True Colors

If Ty Herndon’s music is a reflection of who he is, then he’s looking pretty happy and comfortable in his own skin these days. Herndon has re-recorded and released a handful of some of his early hits and covers to faster-paced dance beats and it looks like he’s having a ball putting a fresh spin on his music.
The guy deserves to be happy. Anytime a person faces their demons, tackles them, comes out stronger for it and uses that strength to help others, they have earned the right to enjoy life to its fullest. Since then, for Herndon, it’s been full “steam” ahead.
In November 2014, Herndon became the first major male country artist to publicly come out as gay.
Shortly after that, he made history when he hosted the first-of-its-kind country music event titled “The Concert for Love and Acceptance.” The event was so successful he hosted another concert in June of last year and discovered an even stronger support system — and in the process those emotional scars have begun to dissipate, one by one. Herndon’s decision to wear them instead of the other way around became a liberating experience.
Herndon continues to be a vocally strong musician who still connects to his audiences far beyond his on-stage performances. His passion and commitment to his music has become stronger too, as evidenced by Herndon putting pen to paper more often — drawing from his life to create lyrics from a personal place.
With a career spanning two decades, 20 Billboard charted singles and more than 5 million albums sold, Herndon shows no signs of slowing down. Herndon is a survivor. With pain comes insight and inspiration to help himself as well as others.
In the ’90s, Herndon was “the man.” He had a run of hits that included “It Must Be Love,” “What Mattered Most,” “Living in a Moment,” “In a New York Second,” and his signature hit, the sexy, “Steam.”
“What Mattered Most” soared to No. 1 and was named Music Row Song of the Year in 1996. That song began a cavalcade of awards and nominations for Herndon. Between 1995 and 2002, he charted 17 singles including three No. 1’s and numerous Top 10 hits, including “I Want My Goodbye Back,” “Loved Too Much,” “A Man Holding On,” and “Hands of a Working Man.”
But things moved quickly for the entire stable of country artists of the 1990s and early 2000s. As much as they churned out hit record after hit record, many of them found themselves without record deals at all, shaking their heads, wondering just what the heck happened. Labels didn’t care a lick about the hundreds of hits these artists had recorded, or the albums they sold. The suits wanted new and young, so established and tried and true artists were out.
However, Herndon picked himself up, dusted himself off and discovered a bit of his past that was waiting to be revealed. Before all the chicken wire of the Texas honky tonks and bright lights shining on him as a country singer, he was a young boy simply singing in Alabama churches. It was time to go back to church.
His 2010 contemporary Christian album Journey On, filled with self-penned songs, won a Dove Award for Bluegrass Recorded Song of the Year for the single “When We Fly.” The album also was nominated for a Grammy that same year. The album was heralded as the most personal project of Herndon’s career, due in large part to the fact that it represented his first foray into songwriting. The songs reflected the personal challenges and struggles Herndon faced and conquered, and delivered on the promise of hope and new beginnings.
In 2013, Herndon released Lies I Told Myself through a well-publicized Kickstarter campaign that allowed fan investors to be involved both financially and emotionally. The end result was a testimony to Herndon’s affinity for connection; devotees more than doubled the original funding goal.
Coming full circle, Herndon returned to Sony and released his most ambitious album to date in November 2016, House On Fire, a collection of 12 new songs that showcase a greater strength from a man who has been to hell and back and lived to tell the tale.
“It’s interesting to be back on the Sony label where I had tons of success,” Herndon told the Laughlin entertainer. “This last album was my biggest release since I left the Sony label. It’s been tremendous with this album. You know what, they’re happy, so I’m happy.
“The music (on this album) is very authentic, it’s very honest and it’s pretty much gender free,” he said. “It’s a collection of songs that no matter who you are you can find your life in this record. I say I’m still the same ol’ redneck from Alabama, but I’m a little bit more of a grown-up redneck. Reba said it best. She told me one time, ‘You’re gonna have to constantly reinvent yourself in this business — just make sure people always see an element of who you are.’ So I think the most grown-up version of me is in the music.
