Billy Ray Cyrus does well with firsts. His first major album, 1992’s Some Gave All sold over 20 million copies on the strength of the ubiquitous hit song “Achy Breaky Heart.” Fast forward nine years and his first leading role in a television series, Doc, began a three-year stint on cable TV. Now, the hunk with the backwoods past has released his first book, appropriate titled Hillbilly Heart. And while it probably won’t hit the same numbers as his debut record, the conversational biography is honest and quirky enough to cause a stir: Cyrus’s tales of the romance and frustration of trying to make it in music and of the mysterious voice that instructed some of his most crucial decisions will grab readers’ attention. Cyrus recently took some time to discuss his memoir and that voice that occupies so many pages in his book. See the review on facing page.
So, let’s discuss this voice that told you to start a musical career. Do you still hear it and what’s the last thing it said to you?
Hmmm, that’s funny. The last thing it said to me? That’s a good one. It’s not really quite like that, but basically the theme is consistent: “Live life with purpose.”
Has it talked to you about the book, either while you wrote it or since it’s been published?
It’s more the thought and principle to live for God’s light and love.
My favorite thing about Hillbilly Heart is how unvarnished it is; you are willing to expose your mistakes as well your triumphs. Now that it’s been published, is there anything in it you wish you’d held back?
Yes. I kinda wish I hadn’t told about stealing my Mamaw a 3-D Jesus for Christmas. Thank goodness for the good news. Jesus lived and died for nonperfect people like me.
One of the book’s prominent subtexts is your resentment toward Nashville, how it ignored you before you made it big and how it leered at you after you became a star. Now that Nashville has embraced the styles you trail blazed, have you made peace with the country music world?
I’ve always been at peace with Nashville. I love Music City. Especially the music and its people.
This is off on a tangent, but, as a guy who was ostracized by Nashville, I’m compelled to ask what you think of Chely Wright coming out of the closet and being shunned by the establishment?
I’m a big fan of Chely. Of course I support her. I support the right for all people to love who they love. This world needs love and acceptance, not hate and division.
Obviously, this book reflects your growth as a person and artist. If you could give Hillbilly Heart to just one of today’s young country music stars as a collection of advice about life, music, and business, who would it be?
I’d give it to all of them and say, “Learn by my mistakes if you can.” I failed more times than I succeeded. Then I’d say, “Follow your dreams and never give up.”
This is a request as much as a question, can you promise that Miley will write as forthright and engrossing a book when she’s your age?
You may have noticed I make no promises even about myself, let alone someone else.—Robert Morast, Norfolk, VA