Lonestar has charted more than 20 singles on the Hot Country Songs chart, including 9 that reached No. 1: "No News", "Come Cryin' to Me", "Amazed", "Smile", "What About Now", "Tell Her", "I'm Already There", "My Front Porch Looking In", and "Mr. Mom". "Amazed" also charted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the first country song to do so since "Islands in the Stream" in 1983. "Amazed" and "My Front Porch Looking In" were the top country songs of 1999 and 2003, respectively, on Billboard Year-End. The group has recorded seven albums, one EP, and a greatest hits package for the defunct BNA Records, and one album each for three different independent labels. Three of their albums have been certified platinum or higher by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The band's first two albums were defined by honky-tonk and neotraditionalist country influences, but subseuqent albums largely drew from country pop. Along with his work with the band, McDonald has co-written singles for Clay Walker, The Wilkinsons, Billy Dean, and Sara Evans, in addition to releasing two solo albums and singing guest vocals on Mindy McCready's 1996 single "Maybe He'll Notice Her Now".
Lonestar began in 1992 as a band named Texassee. This name was derived from the fact that all five members were natives of Texas, and met in Nashville, Tennessee's Opryland USA theme park. The original lineup consisted of lead singer and rhythm guitarist Richie McDonald (Lubbock), lead guitarist Michael Britt (Fort Worth), drummer Randy "Keech" Rainwater (Plano), keyboardist Dean Sams (Garland), and bass guitarist/lead and background vocalist John Rich (Amarillo). Before Lonestar's foundation, Rainwater and Britt were members of the group Canyon, which recorded two albums for the independent 16th Avenue Records and charted in the country top 40 with "Hot Nights" in 1989. By 1992, Texassee changed its name to Lonestar. The band first played at a concert in Nashville in 1993 and signed to BNA Records in 1995.
Lonestar's first release for BNA was an extended play titled Lonestar Live, recorded at the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville and issued in January 1995. Their debut single, "Tequila Talkin'", was released that August, peaking at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks (now Hot Country Songs) chart. It was included on their self-titled debut album, which was released that October. Its producers were Don Cook (best known for his work with Brooks & Dunn) and songwriter Wally Wilson, with whom Rich wrote the track "I Love the Way You Do That". Other contributing songwriters included former solo artists Bill LaBounty, Rick Vincent, and Larry Boone. The next single, "No News", became the band's first No. 1, holding that position for three weeks in April 1996. A physical single release of "Tequila Talkin'" and "No News" as a double A-side also went to No. 22 on Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles. After these two songs, "Runnin' Away with My Heart" also went to No. 8 on the country charts. It was followed by "When Cowboys Didn't Dance" (co-written by McDonald), which failed to reach top 40, and "Heartbroke Every Day", the only single to feature Rich on lead vocals, at No. 18. Both of these songs had previously appeared on the Lonestar Live EP. Their chart runs both overlapped with then-labelmate Mindy McCready's "Maybe He'll Notice Her Now" (from her debut album Ten Thousand Angels), which featured McDonald as a backing vocalist and peaked at No. 18 as well.
Lonestar was met with generally favorable reviews. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic and Brian Wahlert of Country Standard Time both praised the band for having neotraditionalist country influences in their sound, with Wahlert also stating that the use of both Rich and McDonald on lead vocals gave the album "versatility". Rick Mitchell of New Country criticized the band for using several session musicians, and thought that the album's sound was "lite rock with a twang". In 1996, Lonestar won the Academy of Country Music award for Best Vocal Group.
Lonestar's sixth chart single was "Come Cryin' to Me", which Rich and Wilson co-wrote with "No News" co-writer Mark D. Sanders. The song became the band's second No. 1 single in August 1997, two months after the release of its corresponding album, Crazy Nights. As with Lonestar, it was produced by Wilson and Cook. The next single, "You Walked In", was written by rock producer and songwriter Robert John "Mutt" Lange. It peaked at number 12 on the country charts and became the band's first entry on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 93. "Say When" and "Everything's Changed" followed it, with respective peaks at thirteen and two on the country music charts in 1998. The latter also went to number 95 on the Hot 100. Boone and Paul Nelson co-wrote both of these songs, collaborating with Rich on the former and McDonald on the latter. Also included on the album was a cover of Pure Prairie League's "Amie". Thom Owens gave the album a mixed review, saying that "Come Cryin' to Me" and the "Amie" cover were "solid", but criticizing the rest as "slick and bland".
Shortly after the release of "Everything's Changed", Rich left the band. Late in 1998, Keith Harling charted with "Coming Back for You", a song which Rich co-wrote with Wilson. Rich later charted two solo singles for BNA between 2000 and 2001, and recorded an album for the label titled Underneath the Same Moon, although it was not released at the time. In 2003, Rich began recording with Big Kenny as the duo Big & Rich, in addition to serving as a songwriter and producer for other country artists.
