In the late 80’s, early 90’s and long before the introduction of vocal groups Lady Antebellum & Little Big Town, Baillie & The Boys were supplying U.S. radio stations with a steady string of country hits, sharing the airwaves with pop country contemporaries including Highway 101, Restless Heart and Shenandoah. Responsible for introducing the east coast Pop sound to country music, Baillie & The Boys delivered male-female harmonies with a signature sound that was both warm and organic and still unmatched today.
The lead singer, Kathie Baillie, began singing in church at age 5 and grew up under the musical influence of greats like The Beatles, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, The Hollies and others. In 1973, she met future husband and band member Michael Bonagura while she was living in Wilmington, Delaware working as a secretary at a leasing company.
“I was the kind of kid that brought my guitar to work every day and instead of going out to lunch with the executives, I was there writing songs and singing,” she says.
Like Kathie, Michael had also been passionate about music—so passionate, in fact, that music was the one thing capable of altering his future direction. Fondly recalling a time from his childhood, Michael describes frequently pedaling his bicycle past a home in Springfield, New Jersey, where he would stop dead in his tracks.
“I kept hearing this amazing music coming from one particular house and I’d stop and just sit for hours and listen,” he admits—finding out later that it was coming from the home of the great Carole King and her husband Gerry Goffin.
The son of a marine, Michael turned down a congressional nomination to attend the Naval Academy in Annapolis when he realized it would mean a lifelong career commitment, one that he could never easily reverse in order to pursue music. Instead, he accepted a football scholarship to the University of Delaware, where he played tight end.
“When I listened to The Beatles or James Taylor,” he recalls, “their music was timeless and it was important. It made me want to do something that would last a long, long time.”
With a dedication to their craft and a series of fateful turns later, Kathie and Michael were introduced by a friend who had seen Michael working as a strolling minstrel in a local fondue restaurant. She had a hunch Michael and Kathie would get along both musically and romantically.
“It was love was first sight,” Kathie attests, and the two began writing songs together and performing as an acoustic duo around town and on campus at the University Of Delaware.
One night when the pair was set to perform at the Riddle Paddock in Lima, Pennsylvania (Jim Croce’s famed stomping grounds), Michael fell ill and asked a childhood friend from New Jersey, Alan LeBoeuf, to fill in. Following that gig, Kathie, Michael and Alan began performing as a trio under the name BitterSweet.
They moved to New Jersey and began gigging up and down the eastern seaboard, frequently in legendary New York City clubs opening for such acts as Judy Collins and Ricky Nelson. Michael, Kathie and Alan also had access to a world-class recording studio, thanks to Michael’s uncle Tony Camillo, who produced Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia” among many other disco and soul hits.
In 1980, the trio BitterSweet moved to Bermuda. Far away from the hustle-bustle of the club circuit, they continued to hone their craft, singing on a number of commercials including lending their voices to the famed Burger King jingle “Hold the Pickles, Hold the Lettuce.” After a couple of years, the group returned stateside and Kathie and Michael married in 1981.
There shortly after, the newlyweds were convinced by a friend and driver for Allied Van Lines to join him on a trip to Nashville, where they saw a land of new opportunity, moving there a short time later in 1982.
“We pitched our music every single day, we walked up and down the streets of Nashville when it was so cool to walk up and down the streets of Nashville,” Kathie recalls. “You’d just go in doors on Music Row and land your music there.”
With a voice reminiscent of Juice Newton or Linda Ronstadt, on her first trip to test the waters in Music City, her friend Tommy West landed her a job singing background vocals on Ed Bruce’s “My First Taste of Texas.” Eventually, they convinced Alan to join them in pursuit of their dream in Nashville.
In 1985, Michael scored a #1 hit as a songwriter for Marie Osmond’s “There’s No Stopping Your Heart,” which heightened the buzz around all three of them. They were playing seven nights a week to packed crowds at the Hall of Fame, where Alabama guitarist Jeff Cook caught their act and was so impressed he urged RCA staffers to check them out. They did, inviting Kathie, Michael, and Alan to meet with Joe Galante the next morning.
After playing until 1am and rising early for an 8am live audition at RCA, the trio was signed on the spot as Baillie & The Boys.
To everyone’s surprise, the group’s very first single, “Oh Heart,” catapulted into the top 10 in 1987.
“It really is the journey, it’s all the things that lead up to that moment,” Michael says, remembering the first time the group heard “Oh Heart” on the radio.
“Because once that moment happens, it’s different. It’s like waking up out of a dream. The journey to get there was absolutely spectacular and so much fun.”
Their breakout single opened up many doors, including the opportunity to sing back-up vocals for Vince Gill, Randy Travis, Dan Seals and many more. This was just the beginning. Soon they’d begin contributing in no small way to defining the sound of their time. Life started moving pretty fast after that, as Kathie and Michael welcomed their only child, Alyssa, during a period of relentless touring that included 285 dates with George Strait. “Oh Heart” was followed by a string of nine additional Top-Ten Billboard hits: “Heart of Stone,” “Turn the Tide,” “Perfect,” “Fool Such as I,” “Treat Me Like a Stranger,” “Long Shot,” “She Deserves You,” “He’s Letting Go” and “Wilder Days.”
At the height of their success, Alan LeBoeuf left the group to pursue a solo project, while Kathie and Michael continued as a duo, retaining the name Baillie & The Boys, earning eight consecutive CMA and ACM Award nominations for “Vocal Group/Duo of the Year” 1989-1992.
Soon thereafter, Garth Brooks ushered a new generation of rock influence and rough edges into country music.
“I still think that we were in the coolest time in country music,” Kathie says. “It was still country, it was still about the song—mostly about the song, which is so important. We were really fortunate and I’m much honored to think we’ve stood that test of time.”
In 1999, Alan LeBoeuf rejoined Baillie & The Boys, who released “The Road That Lead Me To You” in 2000. A recharged CD compilation that featured fresh, re-mastered versions of their unforgettable classics. Kathie Baillie went on to release a solo album, Love’s Funny That Way, in 2007, before the group reunited to record and release their Unplugged album in 2011 (the second renewal of their renowned hits, released by New York based Synergy Entertainment).
Twenty-five years following their debut as Baillie & The Boys and nearly four decades after first joining forces, the group is still making music together and once again touring. “It’s just the three of us once again,” Kathie says. “We’ve totally gotten back to our roots…”