Born May 2, 1962, in Meridian, MS, and raised in Butler, AL; married, wife's name Renee (a registered nurse). Education: Attended Belmont College. Addresses: Record company--Epic Records, 34 Music Square East, Nashville, TN 37203. Management--Image Management Group, Inc., 1009 16th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212.
Southern Baptist born and bred, singer/songwriter Ty Herndon has successfully worked his way up from making the rounds of a regional club circuit to recording with a major Nashville label. On the strength of its Number One-ranked title track, Herndon's What Mattered Most had the largest initial shipment of any debut album in Sony Music Nashville's history prior to its release in 1995. Of the 70-odd country artists who made their debuts between 1995 and 1996, Herndon was the only one to score successive Number One hits. A charismatic performer, he has continued to parlay his good looks, smooth, emotive baritone delivery, and songwriting skills into a lucrative career in Music City. As a Music City News reviewer noted, "if voices could be mined like gold or silver, you might say that Ty Herndon, somewhere along the way, hit the mother lode."
Herndon was born May 2, 1962, in Meridian, Mississippi, but moved with his family to Butler, Alabama, shortly thereafter. Raised in a close-knit, religious farming family, young Ty was surrounded by music. "All the generations would be there with guitars, singing," he recalled to Mario Tarradell of the Dallas Morning News. "I remember my aunts Benny and Lilly and mother Peggy, who used to do their own radio show as the Todd Sisters, out in the kitchen singing in these full voices as they did the dishes, their harmonies just pouring out in the rest of the house." Herndon's first instrument was the piano, which he was playing by age five, and his first public vocal performance was with his own church choir.
Right after his high school graduation, Herndon auditioned for Nashville's Opryland USA theme park, where he soon got a job fronting Today's Country Roads, an early version of the band that would become Diamond Rio. He also received numerous jobs singing jingles and doing vocals on demo records, and even made a tour of U.S. military bases with entertainer Bob Hope's USO show. "The first time I left Nashville, I'd been here for 10 years," the artist wrote in his album notes for What Mattered Most. "I was so young and I had a lot of life lessons to learn. Along the way, so much happened. My mother lost her house through a bad management deal I'd gotten into. I'd been rejected and had so many doors slammed into my face, it got to where it was hard to keep believing in myself. One guy went so far as to tell me, `Son, you go on back to Alabama, get on your little red tractor and stay there.' I remember when I told my grandmother about it, she said, 'While we're here on this earth we strive to get out of the dirt. If you think this is all you're ever going to amount to, then you go on and play in the dirt all you want. But if you let somebody else to tell you what to do with your life, then I don't know what to think.'"
Burned by Nashville his first time out, Herndon left, determined to pay his mother back for the money she lost through his failed attempts at recording. In 1988 he moved to North Dallas, Texas, and became well known on that state's highest ranked honky-tonk circuit, where he performed as front man for Ty Herndon and Ride the West. After a few more years of devoting his life to music and making little progress, Herndon was on the verge of calling it quits. Then his luck began to change: he won the 1993 Terry Award for best entertainer from the Texas Country Music Association. A representative from a Nashville management company in the crowd passed his card to the performer; three months later, Herndon was presented a contract with Epic Nashville.
Released in 1995, What Mattered Most would debut at Number 15 on the Billboard charts, fueled by its title cut, a country-pop ballad about a man who found the truth too late. "I knew I wanted to make a statement and tell a story," Herndon explained to Elianne Halbersberg in Country Song Roundup. "The album became my life, because if you have not lived it, how can you believe what you sing about?" Although it took Herndon a year to make the album, his efforts paid off when it went gold within two years of its release. He added, "There is something very special about each song.... People are recognizing the heart of the thing, and that was my one wish: that they see what I poured into it."
The year 1995 would mark Herndon's time in the spotlight, not only for the popularity of his debut album but for his arrest on drug charges as well. Scheduled to perform before a convention of Texas police brass meeting in Fort Worth three days after that June's Fan Fair event, he was arrested for felony drug possession of a controlled substance--speed--just over an hour before the show. "Texas media and the country music grapevine all but pronounced him dead on arrival at the threshold of success," Alan Guebert noted of Herndon's addiction in Country America. Released on bond and sentenced to five years' probation and community service, the singer/songwriter spent five weeks at an Arizona drug and alcohol rehabilitation center reducing his dependency to speed. He also insisted upon addressing his substance abuse problem before his fans via a nationally televised video. "I wanted to set the record straight, to tell the truth," Herndon told Guebert. "At that point, I didn't know if I had a future, but I wanted people to know that I cared about my past. I wanted the fans to know I was man enough to know I had made a mistake, to accept the truth about myself." Since the incident he has continued to talk to young people around the country about the pressures of success and the temptation of drugs. "`Dreams and Drugs' is what I call my talk, and I give it anywhere and everywhere I can to kids in schools and DARE programs," he told Guebert, adding that "this isn't about publicity. It's about pain and hope."
