City Moon Rising
THE Oklahoma-based country band City Moon has taken a different path in its quest for music stardom. While most groups begin their career making waves at home, City Moon has achieved international success before making a dent in the domestic market.
The five-piece band, whose members live scattered across Oklahoma, has held higher chart positions in Europe than American stars like Shania Twain and The Dixie Chicks.
Despite topping the charts in three different European countries with three different songs and receiving extensive airplay on a country station in Australia, City Moon is less well known at home.
"In Europe, the people are very open about who they will listen to," band leader Virgil Bonham said. "The radio DJs play what people like. Everyone has free rein of what they want to listen to."
City Moon, formed in 1988, is led by lead vocalist and guitarist Bonham. Wayne Rinker shares lead vocals with Bonham and plays the fiddle, while Oklahoma City native Clifford Parrett picks the bass and banjo. Cory Wyatt pounds the drums, and the newest member, Steve Robinson, plays the steel guitar.
A station in Melbourne, Australia, picked up City Moon's album on the Internet and began to give it heavy airplay after a flood of requests.
"I was recommended to listen to the band by a friend who had either heard of them or had their disc," said Melbourne disc jockey and music critic George Peden in an e-mail. "I continually deal with a lot of country acts, many of whom don't bother with the effort considering how far away Australia is. However, not my experience with City Moon."
While the large record companies have a stranglehold on radio in the United States, international listeners basically decide the playlists with their calls and requests. After City Moon's 1995 collaboration album with the hit song "Trail of Tears," the band began getting requests from European jockeys for the 1997 album, "Way Too Hot."
The album, recorded on the independent Oklahoma City label Lunacy Records, spawned three No. 1 hits in Holland, The Netherlands and England against competition that scorches the U.S. country charts. While Kenny Chesney's smash chart-topper "She's Got It All" settled for No. 2 in the Great Britain charts, City Moon's "Rocky Mountain High" rested in the top spot.
"Bonham (songwriter for the band) has an intuitive feel for what he writes," Peden said. "The songs have hooks and dips played out on a bed of tight instrumentation. In the final listening, to my mind, the CD is the product of a band showing promise."
City Moon just finished a 13-city tour in association with participating Wal-Mart stores that combined a parking lot concert with the release of their album on Wal- Mart's coveted shelves.
"We were the first regional band they tried at that level," Parrett said. "We like to have that Oklahoma connection because all of the work is done in Oklahoma."
A climb on City Moon's plush tour bus and any visitor would think these guys must be stars. But the major record labels have yet to show significant interest in the group, though the band has opened for acts such as Clay Walker and Clint Black.
"The music industry, like anything else, is about connections," Bonham said. "We'd like to be the next Alabama, but our goal is to be able to record new music."
They have talked with labels such as Arista, Curb and RCA, but a move to Nashville is still unlikely.
"In reality, you move there and then get sent out to play in Oklahoma City and Texas," Parrett said. "Nashville is just where the business side of it is."
A new album is in the works with the help of acclaimed country tunesmith Roger Springer, who has penned songs for stars like George Strait and Mark Chesnutt. City Moon also hopes to schedule a tour of Europe and land a song in the top 40.
City Moon will be at the Cavalcade Rodeo in Pawhuska July 15-17. "The World's Largest Rodeo" draws thousands of people annually to the event in northeast Oklahoma.
They will also be at the State Fair in September and the International Bluegrass Festival in Guthrie Sept. 30- Oct. 3. For other dates, see the band's Web site at www.oklahoma.net/citymoon.
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