With the release of "I'm American," Billy Ray Cyrus sees his career coming full circle. The album reunites Cyrus with Buddy Cannon, the producer responsible for his move to Nashville, and resurrects "Some Gave All," a 20-year-old salute to the military that serves as the anchor for his new patriotic project on Buena Vista Records.
Video: "Runaway Lights," Billy Ray Cyrus
"Buddy Cannon was the first guy from Mercury Records to come see me," Cyrus says. "It was the spring of 1990 and he drove to Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky., because I had landed the opening act slot for Reba McEntire. There I was, a dude with no record deal, but had a large following throughout Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia."
Cannon encouraged Cyrus, a Flatwoods, Ky., native, to make the move to Music City, and the rest is history. Cyrus broke through with the hit single "Achy Breaky Heart," and his 1992 Mercury debut, "Some Gave All," set a record by camping out at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for 17 consecutive weeks, the longest run by a debut artist. "Some Gave All" was also the first debut album to enter at No. 1 on Billboard's Country Albums chart.
"Without Buddy Cannon, none of this would have happened," Cyrus says of the Nashville veteran who also produces Kenny Chesney. "If you go back to the genesis of this album, which is 'Some Gave All,' and then you go back to Buddy Cannon, it really is going full circle."
"I'm American," released June 28, is Cyrus' 12th album and marks his first time working with Cannon as producer. The project also features a reprise of the hit song "Some Gave All," with guest vocals by Jamey Johnson, Darryl Worley and Craig Morgan. "For me as a songwriter, they didn't use lyric sheets and that meant the most to me," Cyrus says. "They were singing from their hearts."
Cyrus decided to re-record the song after seeing troops' reaction during a 2009 USO tour of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"There's a tremendous story about how the military has played a real role in Billy's life," Walt Disney Records VP of marketing Rob Souriall says. "Both his grandfather and father served our country. His second-biggest hit was 'Some Gave All,' a tribute to those who gave all while serving their country. The songs on this album are his dedication to all who are part of the U.S. military."
TV plays a key role in launching the album. "Billy Ray Cyrus: I'm American" is a 30-minute special on GAC featuring in-studio footage, performances of the new songs and interviews with soldiers. It began airing on street date and will air 20 times through July 7. Cyrus will also appear on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" (July 6), CNN's "Piers Morgan" (July 11), "The View" (July 13), "Fox & Friends" (July 14) and "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (July 15).
The album's single, "Runway Lights," is also the theme song for "Surprise Homecoming" on the TLC network. Hosted by Cyrus, the show captures military personnel returning home to surprise their families. A sneak preview aired Memorial Day and the series launches July 11.
" 'Runway Lights' is featured in on-air promos driving tune-in to the premiere episode of 'Surprise Homecoming,' " Souriall says. "The show has licensed several tracks from the album for use within episodes. We have also created a promotion where viewers are encouraged via on-air promos to go online to enter for a chance to win a trip, tickets and VIP access to a backstage barbecue with Billy Ray at a concert in Biloxi, Miss."
According to Souriall, the album is receiving strong support from the Army and Airforce Exchange Service, and there will be new-release endcaps at such big-box retailers as Walmart and Target. The title track is iTunes' free song of the week June 28-July 5.
"Back in 1989, I couldn't give my music away fast enough," Cyrus says. "I just wanted somebody to hear it because it was important to me, and 20 years later, I feel like that same kid with a dream."