biography

If you’ve been busting your butt in a country music band the past 10 years and not getting anywhere, Rascal Flatts is at least partly to blame.

As the trio’s latest album title suggests, Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney have been “Unstoppable” and unrelenting in dominating the scene with a flashy, harmony-driven pop-country sound.

Since breaking out in 2000, Rascal Flatts has attracted Nashville’s finest songwriters, scoring 11 No. 1 and 20 top 10 singles. The band has sold 20 million albums, the past four of which have topped both the country and pop charts, and 4 million concert tickets in four years.

Award-wise, there are no Grammys yet to show for — the Rascals are seen as a pretty poppy bunch — but they’ve won top vocal group from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association every year since 2003, along with a handful of American Music Awards and People’s Choice Awards.

They’ve come a long way from those first gigs they did here at the Big Butler Fair and opening for Jo Dee Messina.

Back then, by the way, they would be more than willing to jump on the phone for an interview. A recent request was greeted with the response, “They’re on vacation.” Gone fishin’.

That makes this a good time to just look back at 10 years of Unstoppability.

1997-99
Columbus native Jay DeMarcus, who moved to Nashville in 1992 to make it in the music business (he hooked up with Christian group East to West for a time), talks his second cousin Gary LeVox into quitting his job with the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and joining him in Music City.

DeMarcus meets Oklahoma native Joe Don Rooney, and they become part of Chely Wright’s band. Meanwhile, DeMarcus and LeVox are gigging on the side at the Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar in Nashville’s Printers Alley, and when their guitarist can’t make it to a show one weekend, they invite Rooney to sit in.

“Somewhere around the 13th of January in 1999,” Rooney said recently, “Jay called me and said, ‘Dude, our guitar player can’t make it. Any way you could come sit in with us?’ I said, ‘Hell, yeah,’ grabbed my guitar and amp and made it to the club by 8.”

They knew right away they had something as three, and taking the name Rascal Flatts from a famous landmark in Oklahoma, they started playing up to seven hours a night just to be ready one day for the big stage.

2000
With a hot demo, they sign to Disney’s Lyric Street for a debut released on June 6 that produces four top-10 country hits, including “Prayin’ for Daylight,” a first single that goes to No. 3, and “I’m Movin’ On,” awarded Song of the Year by the Academy of Country Music in 2002.

It’s a “sunny, pleasing modern country-pop album,” declared All Music Guide, adding that ” ‘Rascal Flatts’ may not be weighty, but it’s not supposed to be.”

In the era of Garth and Shania, they’re just giving people what they want.

2001
The touring life begins in earnest, as Rascal Flatts is booked at the Big Butler Fair and later turns up as the opening act for Jo Dee Messina at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Oct. 20.

Rather than serving as just an opening and playing the songs by rote, Rascal Flatts shows flashes of stardom, adding screaming guitar leads and bits of humor to the set.

2002
In the summer of 2002, Toby Keith is just threatening to put a boot in the ass of people who didn’t march in step.

Rascal Flatts, thank goodness, is on Big Daddy’s good side, opening the tour, which stops at the Post-Gazette Pavilion that Sept. 20, and even joining him for a gospel rocker.

On Oct. 29, RF drops its second album, “Melt,” scoring No. 1 country hits with “These Days” and “Mayberry” and drawing reviews noting that the sophomore slump ain’t happenin’ here. The group gets its first sniff of controversy when its makes a video for “I Melt” more suited for the Playboy Channel, drawing the ire and ban of the Great American Country network.

2003
Rascal Flatts is back again at the PG Pavilion, this time without Toby, who’s busy battling with the Dixie Chicks. This time, the trio is third down on the bill on Aug. 1, just before Brad Paisley, for the Brooks & Dunn Neon Circus & Wild West Show.

Despite recurring warm-up status, Rascal Flatts is greeted like the country Backstreet Boys from a crowd that’s up on its feet hootin’ the whole time.

Rascal Flatts now begins its ridiculous run as Vocal Group of the Year by the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music.
2004

Moving through the roster of future Country Music Hall of Famers, Rascal Flatts returns to open for Kenny Chesney on Aug. 22 at the Post-Gazette Pavilion.