After Rich departed from the band, the other four members began performing "unplugged" shows which included acoustic renditions of their songs. The band members also expressed a desire to "reinvent" their sound. They chose Dann Huff as their new producer, and added three members to their touring band: Robbie Cheuvront (bass guitar), Kurt Baumer (fiddle), and Jeremy Moyers (steel guitar).
Lonely Grill was released in 1999. Huff produced all of the album, except for an acoustic version of "Everything's Changed", which Sam Ramage and Bob Wright produced; Cheuvront and session musician Mike Brignardello alternated as bassists on the album. Although lead-off single "Saturday Night" failed to make Top 40, its followup "Amazed" spent eight weeks at number 1 on the country charts. It would later reach number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well, becoming the first song to top both the Hot Country Songs and Hot 100 charts since Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton's "Islands in the Stream" in 1983. The song also peaked at number 2 on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart. All of the other singles from Lonely Grill ("Smile", "What About Now", and "Tell Her") reached the top of the country charts as well, and the album was certified double-platinum by the RIAA. Erlewine wrote that Lonestar "take[s] a middle ground, moving back toward hardcore country while retaining elements of the pop sheen of Crazy Nights. The results aren't always successful, but overall, the album is stronger than its immediate predecessor." Also in this album's timespan, McDonald co-wrote Clay Walker's "She's Always Right" and The Wilkinsons' "Jimmy's Got a Girlfriend", which were respectively released in 1999 and 2000. He worked with "No News" co-writer Phil Barnhart and Ed Hill on the former, and "What About Now" co-writers Ron Harbin and Anthony L. Smith on the latter.
Lonestar's first Christmas album, This Christmas Time, was released in September 2000. It featured seven traditional Christmas songs, plus three original compositions: "If Every Day Could Be Christmas", "Reason for the Season", and the title track. The latter two songs were co-written by McDonald and Sams, respectively. The renditions of "Winter Wonderland", "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town", and "The Little Drummer Boy" included on this album all made the country charts in late 2000 based on Christmas airplay. Allmusic criticized the album as "an unfortunately slick and forgettable collection of holiday tunes, cloyingly done in a soulless pop-country style."
I'm Already There, Lonestar's fourth album, was released in 2001. The same year, the band won the Country Music Association's award for Vocal Group of the Year. The lead-off single was the title track, which McDonald wrote with Gary Baker and Frank J. Myers. It spent six weeks at number 1 on the country charts between June and July 2001, in addition to reaching number 24 on the Hot 100 and number 2 on the Adult Contemporary charts. After it, "With Me" peaked at number 10, "Not a Day Goes By" reached number 3, and the Mark McGuinn-penned "Unusually Unusual" went to number 12. The album received a platinum certification. Maria Konicki Dinoia of Allmusic compared the album favorably to the ballads on Lonely Grill, also praising McDonald's "vocal prowess." Alanna Nash of Entertainment Weekly was less favorable, saying that Huff's production was "generic".
BNA released Lonestar's first greatest hits package, From There to Here: Greatest Hits, in 2003. Three new songs were recorded for this album: "My Front Porch Looking In" (written by McDonald, Myers, and Don Pfrimmer), a cover of Marc Cohn's "Walking in Memphis", and "I Pray". The first two of these were both released as singles; "My Front Porch Looking In" went to number 1 and became the top country hit of 2003 on the Billboard Year-End charts, while the "Walking in Memphis" cover peaked at number 8.
Let's Be Us Again was released in May 2004. This album produced three singles, all co-written by McDonald. The title track was the first, reaching number 4 on the country charts in mid-2004. "Mr. Mom" followed it, becoming their final number 1 by the end of the year. After it, "Class Reunion (That Used to Be Us)" peaked at number 16 in early 2005. Huff produced the entire album except for the closing track "Somebody's Someone", which the band produced by itself; although never released as a single, this song charted at number 53 on the country charts in mid-2004 due to unsolicited airplay. Also included on this album was "Let Them Be Little", co-written by McDonald and Billy Dean. Dean recorded his own version of the song for his 2005 album of the same name for Curb Records, and his version peaked at number 8 on the country charts in early 2005. Another track on Let's Be Us Again, "From There to Here", featured a guest vocal from Alabama lead singer Randy Owen. Erlewine praised the album for containing more up-tempo songs than its predecessors.
