Michael Ray has not come quietly into 2015. He just finished a spring tour run with superstar of the format dujour (and former EW Breaking Big) Sam Hunt, last Friday he released his self-titled debut album, and just a few days later his catchy first single, “Kiss You In The Morning” topped Billboard’s Country Airplay Charts.
“I was watching pretty hard,” the Eustis, Florida-bred singer says while describing how he learned his song touched the top. “I was trying not to get my hopes up but you know, that’s obviously always the goal. No one puts a song out and goes, ‘I hope it goes to 20!’ Everybody puts a song out and hopes for No.1. But I know the rarity of my situation. I know how fortunate I am and that this doesn’t happen all the time.”
As for why he cut the song (written by Justin Wilson and Michael White) to begin with, Ray reaches all the way back to his demo-days. “I first heard it on a compilation disc and I thought it sounded like a hit. I loved the melody and the clever lines—so I set it aside but we all kept going back to it. So we got into the studio and the band we put together just basically put a magnifying glass on what the demo had done and it was huge. I immediately felt like it had to be the first single.”
Along with a first album and first hit, Ray also had another important country first this year. In April he made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry. “I grew up in a family that all played and was into classic country, the Opry was a big deal, the biggest place to play. It was supposed to be a thing I would share with my grandfather, but he passed away earlier this year. So I took his guitar that he played for 50 years with me. If he couldn’t make it to the stage then at least his guitar could. My first song was just me and his guitar playing an old Porter Wagoner song.”
In September, he’ll return for his seventh time in the circle. “I’ll have the exact same nerves as the first time. You don’t just ‘play the Opry’—it’s not like everyone gets to do it. I approach that show differently than I approach a regular show—obviously it’s not what you’d see if you came and saw us play at a club.”
It hasn’t been all that hard to find him at a club or concert hall either. This fall, he’ll join Kip Moore’s Wild Ones tour, but in the meantime, you can find him at the fair. “All the fairs!” he laughs. “I grew up going to fairs. And what I love about them is you get to see a group of artists that you wouldn’t normally get on a bill together. So its cool for us because I get to be a part of it but I also get to see other artists I don’t usually cross paths with.”
A complete list of tour dates are available on his website.