TO be completely honest, Billy Ray Cyrus remains famous in Australia for two reasons - his phenomenally-successful 1992 smash Achy Breaky Heart and the fact that his daughter, Miley, is one of world’s best-known pop stars.
So when Weekender is told by Cyrus’ media manager shortly before our scheduled interview with the US country star that he won’t be taking any questions about his family, the chat appeared headed for an iceberg.
Yet what we found was a polite 56-year-old southern gentlemen and a veteran entertainer passionate about music’s ability to bring people together. This is particularly poignant given the tumultuous political climate in the US.
“Music is a bridge and it always has been for me and my fans around the world,” Cyrus says.
“It’s a common denominator. What we can share and have in common. Not a wall. Not something that separates us and makes us different.
“The diversity of our music is from everything from country to rock to southern rock, blues, jazz, all those influences are who I am and the music I make.
“I feel this music is the bridge to come together and shows we have more similarities than differences.”
Despite his media manager’s assertions, Cyrus is also more than happy to talk about his family and his twerking, tongue-poking superstar daughter.
In fact, the 56-year-old brings up Miley himself when speaking proudly about his forthcoming album, Set The Record Straight.
“Miley joins me on this album, we sing a song called Stand, like stand for what you believe in and what’s right,” he says.
“Don’t just talk about it, be the change. We actually cut this song a few years ago, right about the time we started doing Hannah Montana and it was a great piece of music that got lost in the shuffle, so I put it back on this album.
“I’m anxious for people to hear it. Lots of people have said ‘how did you get Stevie Nicks?’. No that’s Miley, she had that sound back then. It’s a strong song and a very important song.”
The record also features collaborations with Joe Perry (Aerosmith), the late George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Bryan Adams and Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple).
Recording My Country Has The Blues with Jones and Lynn was a personal highlight for Cyrus.
“It was a pinch yourself moment, looking up to see George Jones and Loretta Lynn in the same vocal booth,” he says.
“I knew it was special then and now that we’ve lost George Jones, it’s even more sacred now.”
Perhaps more notably, Set The Record Straight features a new version of Achy Breaky Heart, the song that propelled the boy with a mullet from Flatwoods, Kentucky, to international superstardom.
There was nowhere that embraced the country rockabilly number more fervently than Australia. The song topped the ARIA charts in 1992 and went triple platinum.
It’s since become constantly mocked as one of the most annoying songs in pop history, but a highlight moment of Cyrus’ live shows.
The whole Cyrus family recently appeared on hit TV segment Carpool Karaoke, where Miley donned a mullet wig and sang Achy Breaky Heart.
Cyrus remains a huge fan of the song and his first Australian tour in 18 years next March will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the crossover hit.
“I feel really good about it,” he says. “With this new album we’ve re-recorded it and got a lot of the famous swampers to come in and swamp it up and get back to my swamp rock roots.
“It’s a universal song and a universal language. It’s more fun than ever.”
Billy Ray Cyrus headlines Country In The Vines at Roche Estate on March 24.