Shenandoah singer Marty Raybon held the walls of the staircase the best he could as black blotches clouded his vision. He could hear his heartbeat with every breath. And he knew that if he could just make it down the stairs to the basement, he would be fine. He had hidden a case of beer from his wife and was convinced a can or two would fix him right up.
“I was raised right, I just didn’t do right,” said Raybon. “From the time I started drinking until I was 31 years old, I probably spilled more liquor than most people my age had drank. How could you have a career and do that?”
Or a life?
“I felt like I could die,” Raybon said. “I pulled that milking stool up, tore the cardboard open and had the audacity to ask myself, 'If I died, would I go to heaven?' And I realized the answer was I was going to bust hell wide open.”
Raybon got clean – and stayed sober – after that. Shenandoah, known for hits including “Two Dozen Roses,” “Next to You, Next to Me” and “Sunday in the South,” continued to grow. Raybon started repairing his family. He left the band about six years later, and Shenandoah didn’t make another country album for 20 years.
A few years ago, Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus asked the men to let him produce themand the offer enticed Raybon and fellow original member Mike McGuire to reconnect.
“Reloaded,” the album produced by DeMarcus, is a 12-song mix of new songs, old hits, live performances and studio recordings, and is available now. Shenandoah will headline the Christmas 4 Kids benefit concert 7 p.m. Monday at Ryman Auditorium. Other artists on the bill include Restless Heart, Darryl Worley, Halfway to Hazard and Mitchell Tenpenny. The show is a date on the band’s Good Ole Fashioned Christmas Tour and an extension of the goodwill Raybon extends everywhere he goes.
'Music can help the heart and the soul'
Shenandoah's Marty Raybon was on top of the world in the '90s with a country group that was scoring hits. Struggles with alcohol addiction threatened his livelihood and familial relationships. Raybon was able to overcome alcoholism and is now dedicated to those facing the same struggles. Tuesday Aug. 21, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: Larry McCormack / The Tennessean)
Typically, Raybon’s charity work is focused on helping those struggling with addiction, and he does it behind closed doors. He often visits people at home when they’re struggling with substance abuse, and he recently played a short acoustic set for those seeking help at Cumberland Heights treatment center.
“It's really powerful for other musicians to see that it's possible to stay sober,” said John McAndrew, music professionals program coordinator at Cumberland Heights. “They share their struggles and their victories. In the world of recovery, there’s a lot of power in peer support. I'm a big proponent of how music can help the heart and the soul. It's a really powerful way to share struggles and grace.”
Raybon couldn’t do the work if he hadn’t picked himself up from rock bottom.
It was 1991, and he was the face of Shenandoah, one of the biggest bands in country music. He sang about getting to the church on Cumberland Road every night on stage, but in reality the only place he wanted to go was for a drink. His wife was home from the hospital with their 6-day-old son, and Raybon had just returned from a four-day binge. He didn’t know how he got home or how long he’d been gone.
His sons wouldn't invite friends over because they were afraid he would be passed out on the couch. He admits to missing concerts and remembers a promoter called his house once when he didn't arrive to play a show. His wife answered and told the businessman that Raybon was at the concert. Instead, the singer had gone out drinking and didn't tell her to avoid being nagged.
His life deteriorated to the point that even he knew there was no further to fall. Raybon recognized the toll alcoholism was taking on his career and his family. With reluctance, he said, he turned his life over to God.
“I knew good and well that the only way in the world that I can fix me was to allow God to do what he wanted to do in my life,” said Raybon, who said he dropped the habit after that day on the staircase and never looked back.
'Everybody's got problems'
Shenandoah's Marty Raybon was on top of the world in the '90s with a country group that was scoring hits. But alcoholism took it away. He recovered, got his band back together and now counsels alcoholics and those in recovery. Tuesday Aug. 21, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: Larry McCormack / The Tennessean)
Almost immediately, he started getting requests to meet with others suffering the same problems. He recalls sharing his story over the years in public and private settings with hundreds of people, including troubled teens, frustrated families and depressed addicts. Once, he walked into a man’s home and was met with a loaded gun.
“He said, ‘I’m aiming to blow my brains out,’” Raybon said, explaining the man thought that if he killed himself, his family’s sadness would cease, too. “I said, ‘Do you really think that’ll be the end of the misery? Just hear my side.’”
At the end of the meeting, the man gave Raybon the weapon and told him to take it with him.
“Everybody’s got problems,” the singer said. “But the one thing I have learned more than anything else in the world is that it doesn’t make anyone a terrible person because they’ve gone through a bad time in their life. It’s just that for some people, the potholes are deeper. It’s just someone who needs a little more loving on.”
Raybon and his wife, Melanie, weathered his alcoholism and after 33 years together are parents to three sons and grandparents to two grandsons with a third on the way. Raybon's grandson Jameson appears in Shenandoah’s new video for the band’s current single, “That’s Where I Grew Up.” The video was filmed on a farm in White House and stars country singer Michael Ray, who is also featured on the track.
“Shenandoah is one of the best bands in country music, and Marty’s voice is so distinct,” said Ray, who has had hits including “Think a Little Less” and “Get to You.” “They paved a lot of ways for us new artists to be where we’re at. I think it’s important that … we can partner up and show that we’re all in this together.”
Christmas 4 Kids Benefit
What: Christmas 4 Kids benefit concert featuring Shenandoah, Restless Heart, Darryl Worley, Halfway to Hazard and Mitchell Tenpenny. Hosted by T.G. Sheppard and Kelly Lang. When: 7 p.m. Monday Where: Ryman Auditorium, 116 Fifth Ave. North Tickets: Start at $38.50 through Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or at www.ticketmaster.com Christmas 4 Kids is a 501(c)-3 Non-Profit Organization that was created in 1982. For over two decades, Christmas 4 Kids has helped thousands of Middle Tennessee children have a Merry Christmas by taking them on a holiday shopping spree.