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Radio Outreach

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you want something to do with the family this weekend that supports the spirit of giving but won’t break the bank, a best bet is KHAY-FM (100.7) radio’s Toys for Tots benefit show Friday at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks.

The talent roster includes Rhett Akins, Sara Evans, Jason Sellers, Kris Tyler and Jim Collins--five new Nashville recording artists whose music is on the national charts. Caught Red Handed, a local favorite on the country dance scene, is also on the bill.

This ninth annual Toys for Tots drive is the station’s biggest community outreach project of the year. So turning out to host the party, award prizes and meet the listeners will be KHAY on-air personalities Ray Taylor, Charlye Parker, Jon Cowsill, Mark James, Dave Bradley, Matt Michaels, Danny Dwyer and Christy Miller.

The station will conclude its toy drive with an outdoor celebration Saturday at Point Mugu Federal Credit Union in Ventura.

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“Without KHAY there’s no way we could meet the local demand for toys. During the whole month of December, Ray and Charlye devote almost the entire morning show to Toys for Tots,” said Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. John Hendrix and tri-county coordinator of the Toys for Tots annual campaign.

“Last year KHAY raised about $15,000 and collected about 15,000 to 20,000 toys for distribution to about 89 community service organizations,” Hendrix said.

Decca recording artist Rhett Akins will headline Friday night’s show. Early hit singles such as “That Ain’t My Truck,” “She Said Yes” and “Don’t Get Me Started” established the Georgia native as a fun-loving singer of light-hearted tunes. And Country America Magazine named Akins one of its Top 10 Country Artists of 1995.

Akins’ third album “What Livin’s All About,” to be released Jan. 13, was produced by Nashville heavy-hitter James Stroud, who helped the 28-year-old select songs that demonstrated his depth and vocal maturity.

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During a recent phone conversation, Akins said the current single, a ballad called “More Than Everything,” has generated “tons of fan mail. People are using the song in their weddings. And we even had a couple get married about two weeks ago in Dallas at my show,” he said.

RCA label mates Sara Evans and Jason Sellers, both 26, grew up in families that performed bluegrass and gospel music. And their debut albums have been well-received since their release in September. But that’s where the similarity ends. Touted as one of the young performers in the rebirth of country traditionalism, Missouri farm-girl Sara Evans said, “Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline both were huge influences on me. So I tried to make my record land right in the middle of Loretta and Patsy, with some Patty Loveless thrown in.”

Named after the haunting, anthem-like ballad “Three Chords and the Truth,” Evans’ record has spawned two other singles, “True Lies” and the current rock-a-billy tune, “Shame About That.”

Like the other four performers on Friday’s show, Evans got her big break in Music City by singing demos. Country Music Hall of Fame tunesmith, Harlan Howard, chose Evans to recut the Howard/Buck Owens 1965 hit “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail.”

Los Angeles-based Pete Anderson, best known for his work with Dwight Yoakam, produced the album. And Evans has writer’s credits on seven of 11 tracks.

During a recent call from the St. Louis airport, Evans shared a tip from mentor Howard. “He told me to never, ever write the line, ‘I’ll never love again.’ He said that is the worst line you could ever write because everyone always loves again after they lose a love. He said, ‘That’s just a lie.’ ”

Citing Bryan Adams and Merle Haggard among his influences, Texas-born tenor Jason Sellers said he’s striving for a country-rock sound. His current single “That Does It” and the title track from his debut record, “I’m Your Man,” support that approach.

“I don’t want to do anything that’s real predictable--I think the music’s evidence of that,” Sellers said during a call from Nashville. Sellers penned five of the 11 songs on the album and does create a roller coaster of highs and lows, from the bluesy “Hole in My Heart” to the rocking two-step, “I Can’t Stay Long.”

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To break into the big time, Sellers said singing demos was the best angle. “You’re making a living, practicing singing in the studio all the time, finding songs--I found half of my songs that way. And you’re gettin’ heard by the record companies.”

Indeed, songwriting got Kris Tyler a publishing deal two years before the Rising Tide label grabbed her to record her first album, “What a Woman Knows.” She wrote or collaborated on 10 of 11 cuts, including the haunting title track. Inspired more by Mary Chapin Carpenter than Marty Robbins, Tyler, 32, studied classical guitar at the University of Nebraska at Omaha before her apprenticeship on the Arizona club circuit. And she won an Emmy award last year in investigative journalism for her role in exposing a telemarketing scam. But Tyler said that was a sideline day job.

Her album due out Jan. 30 is a keeper, especially the poignant ballad, “A Thousand Years Ago” and the upbeat shuffle, “Texas Hotel.”

Jim Collins’ first album, “The Next Step,” will be released on the Arista label at the end of January. But the rock-edged title song is already getting airplay. Until about two years ago, the seasoned thirtysomething Texan was the undisputed king of the lucrative Texas dance-hall circuit. No day jobs, no empty clubs. “But that’s not how I want to be remembered,” Collins said during a recent phone call.

“I got tired of being judged by how many beers I sold that night as opposed to whether I sang good or put on a good show.” And when you hear his ballad “Two Hearts Never Break Even” or his Sinatra-like interpretation of Michael McDonald’s intimate composition, “I Can Let Go Now,” chances are you’ll be glad Collins headed East.

BE THERE

Country music show to benefit Toys for Tots, sponsored by KHAY-FM radio, 5-10 p.m. Friday at Borderline Bar and Grill, 99 Rolling Oaks Drive, Thousand Oaks. Admission is $10 per person or a full-size grocery bag filled with new, unwrapped toys. Children 12 and younger admitted free.

Finale--KHAY’s last Toys for Tots event takes place from noon-3 p.m. Saturday at the Point Mugu Federal Credit Union, 2199 Sperry Ave., Ventura. Free entertainment by the KHAY Dancers and KHAY Band. Donations may also be taken to the radio station, 3897 Market St., Ventura. For details on events, call 642-8595.

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