Coming Home followed in 2005. For this album, the band sought a new producer to replace Huff. McDonald said that he purchased fifteen different albums at a Walmart to help in seeking a new producer, and chose Justin Niebank after hearing a demo that he produced. On July 19, 2005, Lonestar previewed the album at Sony Music Nashville's offices, accompanied by Moyers, Cheuvront, fiddler Rob Tyler, and guitarist Jack Sizemore, who also co-wrote the track "Doghouse" on it. Only two singles were released from this album: "You're Like Comin' Home", which reached number 8, and "I'll Die Tryin'", which became their first single since "Saturday Night" to peak outside the top 40. Both of these songs were co-written by songwriter and producer Jeremy Stover, and both were previously recorded by Canadian country band Emerson Drive on their 2004 album What If? Erlewine criticized Coming Home as a "perfectly dull set of songs of happy homes."
In early 2006, Sara Evans released the single "Coalmine" from her album Real Fine Place, which McDonald co-wrote with Roxie Dean and Ron Harbin. At a December 2006 concert in Corpus Christi, Texas, McDonald was unavailable while recovering from back surgery, so Josh Gracin sang lead vocals in his absence.
Mountains was the band's final album for BNA. Released in 2007, it was produced by Mark Bright, whose other production credits include Blackhawk, Rascal Flatts, and Carrie Underwood. Its title track, co-written by Larry Boone, went to number 10 on the country charts, while followup "Nothing to Prove" peaked at 51. Erlewine criticized the band for taking "fewer risks than ever" on the album. In March 2007, Lonestar was dropped from BNA's roster due to declining sales. Guitarist Michael Britt attributes the group's commercial downfall in the mid-2000s to the label's choices in singles, saying in an interview with CMT, "I think we painted ourselves into a corner... They started putting out a bunch of family-type songs. I think that really pigeonholed us. The majority of the band didn't really want to continue doing that same thing. But that's what kept getting put out."
McDonald also announced that he would be leaving the group at the end of 2007 to begin a solo career. Cody Collins, who had previously been the lead singer of the band McAlyster in 2000, was confirmed as his replacement. Lonestar's first release with Collins as lead singer was the 2007 Christmas music compilation titled My Christmas List, available exclusively at the restaurant and gift shop chain Cracker Barrel.
McDonald also released a Christmas album in late 2007, titled If Every Day Could Be Christmas. It was followed a year later by I Turn to You, a contemporary Christian music album released via Stroudavarious Records (later known as R&J Records). After this album, he had two chart singles in 2009, both peaking at number 51: "How Do I Just Stop" and "Six Foot Teddy Bear". The former appeared on his third solo album, Slow Down, which was released via Loremoma in 2010.
The group's first single to feature Collins on lead vocals was "Let Me Love You", which was released in early 2008 on Saguaro Road Records. The song made it to 50 on the country music charts. It is the first single from the album Party Heard Around the World, released on April 27, 2010 and produced by the band itself. "You're the Reason Why" was released to radio on March 2, 2010.
Collins left in 2011 and McDonald returned to the group. The band's first single after his rejoining is "The Countdown", released via 4 Star Records. It peaked at number 52 on the country charts in late 2012. The song is included on an album titled Life as We Know It, released on June 4, 2013.
In 2014, duo Haley & Michaels released "Just Another Love Song", which they wrote with McDonald. The song contains lyrical references to "Amazed", and features McDonald singing its chorus.
On March 24, 2016, the group announced the release of their tenth studio album Never Enders. The album's lead single and title track was delivered to country radio on March 17. The album features ten brand new tracks. The album was released and distributed through Shanachie Entertainment on April 29.
All four members of Lonestar appeared on separate episodes of the game show Wheel of Fortune during a country music-themed week aired in February 2007. During this week, contestants and country music artists competed in teams; the singers had cash amounts equal to their corresponding contestants' winnings donated to a charity of the singer's choice, with a minimum guarantee of $10,000. McDonald and Britt both won the bonus round, respectively donating $61,000 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and $59,350 for Adopt-a-Platoon, while Sams and Rainwater won $10,000 each for charities. McDonald previously competed on an identical week that aired in February 2003, where his winnings were donated to Habitat for Humanity.
The group appeared on The Price Is Right, serving as the house band on the episode that aired June 17, 2010. They performed the show's theme song, along with a sample of songs from Party Heard Around the World.
The group was featured in an episode of BYUtv's "The Song That Changed My Life" in October 2013.Lonestar (1995)Crazy Nights (1997)Lonely Grill (1999)This Christmas Time (2000)I'm Already There (2001)From There to Here: Greatest Hits (2003)Let's Be Us Again (2004)Coming Home (2005)Mountains (2006)Party Heard Around the World (2010)Life as We Know It (2013)Never Enders (2016)Whitburn, Joel (2012). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2012. Record Research, Inc. ISBN 978-0-89820-177-2.