The origins of the group begin with co-founders, Gary LeVox and Jay DeMarcus, second cousins and close friends from Columbus, Ohio. "I grew up in a very musical family," says Jay DeMarcus about his musical roots. "My earliest memories are of us sitting around the living room on Friday and Saturday nights and everybody coming around to the house and picking up whatever instrument was laying around and playing music all night long." "My story is almost the same as Jay's," says Gary LeVox. "I have a very musical family, both my dad and my mom. Our mothers were cousins but close as sisters. We spent a lot of weekends at Jay's house as kids, doing kid stuff and making music."
Growing up in Picher, Oklahoma, Joe Don Rooney's musical influences first came from his brother and sisters. "They were all into music when I was growing up so I went through a lot of different musical genres," Joe Don explains. But he got his mainstream country experience in Grove, OK. "There was a show called the Grand Lake Opry, believe it or not. Kind of like the Grand Ole Opry. It was really cool. When I was nineteen I worked there and every month we'd have a Grand Ole Opry star from Nashville, like Porter Wagoner, Connie Smith and Merle Haggard, come down to sing and perform."
In 1992, Jay DeMarcus packed up his music skills (vocals, bass, guitar, keyboards, mandolin and more), and was the first to move to Nashville. In 1997, Jay finally convinced his cousin Gary LeVox to give up his day-job back in Columbus and bring his incredible voice to Nashville. "When Gary moved to Nashville, we started writing together," says Jay. "We caught up on lost time. We sang every chance we got. We just hit it hard. We'd stay up endless nights writing music and playing together."
Jay and Joe Don met when they got jobs last year in Chely Wright's band. Meanwhile, the cousins were also gigging in Nashville's infamous Printers Alley with a part time guitarist. When their guitarist couldn't make it to a show one weekend, Jay invited Joe Don to sit in with them. None of them expected the magic that would make Joe Don a permanent member of the band. "That night really worked out special," Joe Don recalls.
Jay knew that I sing high and he had been taking the high part above Gary the whole time they had been singing together. That night, he decided to take the low fifth." Jay pipes in, "I was happy to take the low fifth. I heard Joe Don open his mouth and I was like, "thank you, Jesus!" And, the first night that we sang together, we stopped and looked at each other on-stage, like -- that was kind of cool, let's do that again! It really, really was magical. We honestly didn't have to work hard at it. It was so natural and so much fun."
The trio went into the studio and recorded some rough demos with Bright and Williams that were played for producer Dann Huff. Even though Huff was not involved with the project, he was so excited by Rascal Flatts' powerful vocal harmonies and stellar musicianship that he called Lyric Street Records' Senior VP of AandR, Doug Howard, and said, "You have to hear this group." Four days later Lyric Street had completed demos in their hands and a new group to sign.
It is impossible to pinpoint just one element that makes Rascal Flatts' music so special. "We just really jelled because of our influences; pop, RandB, country, gospel, bluegrass roots," says Joe Don. "We've always liked to try to be different, even if we were just playing at some little dive," Jay explains. "When someone listens to Rascal Flatts, they're going to hear a lot of harmony, a lot of funkiness because we love to groove.
It's so encouraging for us to see country music going more that direction." "We felt like Lyric Street really had a great grasp on the way that country music was going with SHeDAISY," Gary continues, "and from the beginning we felt like we wanted to be there because of that." And Lyric Street has the power of Disney behind them," adds Jay, "which is really exciting."
Rascal Flatts is the perfect New Millennium group signed to the most forward-looking new label in Nashville. They were deeply influenced by musical family roots that stretch back to the beginnings of country music itself, and they were influenced by music-making parents and siblings that passed on the contemporary country influences of the latter part of the century. What Jay, Gary and Joe Don have done is add all their individual influences and creativity to a potent, new musical brew seasoned by all that made country music great in the 20th Century, yet is immediately as fresh and exciting as the 21st Century.