songwriting collaboration, "Carolina Rain," also named the trio.
"Marvin has this habit," Rhean reports. "If you're riding down the road and you see a sign, some people read it out loud. Marvin sings everything. I'd say something, and he'd sing it back. It would spark an idea. That's how we wrote tons of songs. We rode around in the patrol car, writing songs instead of tickets."
"So in 1999, the three of us learned three or four songs," continues Marvin. "Just a couple of days later, we got offered a management contract. I remember thinking, 'This is going to be easy.' Every time we played somewhere, we started seeing these amazing reactions from people all around us."
Producer/songwriter Robert Ellis Orrall took Carolina Rain under his wing and into his studio. But the group's first showcase for a major record label turned into a disaster when both the lights and the sound system failed. Orrall's tapes and another showcase led to an offer from a second record company, but the group didn't like the terns of the contract and walked away from the deal.
Six months later, Carolina Rain sang their songs for Equity's Mike Kraski and were offered a contract on the spot. In 2004, producer/songwriter Stephony Smith took Carolina Rain into the studio to begin work on its album for the label. Progress continued in 2005 when Equity Music Group partner Clint Black offered the trio the use of his studio. The joy that Rhean Boyer, Jeremy Baxter and Marvin Evatt found when they first sang together seven years ago is now on disc for the world to hear.
"It has been up and down for a long time," says Jeremy. "We've given up jobs, quit or been fired, just to be able to keep singing together. Employers act like they're OK with you being in a group, but they don't really fully understand how serious we are or how dedicated we are. We've all made huge sacrifices."
"The other day, I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame for the first time ever," says Rhean. "I stood right in the middle of the rotunda, looking all around and thinking about everything that we've been through. I was thinking, 'I can't imagine not doing this music.' It just tore me up, and I broke down."
"When things weren't going so well, everybody circled the wagons and stayed friends," recalls Marvin. "One of us would always say, 'Don't worry about it. We'll get it. Hang in there.' And it all worked out great."