A week or so before the show, LeVox tells us, “We have so many influences — bluegrass, gospel, we all grew up on country music, Willie, Merle, Waylon, Hank …”

Yep, and then at the concert we notice that “every song, gesture and practiced movement looked like a high-tech video.” Willie, Waylon, Merle and Hank never did that, but whatever …

During the hour-long set the band performs just two songs from its forthcoming album, “Feels Like Today,” which drops on Sept. 28 and not only debuts at No. 1 on the country charts, but also tops the pop charts for the first time.

“Bless the Broken Road” emerges as its biggest hit, spending six weeks at No. 1. “Feels Like Today” and “Fast Cars & Freedom” spend three weeks each at No. 1, while “Skin (Sarabeth)” hits No. 2. The album gets two Grammy nominations but no winners.

2005
Big, big, huge year for Rascal Flatts.

“Feels Like Today” goes on to be the best-selling country album of the year. Not only that, it’s time to headline the sheds. The trio pulls into the PG Pavilion on May 28 with openers Shelly Fairchild and Blake Shelton.

The crowd is more hysterical than usual, but what’s with all the filler? Doesn’t Rascal Flatts like its own songs? The boys play only 11 album cuts while padding the set with long solos, much talk about their awards and bizarre covers of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” introduced with a perplexing cry of “Is anyone proud to be an American tonight?”

Fans near Crawford County get a second dose of Rascal Flatts when it plays the local fair.

2006
Rascal Flatts starts to make the pop/country chart double play a habit when it goes to No. 1 in April with “Me and My Gang.” The hits are “What Hurts the Most,” the title track, “My Wish” and “Stand,” plus a cover of Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is a Highway,” for the “Cars” movie soundtrack, goes top 10 and is added as a bonus track. The only thing stopping “Me and My Gang” from being the biggest selling record of the year is Disney juggernaut “High School Musical.”

Tour-wise, Rascal Flatts returns to the Pavilion one day earlier than the previous year, May 27, for a sold-out show with Gary Allan and The Wreckers. The band plays new hits and older faves underneath a cascade of flat screens beaming a waterfall scene and onstage fireworks. This time, it goes Eagles and Bryan Adams with “Hotel California” and “Summer of ’69.”

A sign on the big hill declares “The World Is Flatts.”

2007
One night … not enough.

Like Dave Matthews, Toby Keith, Jimmy Buffett and other dudes who keep Live Nation afloat, Rascal Flatts rolls in for two nights — Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 — with opener Jason Aldean.

The opening song, “Me and My Gang,” features 32 separate showers of golden sparks spewing from behind the risers, but, still, there’s a more relaxed, folksier feel to the set, which includes a five-song mini-set of quieter, stripped-down tunes played just on drums, guitar and keyboards.

Once again, the tour stop precedes the album, because a month later, RF tops both charts again with album No. 5, “Still Feels Good,” selling more than 500,000 copies the first week. It produces five country singles, including “Take Me There,” written and recorded with Kenny Chesney.

“These Buffett-style party boys,” Rolling Stone says, “know what makes them the biggest group alive: songs about trucks and songs about girls. Lord knows why they try to get serious with a bonus cover — download only — of the Beatles’ ‘Revolution.’ ”

Well, they have to model themselves after someone …

2008
OK, all this continuously rising success story is making this article get a little repetitive. Let’s just say Rascal Flatts swings through again, on Aug. 30, with budding superstar Taylor Swift in tow. Along with the hits, Rooney surprises the faithful with a Hendrix-style cover of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

2009
Here we are in the present day. In April Rascal Flatts debuts at No. 1 again — ho-hum — with “Unstoppable,” featuring a single, “Here Comes Goodbye,” co-written by “American Idol” Season 6 finalist Chris Sligh.

While Rooney says, “This is the best group of songs we’ve ever had,” All Music Guide calls the band out for … hubris!

“This overwhelming smoothness would be pleasant if the album weren’t so puffed up, if Rascal Flatts weren’t so certain of their own invincibility that they didn’t realize they didn’t have either the tunes or the charm this time around … and that they didn’t realize that pride comes before a fall.”

Hmm.

But here’s what happens next. On the way to the PG Pavilion, Rascal Flatts sells out both Wrigley Field and its hometown Columbus Crew Stadium.

Could it be that the country folk will be coming into the city next time to see Gary, Jay and Joe Don?