In 1995, Ty Herndon recorded his No. 1 song "What Mattered Most," a stunning ballad about a man who realizes he let love slip through his hands by taking his partner for granted. The song, written by Gary Burr and Vince Melamed, is one of Herndon's signature songs. But Herndon never got to sing the song the way he always wanted -- until now.
Herndon, who came out as gay in 2014, has re-recorded "What Mattered Most" for Pride Month. The new version features new pronouns to describe a love story with a man and reflects the truth Herndon wanted to share with the world 25 years ago.
"I recorded the song at a time in my life when I got my record deal. It was a very confusing time for me. I was very closeted. I had actually gotten married just to hide the fact that I was gay. I married a really good friend and she was so awesome to play that role... but I had also been in a 14-year relationship with an amazing man and we're still friends today. It was difficult to be in the studio singing that song about this fictitious lady whose hair was long and eyes were blue when his hair was long and his eyes were blue," Herndon tells Wide Open Country. "I just remember closing my eyes and thinking of him and at the same time knowing that country fans and so many people could relate to that song -- whether it was a he or a she."
Herndon says he was initially reluctant to change the song's lyrics ("I said it was something I would never do because I'm a songwriter. I'm always going to keep the integrity of the song," he explains.) But after talking with the song's writers and realizing he was coming up on the 25th anniversary of the recording, he changed his mind.
Herndon says it's particularly meaningful to have gay fans hear the new version of the song and see themselves reflected in the lyrics.
"We've got so many new fans out there that were afraid to listen to country because they felt like people that were singing country music and people who were writing country music hated gay people. And that might or might not have been the case in this world of country music, but it's definitely not the case today. There's so many affirming and wonderful writers. There's so many LGBTQ writers in town. The business is opening up...it doesn't matter if you're gay or straight. It matters if you made a great album and you make great music," Herndon says. "That's the biggest change in Nashville. But for me to be able to re-record it and have the gay fans out there, the LGBTQ community, hear it for the first time really -- making it brand new, but the emotions of the song are still there -- that means so much to me."
Herndon has partnered with GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) to present the annual Concert for Love and Acceptance, which will be held at Nashville's Wildhorse Saloon on Thursday, June 6. This year's event features performances by Chely Wright, Rita Wilson, Brandon Stansell, Daughtry, Herndon and more. Tickets are available here.
Herndon says he started the event to make a difference for LGBTQ youth through music.
"My friend Chely Wright is such a huge supporter and mentor for me for my journey for coming out. She had Reading, Writing and Rhythm forever and she does so much for the youth here in Nashville and around the country. I felt like I wanted to do something around music," Herndon says. "I get the opportunity to go speak a lot and I sing a lot, but for me it's always through music."
Herndon credits Chely Wright, who came out in 2010, for opening doors for LGBTQ country artists.
"Nine years ago she came out and it was shocking to the country community. I know she went through some really tough times with it. She paved the way for people like me and up and comers like Brandon Stansell and a few others that have entered this business as a gay artist."
In terms of acceptance and support, Herndon says the country scene has changed for the better in the last 25 years. And when it comes to advice for young LGBTQ singers, Herndon has a simple rule: lead with your talent and live with confidence.
"When I go and sit down with kids and parents, my main thing is this: whether you're gay, straight, blue, white, green --whatever you are, you're coming to this town because you're talented," Herndon says. "You want to be in this business to write music and record it. Lead with that. Lead with your talent and what you want to write about, what you want to sing about and be great at it. The rest will fall into place. Is there prejudice still in the South? Of course there is. Is there work to be done? Yes, a lot of it. But it's going to take these bright and shiny kids that are confident and know who they are and are just so freaking talented they can't be denied. That's what I love and see happening in this town today."