By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
In a genre that leans heavily into cowboy culture, pickup trucks, my best girl and apple pie America, Ty Herndon came out as gay eight years ago — the first major male country singer to do so.
That’s not even the point of his story, says Mr. Herndon, who will share his songs and life at the Wood Theater in Glens Falls this Sunday night, Nov. 27, presented by local DJ Kevin Richards.
The show mixes Mr. Herndon’s greatest hits, holiday favorites and songs from his new album Jacob. A Q&A with the singer follows. Special guest Mike Bear opens.
The Grammy-nominated Mr. Herndon is known for such songs as “What Mattered Most,” “Living in A Moment,” ”Loved Too Much” and “A Man Holdin’ On (To a Woman Letting Go).”
Speaking by phone from Nashville, Mr. Herndon, 60, practically jumps through the lines with an enthusiasm so broad you can hear the smile when he speaks.
“Holy cow, I feel wonderful,” he exclaims late in the interview.
It wasn’t always like that. Only two years ago, on New Year’s Eve, he recalls, “I didn’t want to be on the planet any more.” He says suicide was on his mind.
But that night, “Something spiritual happened, and I’m still here.”
“God or the Gun” is a song that came out of that moment.
So did “months of hard work,” he says, “to become whole again.”
Mr. Herndon says he’s often approached by people touched by the song — suicide attempt survivors who had similar experiences, as well as family members whose loved ones didn’t make it.
“What the song does, it gives us a chance to say his name,” he says he’s been told. “Say their names. That’s so important.”
Now, “I’m paying it forward, man. My mission is to help young LGBTQ kids get educated, and everyone to get detoxified.”
Mr. Herndon’s story includes addiction, depression, “religious trauma,” he calls it, “sexual abuse trauma…”
“Coming out, getting to a pinnacle in my career, having Covid, losing everything. So many people lost everything.”
For 30 years he says he struggled with addiction. “It’s crazy, at 58, to finally be diagnosed with manic depressive bipolar disorder. Think of it like ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ and ‘Silence of the Lambs’ always playing in your head.”
Then, Covid hit hard. “We’ve all been touched by it,” he says. “Me, I’m one of them, but I didn’t have the mental capacity to handle it. Trauma is like tar and feather on your soul; you can’t breathe.”
“A lot of folks in the entertainment industry, a lot of people in general, all over the world, were basically suffering the last few years, You look out and see people who lost their asses, lost their homes, their cars towed off.”
Once a man who kept to himself and his pain, now he’s known in his Nashville neighborhood. “They see me coming and they say, ‘Yeess, Ty, we’re fine,’” he mimics.
Mr. Herndon says of his new album Jacob, “A lot of people are calling it a mini movie. It’s the story of my life.”
In promo materials he quotes the Bible: “And Jacob said, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’”
There’s a book to go along with it too, coming out next year, he says.
“You want the whole story, you’ll have to read it,” Mr. Herndon teases, then shares, “It’s about all the things I’ve hidden and run from, scars and trauma.
“Put it in the form of music. I’m a better, sober, happier person. Put it in the music, man.”
The record is with Pivotal Moments Media, whose mission is “mental fitness.” Mr. Herndon also has a Pivotal Moments podcast called “Sounding Board,” talking with guests about mental health.
“With Pivotal Moments, I learned, speak to your own story. That’s what the album is about, going through a lifetime, with music.
“It’s way bigger than me being gay, and landing on my feet. I used to lie about everything. I didn’t want to live. God’s given me a second chance. Really, I’ve had more chances than I can be grateful for, and a lot of it is because I have this God-given gift.”
As part of his tour, besides his songs, he says he talks about his life experiences. The aim, “to help other people.”
“I hope with my, and Pivotal Moments help, we are relieving the sense of shame around mental illness.”
He laughs, “We are having T-shirts made up. One says ‘I’m Sober,’ and on the back it says, ‘And I’m fun, damn it!’
“Another one says ‘Mental’ — ‘and better for it!’
“We are changing the face of mental health, changing the conversation,” Mr. Herndon says, in earnest.
“I was born into it,” Mr. Herndon says of his music career. His parents were gospel-bluegrass singers. He says his grandmother had her own longtime radio show in the town of Butler, a small paper mill town in southern Alabama.
“I’ve been singing publicly since I was five, professionally since 10,” he says. He remembers standing on a box to sing on his grandma’s show.
“I did go to college,” he adds, to study Music Business — “of course.”
“This is all I’ve ever done,” besides a high school job at Burger King, he adds.