Bravely, Herndon decided to take the chance on a comeback career after his 1995 brush with the law. At a small club in Albuquerque, he took the small stage, sang his first number, and was showered with applause from his enthusiastic supporters. With his likeable, lighthearted stage persona--"I've always been a bit of a clown," he will admit--Herndon has since rebuilt his popularity as a recording artist through his tours with such top stars as Wynonna. Although he adds some upbeat pop dance numbers to the country mix--on a 1995 tour he performed "Play That Funky Music White Boy," a Wild Cherry- penned tune, and music by Black Crowes for younger fans--he always grounds his performances in a more traditional country music repertoire.
Herndon considers himself to be emotional, which he says has its good and bad points as a songwriter. In writing, he spends a good portion of time with each song, "so you have to have lived it," he explains, "but you also have to be able to portray it without killing yourself." He counts "Hat Full of Rain" and "What Mattered Most" as difficult songs to perform, because the emotions behind them remain strong. "But, ultimately, that's the connection you want with the songs you sing. If you listen to the first line of `Hat Full of Rain'--`I've been ridin' through the storm, feelin' weary and worn'--my whole life is in that line. It's about trying to get where I am now, and having anything but an easy time of it. That's the thing I get from all this; even in those real sad songs, there's always a positive light to it. It's important to never lose sight of that, no matter what happens."
Like its predecessor, What Mattered Most, 1996's Living in a Moment included a critically praised title track that was quick to climb the charts, and the single "Renewing the Faith" was Herndon's way of thanking all the fans who supported him during his drug recovery. Rating it even more highly than What Mattered Most, reviewer Ron Young asked in Music Row, "Can this guy sell a song or what?... Throughout [Living in a Moment], Herndon turns in a stellar performance." As Herndon described his sophomore effort in American Country, "Living in a Moment ... is a reflection of the wonderful relationships in my own life. Everyone has someone they would lay their life down for." The singer/songwriter found the album a much less tense studio experience than his first record had been, which he believes benefited everyone associated with the project. "With me being more relaxed this time, the musicians were more relaxed," he told Marianne Horner in Country Song Roundup. "The more fun you can have in the studio, the better the product is gonna be."
While Herndon's vocal abilities are unquestionable, some critics have contended that his albums rely too heavily on the one-hit-and- filler formula. Others look to his continued popularity with fans and counter that his choice of material is consistently good throughout. His fan base has been of key importance to his career-- between 1996 and 1997 he worked 216 dates on tour--but after three years of such a grueling schedule, he finally decided to slow the pace a bit and rely more on his studio work. In addition to continuing to speak on substance abuse before groups of elementary and middle-school children, Herndon and his wife, Renee, have established the What Mattered Most Foundation, a charity to benefit children diagnosed with AIDS. Speaking with Danny Proctor of Music City News, Herndon reflected on his efforts to forge a career in country music, the performer reflected: "The price has been steep-- it cost me a lot. But the prize that has come out of the cost has been my life and a spirituality with my career that will take me a lot further than I ever could before. Sometimes it's really odd that the worst things in the world can turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you."
by Pamela Shelton
Ty Herndon's Career
Began performing with band Ride the West on Texas club circuit; signed with Epic Nashville, 1993; released debut album What Mattered Most, 1995; co-founder, with wife, Renee Herndon, What Mattered Most Foundation, 1995.
Ty Herndon's Awards
Terry Award, Texas Country Music Association, 1993.
- Selective Works
- What Mattered Most (includes "I Want My Goodbye Back"), Epic, 1995.
- Living in a Moment (includes "Loved Too Much" and "She Wants to Be Wanted Again"), Epic, 1996.
- American Country, October 1996.
- Country America, August/September 1996, pp. 59-62.
- Country Song Roundup, October 1995, p. 20; December 1996, p. 56.
- Dallas Morning News, April 19, 1995.
- Music City News, April 1996; April 1997, pp. 44-48.
- Music Row, October 1996.
- USA Today, May 10, 1995.
- Additional information for this profile was provided by Epic Records and by album notes to What Mattered Most, Epic, 1995.