BNA Records newcomer Rachel Proctor just might be the most seasoned pro you've ever met. With one listen to her debut album, Where I Belong, you hear the enormous musical diversity in her background. But although she sings a variety of styles well, Rachel knows exactly where she belongs.
"I was never completely happy doing any other styles, because I always sang country music growing up," says the Charleston, WV native. "I really started focusing on country when I was 17 and I thought, 'Oh man, this is cool.' Almost immediately, I started making trips back and forth to Nashville."
The daughter of a nursing assistant and a supermarket manager, Rachel Proctor has been performing full time since age 6. When she was in the second grade, her teacher noticed that she wouldn't sing along with the other children.
"My grandma came down and said, 'Oh honey, why aren't you singing? You've got to sing. This is part of your grade.' I went, 'Oh no. My voice wiggles when it comes out,' because I had a vibrato even then. And that sounded different from everybody else, so I wouldn't sing. And that's how they figured out that I could."
Her grandma taught her to sing Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" shortly thereafter. And her advice was always the same: "Sing it with feeling!"
When Rachel was in the fourth grade she appeared in a local production of the musical Annie. A year later came The Sound of Music. She competed in the talent portions of dozens of beauty pageants as a kid, just for the experience. By the time she was in junior high school she had a New York manager.
"Actually, that's a really funny story. I guess from doing pageants, I knew what a manager was. I was so into the New Kids on the Block when I was in about 8th or 9th grade, and in their cassette was the address for their management company. I said, 'Mom! This is a manager! Let's call him!' So the lady that answered the phone said to send a package with pictures and tapes. So we did. About a month went by, and Dick Scott called from New York. They worked with me for about a year and a half, and I got a lot of good experience out of that. They sent me to a vocal coach and taught me about stage choreography. It's so funny the only reason that management even crossed my mind was because I wanted to meet New Kids on the Block!"
The New York connections led to her competing on TV's Star Search. The teen-pop music of Debbie Gibson and Tiffany was all the rage, so Rachel performed on the show in that mode.
"I really wanted so badly to succeed back then. Debbie Gibson and Tiffany were big pop stars, so I looked at them as role models for a couple of years. But then I decided I was just going to focus on high school, because I felt like I was missing out on a lot of stuff.
"When I was 17 and a senior in high school, a local band called me and asked me to start fronting the group because they had lost their female singer. What they did was all country. So suddenly I was singing [Patty Loveless's] 'Jealous Bone,' Kelly Willis songs, just wonderful things. And loving it."
Rachel Proctor honed her country style in the clubs, Moose Lodges, fairs and festivals of West Virginia. She was writing country songs by the time she graduated from high school and was making trips to Nashville to peddle them by age 18.
"I went to college for about a semester. But it wasn't what I wanted to do. I was sitting in class writing lyrics, thinking, 'Oh, I need to quit this.'"
Rachel's band, 40 West, competed on the same circuit as Rob Byus's band, Full House. One night, when he was watching her perform, he turned to his friend and said, "I'm going to marry that girl."
"When I got the call from Nashville about getting my first song-publishing deal, I had just met Rob. We had known each other maybe a month and all I could think about was, 'Oh, I can't move to Nashville. I can't leave Rob.' My mom said, 'Rachel Christine Proctor, you get your stuff packed! You are going!' So Rob came with me and we got married a few months later."