When Lonestar set out to make their third album, Lonely Grill, the group turned not to veteran producers on Nashville's Music Row but to Dann Huff, a former guitarist for the rock group Giant and a producer whose credits include albums for Megadeth.
Huff understood that the band needed a fresh sound and a new direction, says Lonestar guitarist and lead singer Richie McDonald. John Rich, the group's second principal vocalist, had left the group, formed as Texassee in 1992.
McDonald and bandmates Michael Britt, Keech Rainwater and Dean Sams had established a reputation for delivering radio-ready, harmony-driven hits, beginning with their first Top 10 country song, "Tequila Talkin'," in 1995, and continuing through a repertoire that includes "No News," "Come Cryin' to Me," "Everything's Changed" and "Runnin' Away With My Heart."
"We were looking for some growth, and to have some songs with some substance and passion," McDonald says of the preparation for Lonely Grill. "When Dann first came to us, he said, 'I want to make this band sonically correct.' We did have some success before this album came along, but we were at a point where we needed to make some noise, and we felt Dann was the person to make that noise with."
Released in July 1999, Lonely Grill has been certified double platinum, thanks largely to the success of "Amazed." The song stayed at number one on Billboard's country singles chart for eight consecutive weeks, the first song to achieve that feat since 1966. In March, "Amazed" reached number one on Billboard's Hot 100 pop chart. The same week, Lonestar's follow-up single, "Smile," topped Billboard's country singles chart. In May, the Academy of Country Music awarded "Amazed" honors for Single and Song of the Year.
All members of the group write. McDonald co-wrote three songs on Lonely Grill, and is also co-writer of the Wilkinsons' recent single, "Jimmy's Got a Girlfriend," and Clay Walker's Top 20 hit, "She's Always Right." "Writing, to me, is a priority," he says. The group has recorded its first Christmas album ("Lonely Grill with bells," says McDonald) and when they find the time, they work on their next project, tentatively slated for summer, 2001.
"I have a passion for writing," McDonald says. "I don't ever want to lose that. I'm always looking for melodies and ideas and putting them on tape. That's the way I can express myself: through a song."