Country Superstar Michael Ray Chats About His Fourth #1 Single & Who He Really Wants To Collaborate With Next

Michael Ray’s grandfather never could have imagined how playing guitar chords with his grandson as they listened to country legends Merle Haggard and George Jones would pave the way for the younger Ray to later become a chart-topping artist.

Within just five years, Ray has accumulated four #1 hits – RIAA Platinum-certified “Think a Little Less,” RIAA Gold-certified “Kiss You in the Morning,” RIAA Gold-certified “One That Got Away” and his most popular song to date, “Whiskey And Rain.

We caught up recently with the Florida native to discuss his new EP, Higher Education, his surprise #1 hit “Whiskey and Rain,” who he really wants to collaborate with next and his upcoming single, “Holy Water,” being released March 7.

Photo Credit: Sean Hagwell

Congratulations on your fourth #1 single, “Whiskey and Rain.” Can you tell us a little bit about why this song means so much to you?

We cut this song during quarantine during a time where I was doing a lot of reflecting, and trying to figure out the thing that was missing. I really felt that I had not been putting out the music, the sound that I had been wanting to, and knew exactly where I wanted to go with this record. So, when we first heard this song, it just embodied all of that. As soon as we heard it, it took me right back to that 80s and 90s feel. It had some old Ronnie Milsap and Gary Allan. It just embodied everything I loved and so to see it do what it has done and for it to be my biggest hit today, it gives me the confidence that I’m on the right track. I feel like I am being able to be more honest with my music, which helps me write better and be more clear in making this record.

It already has more than 104M streams. Did you think this song would captivate your fans as much as it has?

You know what was crazy was when we recorded this, like I said, we were in quarantine so everyone was in separate places, like different houses. I think my producer was in this random cabin in North Carolina with his family for COVID. Everyone was going crazy trying to figure out if it was good to come out and I was in the front room of my tour manager’s house cutting vocals for “Whiskey and Rain” so we weren’t touring. This song just gets kind of released and it gets recorded in this crazy way, but we made the most out of it. We weren’t able to play this song live, so there wasn’t that kind of feedback. We believed this song was a hit and when we played it for our radio friends and streaming friends, everybody started giving us feedback. It was pretty across the board, so I felt like it was going to react with the fans; I just didn’t know how and I didn’t know it would be like this, which is really cool. I said in an interview not long ago this song would be my biggest hit because it was the strangest way to cut it and the weirdest time cutting it. It falls in line with it being this fun journey of the life of this song.

How did the collaboration with Kid Rock, Lee Brice, Billy Gibbons and Tim Montana on “Higher Education” come about?

It was a blast. It was the first time I had my full band in a video like that so it was really cool. Tim Montana is like my brother. I always tell everybody he’s like one degree separated from anybody in the world. I’ve never seen anything like it; he knows everybody and somehow has this great relationship with everybody. It’s so crazy; it’s a God given talent. We were playing songs back and forth in his garage just hanging out during the pandemic time and we would play demos, songs we had been writing, songs we had been listening to and whatever. Anyway, I knew I wanted to add a collaboration, but I wanted it to be where I would have some friends of mine come in and do something. We didn’t have a song yet and I obviously wasn’t expecting Kid Rock and Billy to be on anything with us. Tim played me “Higher Education” and I was like, ‘What are you doing with that? Can I play that for my team?’ He said yeah; then Tim and I got to brainstorming and he was like, ‘We need to call Billy. He’d love to play on an album.’ Then he said, ‘Let’s call Kid Rock,’ so next thing you know, it all starts coming together. Billy happened to be in town so he recorded his part. Kid Rock was out of town, so when he came back, he recorded his part at his studio at his house and we were headed to Arkansas to go duck hunting with Lee and he jumped on it, so it really became this cool, organic way how it grew. It was a really cool moment because Kid Rock was the first CD I ever bought with my own money off this kid when I was in sixth grade in the back of the bus for two bucks. It was this full circle moment of being able to be up there with not just your heroes, but people that are legendary. I have gotten to become friends with them, thanks to Tim who introduced me to them. It was just really cool to be able to stand up there and have that moment. I’ll forever have that song and that moment. It meant a lot that they took the time to jump on it with me.

Photo Credit: Sean Hagwell

Would you say “Picture” was one of the most personal songs you have ever recorded?

For sure. I wrote that the day of my uncle’s viewing. The night before we were going through pictures at my buddy’s house and we were laughing and telling stories like you do, but my buddy said, ‘Isn’t it weird no matter how much money you have or who you know or what connections you have in life, we are all going to end up being pictures that people have.’ A lightbulb went off and I wrote that down and I didn’t move my writing. I was writing with Michael Hardy and David Garcia the next day and I didn’t move it. I had a gut feeling; I don’t know why. It was the day of his viewing. I normally probably would have moved it, so we kept it and that idea popped up and I brought that idea to them. Sadly, we probably all have gone through a loss of some sort that hit is deep and in an impacted way. We all three just really connected with that story. It’s funny, the first verse of the actual photo album, there is a photo of my sister Brittney and it’s Christmas Day. I’m sitting there, and my front tooth didn’t come in for like three years, so I had just one tooth up front for three years during the early part of my life [laughs]. The first verse is an actual photo that I remember seeing as a kid growing up. They just helped me really navigate that song. I told them I really wanted a personal song and I hadn’t done this type of song and really go there. I think when you go there, it allows the fans to go there in their own connection.

Who were some of your musical inspirations along the way?

Gary Allan was a big influence to me once I started learning guitar. My first biggest influence was Merle Haggard. I grew up learning all his stuff, Alabama, Keith Whitley, Randy Travis, that’s the music I grew up listening to and learning – you know, Waylon, Earl Thomas Conley, that’s who I grew up on. When I started discovering music that was more my generation, Gary Allan was that perfect mixture of that with his badass voice and Bakersfield Buck Owens thing happening so he was a big influence. Happy or sad, I love sad country songs. That’s always been kind of my go-to, so I would have to say Gary has probably been the biggest influence.

Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with who you haven’t yet had the opportunity?

I would love to do something with Gary (Allan). We’re going in the studio soon, so maybe I can work something out [laughs].

You’re coming to Six String in Foxboro, Mass. in a few weeks (March 3). Do you have any favorite spots you like to check out typically when you come to the Boston area?

I love baseball and I’m a big Cubs fan, but one thing I love about baseball is the history and what the sports have been through and the teams that have made it into what it is today. I love going to see Fenway and that whole area right around there just makes me feel like I am in Boston. There is this energy around there, and there is so much history there just like the Opry. You go to these places and you feel that history there, those moments and all the things that Boston has been through, it’s that field that brings everybody together.

What’s up next for you?

We have got a tour that we will hopefully be able to announce soon, and writing a lot and getting ready to hit the road. Be on the lookout for a tour announcement soon. We’ll be playing at a lot of places we hadn’t been able to the last couple of years, getting in the studio working on new music as well as releasing my new single, “Holy Water,” to radio in just a few weeks.

Photo Credit: Sean Hagwell