By CINDY WATTS • Staff Writer • The Tennessean
If you listen to country radio, you’ve likely heard local DJs touting Restless Heart’s “reunion” show Sunday at Sommet Center. The band will join country singers including Randy Owen, Lee Brice and Bucky Covington to play 103.3 WKDF’s Birthday Bash concert.
But Restless Heart’s performance is actually more of an anniversary than it is a reunion. In fact, all five original members of Restless Heart — John Dittrich, Paul Gregg, Dave Innis, Greg Jennings and Larry Stewart — have been reunited and playing shows together since 2001. And this year the band is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
“Sometimes it feels like 25 (years), sometimes it feels like five (years), sometimes it feels like 125 (years),” said Jennings, who plays guitar in the band. “This (performance) isn’t a one time only thing. We’re a going concern. We’re going to play many more (shows) after this one.”
The band split in 1996, and the misconception here that they were still on the outs, singer Stewart figures, might stem from the fact that most of Restless Heart’s recent touring has been in the Midwest, Southwest and West. (Sunday’s show is the first time the members recall playing Nashville in at least 10 years, besides CMA Music Fest or the Grand Ole Opry.)
“Most of our success came from that part of the country,” he said. “Our music was more appealing out there than it was to the more traditional side of country in this part of the country. Early on we offended some people with our sound, especially here in town . . . we were too contemporary for what was going on on radio at the time. But what was funny was that radio stations accepted us with open arms.”
‘Things shift around’
Restless Heart had its first Top 10 hit in 1985 with “I Want Everyone to Cry,” which was followed by successes including “Til I Loved You,” “That Rock Won’t Roll,” “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” “The Bluest Eyes in Texas” and “A Tender Lie” before Stewart left the band in 1991 to pursue a solo career.
“To be honest, Greg Jennings and I were both going to leave the band because it just was too thick, and it wasn’t fun at all,” Stewart said. “There were internal problems and personal problems, and we didn’t want to do it anymore. I made the announcement I was moving on, and Greg Jennings changed his mind and decided to stay.”
The band continued on as a four-piece with drummer John Dittrich and bassist Paul Gregg providing lead vocals. A year later the group released Big Iron Horses, which spun hits “When She Cries” and “Tell Me What You Dream,” then followed up with Matters of the Heart in 1994 before calling it quits two years later.
“Larry had left the band and everyone had written us off,” Dittrich said. “We had success, but sometimes things shift around and . . . market conditions change. Radio lists were getting shorter and shorter, and new artists were getting bigger and bigger, and all of a sudden it became a challenge for us to get played at radio and for us to go out and tour. I just said, ‘Well, I’d like to go out on top, and I have too much respect for this band to watch it slowly die. Let’s just go out with our dignity and just hang it up.’ I honestly thought that was going to be the end of Restless Heart.”
Dittrich went on to form a new band, Buffalo Club, but by 1998, Restless Heart had reformed, minus Dave Innis. The group released a greatest hits package on Koch Records and toured for a year with Vince Gill, but when their new single failed to break the Top 20, the band went back on hiatus until 2001.
Members enjoy the ride
Members credit former booking agent Rick Ship at William Morris Agency with getting the group back together in its original form.
“We were over at Greg Jennings’ studio, and (Ship) came over and we talked and decided to book some shows,” Stewart said. “He said, ‘Let’s put the original members of Restless Heart back together — let’s see if we can do it.’ And we did, and guess what? It’s 2008 and we’re still together.”
Dittrich said this time around, members are making sure they take time to enjoy the ride.
“We’ve been together since the end of 2001 making music and having fun, and enjoying it a lot more than we did in the past because there’s no pressure,” he said.
“We’re able to go out and enjoy the audience and just have fun performing without some earth-shattering problem facing Restless Heart. It’s nice to be at this stage of our career, 25 years down the road, and still have a career. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate.”
Reach Cindy Watts at 664-2227 or email@example.com.