Perfect Stranger Reunites After Eight Years


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“We used to have ... a lot of people on payroll. Now it’s just the four of us, which is a lot simpler. It’s more about playing and having fun. All we have to do is think about playing good music now.”

— Richard Raines

Back in the mid 1990s, the East Texas band Perfect Stranger seemed to be on its way to country music stardom, or at least something close to that. Then reality happened.

The three principals – lead singer Steve Murray, lead guitarist Richard Raines, and bass player Shayne Morrison – began playing together in 1986 in Carthage and paid dues in the bars, honky-tonks, rodeos, and wherever else it could play. The sound was a little bit different, and the songs and the gigs kept coming.

In 1992, the guys recorded an album, You Have the Right to Remain Silent, in Nashville that they thought was good enough to get a major label deal, but when nearly two years passed and four labels turned them down they released the album on their own. The Vince Gill-written single, “Ridin’ the Rodeo,” that they recorded climbed the charts to become the #1 independent country song in America and the title track from the album, which in 1995 became the second single, hit the charts, too.

A major label, Curb, entranced by the sales figures, signed Perfect Stranger, grabbed the distribution rights, and re-released the album with more songs; it spent an additional 26 weeks on the country charts.

“It was good,” Richard said. “When it started out, everybody (at the label) was really cool and excited about doing something with our hit record.”

Perfect Stranger was even nominated for “best new band” by the Academy of Country Music.

But at one point, when the album had sold 450,000 copies, the band still owed Curb nearly $150,000 from the advance money in the contract.

“After a certain point, it was like they didn’t know what to do with us or had new people coming in who they felt like were going to be bigger stars,” Richard said. “We were doing a radio interview one day at a station in Abilene and a Curb rep happened to call the station at the same time, saying they wanted the station to pull the Perfect Stranger record out of the rotation and to and push another artist. The DJ told us what the label said.

“We were shocked. Then it took us three years to get released from our contract with the label. So for three years we kinda had our hands tied. It’s funny that trying to get out of a major label contract can sometimes be harder than getting one.”

The guys kept playing for awhile, but eventually decided enough was enough.

“People were going through divorces and bankruptcies and different things. We were just kinda searching or something, wondering what we were going to do, what would be next. Then it just went away – dissolved peacefully.”

Richard, Shayne, and Steve remained friendly – the band’s breakup was inevitable, but not acrimonious – although they didn’t play together for eight years. Each of the three principals stayed busy playing with other bands.

One day in 2010, Richard got a call “out of the blue” from Steve, who said he was thinking about changing bands and wanted to know if Richard would play with him again.

“I said I missed playing with him, so let’s see what we could do,” Richard said. “The next thing you know, Shayne called and said some friends of ours from a band called Restless Heart were playing at a festival in Bullard and wanted us to open for them.

“They didn’t know we’d broken up. They hadn’t heard us on the radio, but thought we were still touring. Shayne didn’t tell them we were broken up, and since we were all still friends we decided we could do it. It was almost like it was meant to be.”

The guys practiced and did the opening gig, and put the band back together, adding drummer Scott Zucknick.

We sent emails to our family and friends and opened for Restless Heart and people went nuts,” Richard said. “People said they missed us and that there was nobody else around like us. That got us pumped up.”

The gig schedule is beginning to fill up again, with upcoming shows February 5 at Crosswire in Paris, February 11 at Ruben’s Ballroom in Decatur, February 12 at Southern Nights in Abilene, March 5 at Shiloh Ridge Off Road Park in Alto, and March 18 at Buster McNutty’s in Livingston. More shows are in the works.

Perfect Stranger’s sound hasn’t changed much in the eight years apart, except that each of the guys is more experienced and, because of the recent bands each has played in, has a wider palette to choose from.

“The Perfect Stranger sound is real weird,” Richard said in a bit of an overstatement. “Shayne grew up listening to pop rock and is a straight-ahead driving bass player and I grew up listening to the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd and have a kinda bluesy feel to my guitar and Steve is a hardcore country vocalist. That makes for a unique sound, thank goodness. It’s the kiss of death to sound like somebody else.”

Probably 90 percent of the songs are originals; the covers Perfect Stranger does mostly come from “album cuts,” songs that weren’t necessarily hits in their day but ones that the band likes and can add their own spin to.

“After eight years, we are all in better places in our lives. We are all so stable it’s funny. There’s no stress as far as a record label and all that kind of stuff. We used to have 13 people on the road, three in the office, a publicist, a label, a manager – a lot of people on payroll. Now it’s just the four of us, which is a lot simpler. It’s more about playing and having fun. All we have to do is think about playing good music now.”

The band has also been quietly recording some songs.

“We’re thinking about something like a six-song EP to sell at gigs,” Richard said. “We still have friends in radio in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana who have gone pretty far up in the radio chain now, but we’re taking that part slow. Mainly we’re getting the live show together. We’re lucky. We’ve got a fan base that’s really excited about us doing something together again. That’s a good feeling – a lot better than nobody caring.”

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08.01.13 UPDATE. Richard Raines died on June 1, 2013, at his home in Mineola, Texas following a long battle with depression. He was 48.

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