Hit song carries Eli Young Band to ACMs, beyond

Friday, March 23, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 12

NASHVILLE (AP) — Count the guys in Rascal Flatts among the fans of "Crazy Girl," the song that took the Eli Young Band to the top of the country songs chart and earned the Texas quartet three nominations at the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday.

The veteran trio has tapped the act for its "American Band" tour later this year and guitarist Joe Don Rooney recently raved of lead singer Mike Eli's performance on the song: "He sings his butt off."

But as enamored as they are with the Eli Young Band, the Rascal Flatts members also had some advice for the rising group.

"You've got to follow it up," bassist Jay DeMarcus said. "That's the hard part. The easy part's having one hit, but you've got to follow it up."

"Yeah, but then you've got to follow that up and you've got to follow that up," Gary LeVox said with a laugh.

It's a lot of pressure, but it's a challenge the band — which includes guitarist James Young, bassist Jon Jones and drummer Chris Thompson — seems ready to tackle. After all, they spent a decade of hard work growing from a partnership between two roommates at the University of North Texas into a tight, ambitious outfit that relentlessly toured and grew its fan base one show at a time.

"No matter what comes along — hits or no hits — I think that you can work hard at capitalizing on what you already have built and then try to move forward with it and use your music to get to that point," Eli said. "Hits will definitely make that happen. They're not the only way, but they definitely will help. We've been very fortunate and very lucky to so far have this career and I think that it's turning into something really cool."

They've already experienced some of the cool moments. This week, they wrapped up a trip to Australia, came home for 12 hours, and then jumped on a plane to Las Vegas, where the ACMs are going to be held. "Crazy Girl," a slow-building love song that rolls along like a drive down a lonely two-lane blacktop, is up for song and single of the year and the band is up for vocal group of the year.

Originally scheduled for a one-off festival appearance in Australia, a promoter suggested them to Faith Hill and Tim McGraw and they found themselves as the husband-and-wife superstars' opening act.

"This is definitely one of those situations where it's been a blast to be here," Eli said in a phone interview from Australia. "I didn't realize how many fans we could really make here and how well we'd be embraced coming over from the U.S. It's been really cool."

They earned their way into these opportunities with a rockin' country sound that recalls the mellow smooth of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and the raucous nature of the Texas live music scene where bands are required to bring it every night. They had put out four albums and had a hit, "Always the Love Songs," about four years ago. But their latest album, "Life at Best," and the song "Crazy Girl" took off the band to another level; that album was released last year.

Their latest single, "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," cracked the top 20 last week and is one of the fastest rising songs on the Billboard country songs chart. But whether they'll have another No. 1 remains to be seen. To be honest, they're not really sure why "Crazy Girl" captured the imagination of so many people. There was the hard work and the support of label Universal Republic. But there's no explanation for why lightning struck when it did.

"I think anybody that's in the national spotlight, timing is really everything — timing and the people you have behind you," Young said. "There's so many talented musicians and songwriters, it's just we were lucky. We had kind of a top 10 and disappeared for a few years. We never quit touring or making records, and then with 'Crazy Girl' the time was right. It just happened."