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Arts and Music

Finding Good Fortune During The Christmas Season

Billy Dean reprises role touring with

Kenny Rogers for annual “Hits and Christmas” jaunt

When veteran country hitmaker Billy Dean joins Kenny Rogers for the latter’s “Hits and Christmas” show at Westbury Music Fair on Dec. 23, he’ll be bringing more than chart-toppers like “That Girl’s Been Spyin’ On Me” and “Let Them Be Little” with him – he’s also bringing a whole lot of history. Dean made his first visit to country’s Top 10 with his debut single, “Only Here for a Little While,” back in 1990, but he’s been steeped in the art of twang since his teens.

It all started with the musician father for whom he was named. “He had a band for 28 years,” Dean explains. “They played pretty much the same place, the American Legion Hall, but man, it was a rough kind of a place. It was country music at its best — cheatin’, knife fights, drunk [laughs]…they had a good time. When I became a teenager…I joined his band and played on the weekends, and eventually went off and did my own thing.”

Dean’s “own thing” has included the release of 11 albums over the last 22 years, from which he’s had 16 Top 40 singles. His new album, A Man of Good Fortune, finds the singer/songwriter’s powers undiminished. Nevertheless, he surprisingly confesses, “I don’t know if I’ll do another album like I’ve done, a studio album — it seems outdated. To pretend that you’re performing a song, I just think that’s over with. I want to put music up on its feet, up on a stage, and I want the drama to go along with it, and let people see a performance…introduce a video and an audio release of some new music.”

Part of the forward-looking singer’s plan for dealing with the changing pace of the music business involves diving knee-deep into a social network called Viddy, sort of a video version of Twitter. “People seem to be interested in little 15-second vignettes of where you are,” he says. “The other day I was onstage with Kenny Rogers and they were doing their thing and I thought, ‘I’ll Viddy this,’ and threw it up there, and it would get like 100 followers a day. People really are interested in seeing what you’re doing. It’s just a little snippet, 15 seconds — you can talk, you can shoot whatever you want. I’ve been doing some of the behind-the-scenes things, rehearsals, little snippets of Kenny onstage — it takes the fans on tour with you a little bit.”

One of the most poignant tunes on A Man of Good Fortune is the ballad “A Seed,” which Dean admits is “one of the songs that really drove me back to the studio to record another album. I found out that Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw passed on this…I couldn’t believe that mainstream country artists would pass on this great song. It’s from the point of view of a seed, basically the message, ‘Don’t be fooled by my size, you’re never too small to do amazing things.’ And you really start thinking about the role that trees and natural resources played in our success as a country. The ending of it, ‘Cut me down, take my life, that’s when I’m at my best,’ it really kills me. It really relates to soldiers very well, willing to put their life on the line. It goes beyond commerce, I wanted to be able to make a little bit of a statement, or get somebody to think. Country music’s never been just about partying; it’s also about stories.”

Not that the album lacks songs written from the party perspective, like the wry “I Don’t Need As Much Hell.” “It is totally autobiography,” says the 50-year-old Dean, “I still like to have fun, but I don’t need to push it to the limit like I used to. Me and a couple of buddies of mine, when we wrote that, we were pushing the 50 mark. I’m picking and choosing the times that I stay up late, but we’re musicians, I’m conditioned to the road, the late hours and the long miles. But you don’t need to do that all the time. Just because we’re 50 doesn’t mean we’re not a viable class of folks. I see corporate America looking at that 50-plus year old as an irrelevant group to market to, because they may not know how to do social media, and they still want CDs, ‘They don’t know how to find our products online, so why should we market to them?’ I feel like, ‘Hey, we may be a forgotten group of people, but don’t count us out yet!’”

Of course, Dean’s current tour mate is nearly a quarter-century his senior, and Rogers hasn’t slowed down a bit. Dean’s history with him goes back to the mid-’90s. “I got a call, ‘Hey man, Kenny Rogers is playing in Detroit, MI. Do you want to sing a couple of Christmas songs on his show?” This was ’95, ’96 maybe. I did a couple more after that. When my daughter was about nine years old, he was doing a full Christmas tour with traveling kids [singing] in the show, and my daughter got to be part of that. We traveled for months together on the road. Then he started doing “Hits and Christmas,” and invited me out; I did it last year. I had a hit song called ‘Let Them Be Little,’ and that fit the Christmas theme. He made a production number of it with the kids. We’re doing it again this year.”

This year’s “Hits and Christmas” tour finds Rogers and Dean accompanied by local children’s choirs from the towns where they’re playing, so their stop at Westbury will feature the voices of some talented little Long Islanders. “I come out in the first part of the show,” explains Dean, “I do three of my hits. Then we take an intermission after he’s done, and I open the Christmas section of the show with all the kids, all Christmas songs, and I have a spot where I do ‘Let Them Be Little’ with the kids. And he calls me back out at the very end and we do a little duet of ‘We Three Kings’ and we bring the choir out for the closer. We end big; we’ve got everybody onstage by this time. We make a joyful noise [laughs].”