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Interview: How Did Billy Ray Cyrus Wind Up Recording with Dionne Warwick?

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By Annie Reuter

Of all the people you can imagine Billy Ray Cyrus collaborating with, chances are Dionne Warwick never crossed your mind. But that’s exactly who Cyrus teamed up with for his new single “Hope Is Just Ahead.”

Cyrus has been making headlines lately thanks to “Achy Breaky 2,” a goofy project with rapper/producer Buck 22 (a.k.a. Damon Elliott) that’s become an out-of-left field hit.

But his collaboration with Warwick on the single “Hope Is Just Ahead” is a different experience entirely. Listen below:

Cyrus wrote “Hope Is Just Ahead” nearly 15 years ago, just a day after the Columbine High School massacre. And the initial recording of the song wound up on Cyrus’s 2012 release Change My Mind

“‘Hope Is Just Ahead’ is a song that I wrote the day after Columbine and held onto it for years,” Cyrus told Radio.com. “When I was making this new album, Change My Mind, unfortunately there was another school shooting that day. Me and the band watched it unfold on the news in the studio as we were recording. I went to the corner and got my guitar and just started playing the song that I had written years ago. Kenny Aronoff, who was on the drums, said ‘We gotta cut that right now. That’s an important song.’ We laid it down and it felt like when the band played it, it had the passion and the meaning of the lyrics in the music.”

So how did he then wind up recording a new version of the song as a duet with Warwick?

The connection is Elliott, who is not only rapper/producer Buck 22 but is Warwick’s son. He and Cyrus first crossed paths years ago. More recently, Elliott attended one of Cyrus’ shows and remarked on how much he liked  “Hope Is Just Ahead.” Days later, he popped into Cyrus’s dressing room just as he was about to play Jay Leno and decided to call his mom. He told her about the song and had Cyrus sing it to her over the phone. She loved it, and agreed to be a part of the track.

“When Dionne Warwick joined the record at Jamie Fox’s studio, that’s the way this whole [song] evolved, like it was meant to be,” Cyrus said. “That’s why I held onto the song all these years. It was God’s timing, waiting for this moment with the right song with the right singer and I will say Dionne just elevated the song beyond my wildest dreams.”

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During his conversation with Radio.com, Cyrus did also talk about his signature hit “Achy Breaky Heart.” In particular, he shared what a huge compliment it was to learn that Bruce Springsteen had covered the song.

“I thought it was the coolest thing,” Cyrus said enthusiastically. “He’s been a huge influence on me. I was just telling somebody last night, there have been so many albums that influenced my life. When Nebraska came out, there was a song on there called ‘Open All Night.’ I was the only guy that I knew of that was covering ‘Open All Night.’ I just loved that song so much, I loved that whole album so much.”

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