"Hillbilly Heart." By Billy Ray Cyrus. New Harvest (Amazon Publishing/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). 274 pages. $25.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Like countless other teenage boys, a young Billy Ray Cyrus dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. Instead, he bought a guitar -- and became a star.
It's been 20 years since his recording of a catchy novelty tune, "Achy Breaky Heart," magically transformed Cyrus from an unknown barroom country rocker into a household name. That 20 years has seen him release 13 albums and more than a dozen hit singles, star in two television series, make a handful of movies and even try his hand at Broadway, appearing as Billy Flynn in a revival of the musical "Chicago."
Not bad for a poor boy from Eastern Kentucky whose teenage antics might just as easily have put him on the path to prison instead of the Broadway stage. His grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher and his dad, Ron Cyrus, sang in a gospel group, but that didn't stop young Cyrus from raising more than his share of hell.
When Cyrus was a junior in high school, he stole a 3-D picture of Jesus from a department store and gave it to his grandmother as a gift. Soon after, he says, he heard a voice, "If you ever steal again, I'll have to take your life. For now, we're even." Cyrus writes that he believes the voice was God, issuing him a stern warning.
"Hillbilly Heart," his newly published memoir, is filled with instances where Cyrus recalls hearing voices of all kinds. He writes that it was a voice in his head that told him to buy a left-handed guitar and start a band. At the time, he was a forklift operator at a cigarette warehouse.
Cyrus writes that music had been a big part of his life since the age of 4, when his father first had him stand up and sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" with his gospel group. His dad played guitar and his mother could pound out a mean ragtime tune on the piano. Bluegrass music by the likes of Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs was, he says, part of the "soundtrack" of his childhood.