Heartland recalls journey leading to Alabama Music HOF

TUSCUMBIA, Ala. - It's been 10 years since some local boys hit the country music charts with a number one release, "I Loved Her First." But their career is hitting another high note. In 2006, Heartland, had just signed a record deal with Lofton Creek Records in Nashville. We caught up with them at Sammy T's in downtown Huntsville. Their career was taking off.

“Literally from Sammy T’s to being on a tour bus in a two week span,” lead singer Jason Albert remembers. “Yeah, it was just a whirlwind.” About the same time, their first song was heading to number one on the record charts.

It took time to get where they were going. “It took us a long time,” guitarist Craig Anderson said. “We started in 1994 and so we played the Opry in 2006 for the first time. You do the math on that.”

And it doesn’t get any better than playing the Grand Ole Opry. Bass player Keith West smiled when he said, “We went out there and put our foot right there in the circle. He (Jason) looked over at me and said, we're standing in the circle. Yes we are.”

Albert remembers what his grandmother told him when he was about three years old. “She said one of these days baby, you'll be on the Opry,” he remembered. “And she got to watch us that first time and came backstage, go out of the wheelchair, stood up and said I told you. I told you.”

The group picked up two Academy of Country Music nominations the next year. But the journey ended almost as quickly as it began.  “It's just a really tough business you know,” drummer Todd Anderson said. “It's hard to stay on the top once you're there. We`re just blessed. Just blessed overall.”

Fiddle player Chuck Crawford agreed, “In the way that there were a lot of things that came together to get it started, there were a lot of things that came together to kind of tail it off too.”

Jason Albert added, “It was a bam and then a lot of the people ramp up to it, but we never ramped.” The guys laughed.

The boys were disappointed to say the least. “When it came time for another single on the radio, they were like, huh, well, you can't beat that one,” Albert said. “Well, let us try you know, let us try.”

But despite only having one number one hit written by another north Alabamian, Walt Aldridge, Heartland wouldn’t do anything differently. “I feel very blessed that I was able to do this with this group of guys and it all starts with that song,” Keith West said. “I thank Walt for writing that song and giving us this chance to experience all of this.”

Heartland now has its own exhibit at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. It was unveiled last week. It was also the first time all six of the band members had been together at one time in several years.

“I don’t think it’s really ever over as long as some father dances with his daughter at a wedding,” lead guitar player Mike Myerson said. “It goes on.” He added, “It's something that can never be taken away. It was what it was and I was happy to get to do it.”

Some of the guys are writing and playing in their church bands but Jason is struggling with even talking at times. He host his voice seven years ago. It comes and goes. The other guys say when that happened, they knew the journey was over as a group because they couldn’t have kept playing without him.