Decades before artists like Lady Antebellum and the Band Perry broke out as co-ed trios at country radio, Baillie And The Boys pioneered the sound with a slew of Top 10 country singles.
And now, almost exactly 25 years after Baillie And The Boys had their Billboard chart debut with “Oh Heart” – which was Apr. 18, 1987 – the trio is together again, touring and recording for the first time in years.
The band is Kathie Baillie and her husband Michael Bonagura, along with Alan LeBoeuf. Baillie and Bonagura have been living in Nashville for years, while LeBoeuf lives back in his home state of New Jersey, between stints playing Paul McCartney in touring companies of “Beatlemania.”
“Singing together is so natural for the three of us,” Bonagura says in March from New Jersey, where the band was rehearsing for a group of reunion concerts. “We have the same spark. Till you feel it, you don’t really know. Life has matured us all.”
“Oh Heart” was the first of seven Top 10 Billboard singles the band would chart between 1989 and 1990. Others included “Wilder Days,” “Long Shot,” “She Deserves You,” “(I Wish I Had A) Heart Of Stone,” “I Can’t Turn The Tide,” and “Fool Such As I.”
“Being together again feels the same, but I feel it’s more exciting,” Baillie says. “When we were signed to RCA, everything happened so quickly there was no time to sit back and figure out who we were.
“It was really the music business back then. It wasn’t all about the money and all about, ‘How beautiful are you? How handsome are you? How many records can you sell in the first month?’ ”
LeBoeuf says that the trio is “re-learning some of the old songs. It came back pretty quickly. It sounds surprisingly good.”
They were sitting around a kitchen table once again, singing the Crosby, Stills & Nash hit “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” which played a huge part in their original record deal.
Turns out that Baillie And The Boys, three Yankees from New Jersey and New England, became a favorite of one of the day’s most famous country boys, Jeff Cook of the band Alabama. Cook adored the way the trio sang “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” and urged Alabama’s label, RCA, to sign them.
Tickets for their reunion shows have been selling so well that additional shows have been added.
“I thank God that people remember us. That’s the gratification,” Cathie says. “We did have a signature sound, and it’s never been done again. Now there are Lady A and The Band Perry, with one girl and two guys. We were first to ever do that.”
One of the keys to the band’s immediate success 25 years ago was producer Kyle Lehning, who had just helped Randy Travis break out as a traditional country star before he began working with Baillie And The Boys. A quarter century later, Lehning is their producer again, as the trio begins finding and cutting songs for a new album.
“Kyle always got us really well,” Baillie says. “It’s so funny to be working with him again. It’s like a total 360.”
Big numbers also summed up the band’s touring the first time around. They say they played more than 275 shows with George Strait, along with working with artists such as Kenny Rogers, K.T. Oslin, Reba, and Vince Gill.
Cathie and Mike’s daughter is now an artist herself, and Cathie has some very strong advice for her daughter.
“When you have hits, it’s totally tiring,” Cathie says. “I tell her that she has to get ready to be busy. You’re doing radio at 5 a.m., staying up all night and meeting people. It’s like a whirlwind. Back then, every one of our songs was in the Top 10 and then I was pregnant and went out on the road anyway. We went right back out on the road three weeks after she was born, and I lugged her everywhere with me. She knows nothing else.”
Bloodlines run very deep in music. Their daughter studied music in Liverpool, and was given her college degree by Paul McCartney.
Michael says the band’s maturity, even 25 years ago, was a crucial aspect of their work.
“We played the Bluebird and felt like we were really accepted pretty quick,” he says. “We didn’t have any kind of music attitude. I think Nashville has the best musicians and songwriters on the planet, period. I’m always humbled when I’m around the players in town.”
Cathie remembers: “I always had a passion for singing. One day I just said, “Let’s move to Nashville, and we did.’ ”
Now, after all these years, fans will be able to share the passion of the original Baillie And The Boys all over again, and a whole new generation of fans will discover them for the very first time.
By Phil Sweetland
Maybe you could spell Kathie’s name correctly in the second half of the article?