“I wrote seven of the 12 songs, but we have some bonus cuts so we actually have 14 songs in total,” he added.
There are a couple of songs in the collection that particularly hit closest to home.
“You know there are two songs that are getting a lot of attention — ‘House on Fire,’ which is the title cut, and ‘The Fighter.’
“I got to write about things in my life that scarred me inside but have been resolved and have actually ended up being a good thing. The scars are what turn you into the man or woman you are. Eventually, you grow up enough to realize that. ‘House on Fire’ is the heaviest song on the album, and it was really hard to write, but if you notice, it’s positioned right in the middle, which is right where it should be.
“‘The Fighter’ is at the very end,” he added. “You know, I’ve been a fighter my whole life with both my scars and victories. Where I am today — where I ended up, not only am I a musician and an artist, I’m also an activist for so many things that matter in this world and I truly find myself being a different kind of fighter. So those two songs are the meat and potatoes of the record.”
The album is symbolic of a man who has come to terms with who he is and has realized a courage even he didn’t know existed, and from that courage, powerful music emerged as his salvation and his freedom.
“That was a lot to accomplish and to come out.” Herndon said. “You can only become the best person you can be by being authentic and honest. It took me a long time to figure that out.
“When I go and talk to kids today I’ve become that teacher and preacher I always wanted to be when I was traveling around in tent revivals when I was a kid,” he added. “But I’ve become that guy that sits down with these kids from all walks of life and I tell ’em, whatever you want to do in this life, you’ve just got to be the best at it and you have to be authentic in your own skin. If you want to be a songwriter, be the best songwriter. If you want to be a dancer, be the best dancer. You have to take that authentic self and let it be a part of you … and you’re going to be constantly growing and changing and moving, that’s what a healthy person does.
“I’m still 100% a country artist. I may be different in people’s eyes today, but when I go and do a show, there’s an arena for everything I am. If I’m playing Billy Bob’s in Texas, you’re gonna get the hits and new songs — it’s not time for me to be an activist. But if I’m doing a human rights campaign, or singing or speaking at something I believe in, then I’m the activist.”
Using his celebrity influence for the greater good, Herndon is in the planning stages of a new coalition called RALY, (Rescue A Life Y’all) to help save lives and raise awareness for those with addiction or identity issues. A philanthropist at heart, Herndon also has donated his time to organizations such as the Trevor Project, Make A Wish, St. Jude, GLAAD, HRC and Feed the Children.
One of his most recent acts of giving back was lending his vocals on the tribute track, “Hands.” The single, released through Interscope Records in conjunction with GLAAD, is a musical tribute to the victims of the 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Herndon was among a star-studded list of artists, including Mary J. Blige, Jason Derulo, Selena Gomez, Imagine Dragons, Jennifer Lopez, Kacey Musgraves, P!nk, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Meghan Trainer and more, voicing support for the LGBT community in the original song. Proceeds from the track benefit Equality Florida Pulse Victims Fund, the LGBT Community Center of Central Florida, and GLAAD.
While he has become comfortable in both roles, as artist and activist, it is his music his fans will show up to the Riverside Resort to experience Wednesday-Sunday, May 8-12.
“I never get to do sit-down gigs any more, so Laughlin is like in my top 10 places to play. I’m looking forward to it.
“We’ll throw in some hits, we’ll be doing some stuff from the most recent album, and we’ll be doing some oldies, because I know in Laughlin a lot of times we have people that like the older country stuff,” he added.
While Herndon’s journey has taken him on one hell of a ride, his destination has led to the most important element, happiness.
“I feel more alive and vibrant — I stay busy, and every other day, I feel like I’m 25,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate and loved and lucky and blessed to still be working in an industry that’s fickle. I have friends who have had hit records that are sitting at home on their butts. I’m glad I’m not one of those people.”


Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort

Wednesday-Sunday, May 8-12 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info