Billy Ray Cyrus: ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ ‘Was Always a Bridge to Bring People Together’
When Billy Ray Cyrus released his debut single, “Achy Breaky Heart,” in 1992, no one could have imagined the success the song would have on a national and international scale. Even today, 25 years later, the two-chord track is both a favorite at honky-tonks and karaoke bars and a song people love to hate, and Cyrus is celebrating its silver anniversary.
In late April, Cyrus released a special edition of “Achy Breaky Heart,” infusing his signature song with new life. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and co-produced by Cyrus and the track’s original writer, Don Von Tress, the 2017 version of “Achy Breaky Heart” also brings in the iconic Ronnie Milsap for the song’s quintessential piano base. Although the tune’s infectious lyrics and country-stomping melody irk some listeners, Cyrus says that he finds nothing but blessings from his most famous song.
“I lived in my car and was homeless when I [originally] recorded this song, so it’s all blessing to me. I feel really fortunate,” Cyrus tells The Boot. “Most importantly, the man that wrote the song — the two-term Vietnam veteran Don Von Tress — he became my musical soulmate.
“[He is] my brother in music and in the band, and we wrote a lot of really great songs together … I can’t imagine my life without him and without the song,” Cyrus adds of Von Tress. “The song was the bridge to me finding my musical soulmate in Mr. Don Von Tress.”
“Achy Breaky Heart” wasn’t just a hit in English-speaking countries either: Around the same time that Cyrus released his version in 1992, a Mexican band called Caballo Dorado started performing their own version of the track, translated as “No Rompas Mas Mi Corazon.” According to Cyrus, two of the brothers in the band found the song through their sister.
“They worked it up, and they started playing it, and it became a staple of their career,” Cyrus says. “Twenty-five years later, they’re still playing it and drawing huge crowds. They even have their own interpretation of the dance.”
To mark the 25th anniversary of “Achy Breaky Heart,” Cyrus and Caballo Dorado teamed up for a multi-lingual version of the song. Cyrus says that it was important to him, Caballo Dorado and the song’s producers that this new remix bring together both cultures in equal measure, while also infusing the old song with new life.
“In some ways, there’s a similarity to the melody, and in some ways, it’s almost a different song,” Cyrus notes, comparing “Achy Breaky Heart” and “No Rompas Mas Mi Corazon.” “But, either way, when it gets in those tracks out at Muscle Shoals, with that Southern swamp groove and Ronnie Milsap just banging that piano back there — it’s a pretty special track, and just in a really unique spot to blend the two cultures and languages. The song was always a bridge to bring people together.”
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As Cyrus celebrates his past, he’s also looking ahead to his future: Later this year, the singer will release brand-new music — music that he says flowed out of him when he finally took a break from working on Season 2 of his CMT comedy Still the King.
“I’ve got a couple new albums that I’ve written. I’ve been in the zone of filming Still the King for two years, and I’ve just been maybe holding within a lot of songs that I was supposed to write,” Cyrus shares. “Quite frankly, I get up every day and say I’m not gonna write a song, and before the day is over, a song comes, and I have to write and record it while it’s there because when I write, I hear the words and the music, and it all comes really fast. Try to get it while it’s hot, you know what I mean? … While the faucet’s running, I just feel like I have to let it run.”
And all that talk of legally changing his name from Billy Ray Cyrus to, plain and simple, Cyrus? The singer says he doesn’t care what people call him, as long as they grasp the universal message of his music.
“I’m a bridge-builder,” Cyrus says. “Honestly, I’m in such a good spot right now musically, and having so much fun, it honestly doesn’t matter to me. Whatever anybody wants to call me, I’ll respond to, and I always have.
“Whatever brings the music to the forefront — call me that,” Cyrus adds. “Whatever brings the most focus to this music, I’m all for that.”
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