Richie McDonald of Lonestar

by Dan MacIntosh

Lonestar had quite a run around the turn of the century. Their 1999 single "Amazed" spent 30 weeks climbing the Hot 100 until finally landing at #1 for two weeks in March, 2000, becoming the first country song to top the chart since "Islands in the Stream." The song has crossed borders as well as genres: in the UK, it remains the most popular selection for the first dance at wedding receptions (according to PRS For Music, which surveyed DJs to find out). A string of Country #1s followed: "Smile," "What About Now," "Tell Her." Their next chart-topper, "I'm Already There," took on a life of its own after 9/11 when many families were separated by war's cruel fate.

Formed in 1992, Lonestar - lead singer Richie McDonald, guitarist Michael Britt, drummer Keech Rainwater, keyboardist Dean Sams and bass player John Rich (since departed for Big & Rich) - worked up songs and played the bars before releasing their first album in 1995, scoring their first Country #1 with the lighthearted "No News." In 2007, lead singer Richie McDonald left for a solo career, but he has since returned to the fold. In April, 2013, Lonestar played before a huge crowd at California's Stagecoach festival where they not only played many of their biggest hits, but also sang some songs from Life as We Know It, the band's first studio album since Richie's return.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): I'd like to get your thoughts on some of your more famous songs. It's been 20 years, and that's a long time for any band to be together. It's a long time these days for any marriage to last.

Richie McDonald: No doubt.

Songfacts: "Amazed" is probably your signature song. Do you still enjoy singing that song? And what is it that song means to you?

McDonald: Well, I absolutely still enjoy singing it. I know Michael Britt and Dean Sams enjoy performing it every night, as well. Artists wait for a song like that to come along that can take their career to another level, and that song did that for Lonestar, and that's something that we'll never forget. And it's not just the impact that it had on our careers, but the impact that it has on the fans. I mean, 10 years later it still has the same effect.

That song to me is just a classic, timeless song. And it is that song that took Lonestar to another level. We will never, ever get tired of playing that song, just because we still have fans come up to us night after night saying that's the song they got married to, the song they use on their anniversary. That's what music is supposed to be about: if you can get in touch with people's emotions, you can become a part of their story, as well. We've made an impact on people's lives and that means more than anything to us.

Songfacts: I can't imagine what it's like as an artist to think that a song that I performed would be the first dance at somebody's wedding. But I'm sure that that's one of those songs that must get played at countless wedding receptions.

McDonald: Still to this day. I have a friend who's a DJ and he says he plays it at every single wedding that he performs at. The problem is that sometimes you try to recreate that, but you can't recreate that. You've just got to go in; it kind of sets the bar awful high. But I'd love to write another "Amazed" without writing another "Amazed." But "Amazed" was, like you said, our signature song.

But "I'm Already There" was a big song for us, too, being adopted by the men and women in the military back in 2001 after 9/11. And this was a song that I wrote about being away from my family and a song that we could relate to every single night in the band being away from our families. But after 9/11 it took on a whole new meaning, especially with the men and women in the military. They spend years away from their families, and it put things in perspective for us.

But again, that's just the power of music. It's a song that came along at a certain time in the history, and something happened and it left a mark in people's minds. I think we've always had songs that have done that. "My Front Porch Looking In," "Mr. Mom," "No News" - even "No News" is just a quirky little song that we still get tons of requests for. "What About Now." We've had a lot of songs over the years that have made impacts, some bigger than others.

Songfacts: I talk to songwriters a lot, and sometimes a gimmicky song will be their #1 song and they'll have to play this novelty record every show they do for the rest of their lives. So whenever I get to talk to somebody that their most popular songs are also really darn good songs, I just think that's such a blessing.

McDonald: Oh, absolutely.

Songfacts: When you wrote "I'm Already There," did you have any idea that it could be used in other contexts, or were you just thinking about trying to express that feeling of trying to survive separation?

McDonald: I remember to this day, having that conversation with my little 4 year old son Rhett. He was 4, now he's 17. But I remember that night clearly to this day, just hearing that little squeaky voice saying, "Daddy, when you comin' home?" And when you're gone for 6 weeks at that point, you just hang up the phone and you cry and you think, you know what, physically maybe I'm not there, but mentally I'm already there. I'll never forget sitting in that hotel room in Southern California and just thinking, "I'm already there." There's an idea. And that's where it came from.

But it was a way to help me through the separation at the time. Songwriting, for me, a lot of times it's therapy. Just the chance to spill my guts out on a piece of paper or a computer or whatever it is and to put it to music.

You never have an idea that it's going to have an impact, but that's the great thing about country music: it's just, I do what I do. But there's somebody in the Army or the Navy or a truck driver or a pilot out there that basically does the same thing that I do, they're away from their families. But I just had to write about it and express it and then if they feel the same way, that's great. I just never imagine that it's going to touch people the way it does.

Songfacts: Does your son remember that experience when you talk to him now?

McDonald: Yeah, he does. He doesn't forget it. He knows what that song means, even to this day he does.

Songfacts: Is he musical?

McDonald: Yeah. He is. He's a really, really accomplished guitar player at 17 years old. We encourage him to do what he wants to do, and hopefully he gets an education, but continues to grow as a guitar player and follow his dream.

Songfacts: A friend of mine wanted me to talk about her favorite song of yours, which is "I've Gotta Find You."

McDonald: Oh, wow. [Singing], "I've got this dream that won't go away," that was off the Lonely Grill album. That's a song that I wrote with Ron Harbin, a really good friend of mine, and that's one of my favorite songs. Golly, that's so long ago. But what I love about that song is that when we were writing it, Ron goes, "Well, what if we do the verses down here, then you just hop up and do an octave in the chorus?" And he goes, "You can do that, you can sing that. Not too many people can, but you can do it." So that's what we did. I think people always are searching for that one special person, and that's what that song talks about.

Songfacts: Do you have any particular favorites off of the new album?

McDonald: One of my favorites has to be "Just the Rain." To me it's just one of those songs. I wrote it with a co-writer friend of mine, Jeremy Bussey. He came in one day over at my house and he goes, "Man, I've got this idea about when I go back home to Alabama, I drive by my grandparents' house and I just sit there in the front and I sit in my truck and I just look at that front porch and those rocking chairs are still up there. I can still see them there. I see them like it was yesterday. I've got this idea called 'Just the Rain.'" And that's what it talks about - people drop by and see this guy sitting on the front porch and they think he's crazy. And when it starts raining they think it's the rain, but he thinks it's tears.

I love what that song says, and I think a lot of people can relate to it. So many people have lost someone, and if it starts raining, they might think, hey, those are teardrops.

That's one of my favorites, but from beginning to end it's probably my favorite album that we've ever recorded. I like the song, "How Can She Be Everywhere," just because it's rockin', it's quirky, it's just a little left of center. I don't know if the fans will. It kind of reminds me a little bit of "No News," but it's a little edgier. I'm excited for our fans to hear that song and to hear other ones, as well.

"The Countdown," I love the tempo of that and love the edginess of that song, too.

Songfacts: Well, it's so good to hear you say that you like this album so much. I guess we can be a little cynical when we see our favorite groups get back to the original lineups, and we think, 'Oh, they just want to make money.' But this sounds like it's really organic, like you guys really enjoy being together and making music together. As far as I can see you're doing it all for the right reasons.

McDonald: Absolutely. That's one thing that we talked about when we got back together. We said, Look, let's just go have fun and cherish the moment. We had fun last time, before I took a break, but I don't think we really relished the moment. We don't really feel we could look back and remember what we accomplished, because we just didn't take time to enjoy it. So I think this time we're just recording music, having fun doing it, and cherishing every moment night after night, riding on the bus together, and not taking ourselves too seriously.

Songfacts: Well, you have yourself a great evening. I know it's probably pretty late for you there, but I imagine rock & rollers don't go to bed until pretty late anyhow, so I'm not keeping you up too late.

McDonald: No, I'm staring at a computer screen. I'm just working on a song, actually. Work is never done.

Songfacts: So I've interrupted you writing a song. Shame on me.

McDonald: No, I'm actually through. I'm just in Pro Tools tweaking things and making it sound better.

May 30, 2013. Get more at
More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 3

  • Joanne Williams from Neenah WisconsinI'M ALREADY THERE is so important to me and my grand daughter. My husband died in November of 2007 from lung cancer and we found out that she had a brain tumor in Feb of 2008 and she was real upset that she was missing her PAPA when she would come home from the hospital all the time, and I took that song and told her he was with her all the time even if she couldn't see him or talk to him. He was in her heart and the in hair and all around her keeping her alive. And now that is her song and mine it means a lot to us. She has been cancer free all most 7 years now.
  • June Connolly from Spring Hill, FlaLonestar is my favorite group ever! Love all their songs. Saw them in person once at a fair in Hudson FLA, and they were amazing! No pun intended. One correction- Dean was the keyboard guy and Cheech was the drummer.
  • Todd Wedman from 132 Westridge Ave Apt #6 Burlington Wisconsin I love all your songs the one I love the most in I'm already there I think of my son who is 18 and he in the marine I just want to said thank you so much for writing that son
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Allen Toussaint - "Southern Nights"

Allen Toussaint - "Southern Nights"They're Playing My Song

A song he wrote and recorded from "sheer spiritual inspiration," Allen's didn't think "Southern Nights" had hit potential until Glen Campbell took it to #1 two years later.

Superman in Song

Superman in SongSong Writing

Not everyone can be a superhero, but that hasn't stopped generations of musicians from trying to be Superman.

Amy Lee of Evanescence

Amy Lee of EvanescenceSongwriter Interviews

The Evanescence frontwoman on the songs that have shifted meaning and her foray into kids' music.

Mike Scott of The Waterboys - "Fisherman's Blues"

Mike Scott of The Waterboys - "Fisherman's Blues"They're Playing My Song

Armed with a childhood spent devouring books, Mike Scott's heart was stolen by the punk rock scene of 1977. Not surprisingly, he would go on to become the most literate of rockers.

Little Big Town

Little Big TownSongwriter Interviews

"When seeds that you sow grow by the wicked moon/Be sure your sins will find you out/Your past will hunt you down and turn to tell on you."

Eric Burdon

Eric BurdonSongwriter Interviews

The renown rock singer talks about "The House of the Rising Sun" and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."