TORONTO — Billy Ray Cyrus is no expert on hosting Canadian awards shows, but he knows a good collaboration when he sees one.
And that’s why the Kentucky-raised hitmaker is confident that pairing with homegrown country singer Dallas Smith to co-host the Canadian Country Music Association Awards on Sept. 8 in Calgary will be a rip-roaring success.
“I’m going to try and hit my mark and let Dallas do all the talking,” Cyrus recently joked a few hours after being introduced to his new sidekick in Toronto for the first time.
“I called him Elvis as soon as I met him. He’s got one of those charismas that kind of leaps out at you… it just hit me with positivity.”
Praise like that carries a lot of weight coming from Cyrus, who’s spent the summer basking in the popularity of his appearance on Lil Nas X’s ”Old Town Road.” The remix, featuring Cyrus, helped launch the single to No. 1 on Billboard’s main chart for a record-breaking 18 weeks, giving Cyrus an unexpected new chapter in his show business life, which started with the inescapable 1992 hit “Achy Breaky Heart.”
“Right now I’m just enjoying this moment,” the 57-year-old said of the experience.
“For me, at this time in my life, I’ve gone full circle. This is a celebration of still being here after three decades.”
His co-host Smith also has reasons to celebrate this year, Cyrus pointed out. The country singer, who rose to fame as the frontman of rock band Default, picked up four CCMA Award nominations, including entertainer, male artist and album of the year for ”The Fall.”
“It sounds a bit cliche, but the fact that you’re nominated you’re already a winner,” Cyrus told Smith while cradling a black guitar underneath his arm.
“It’s very competitive out there — so many artists and so much music. Just being nominated is great. I’m proud of you, brother.”
Other nominees for the 2019 CCMA Awards include James Barker Band and Brett Kissel who have a leading five nods each. Paul Brandt, Lindsay Ell, Tim Hicks, the Reklaws and Tenille Townes follow with four apiece.
The CCMA Awards ceremony returns to its old stompin’ grounds in Calgary this year for the ninth time, and the show will broadcast live on Global TV from inside the Scotiabank Saddledome. Early performers booked for the night include Alberta-raised Townes and Nashville-based band Old Dominion.
The event offers a prime opportunity for Canadian country artists to shine, Smith said, noting that streaming music platforms have thrown open the doors to listeners across the world.
“The bar’s really been raised,” Smith said. “It’s competitive. With the streaming services the borders have been erased a little bit.”
While Cyrus doesn’t know the Canadian music scene as well as Nashville, he still has several memories tied to part of the country.
Shortly after his 1992 debut album “Some Gave All” took off, he was handed his first gold record in Calgary, he said.
About nine years later, while shooting the medical TV series “Doc” in Toronto, he swung by a tattoo parlour to ink himself for the first time. He got the words ”Some Gave All” written across his right bicep, a nod to the title track he co-wrote in 1989 as a tribute to a Vietnam veteran.
“It’s a bad habit,” Cyrus said of getting tattoos. He has an entire sleeve of art going up his other arm.
“Once you get started you can’t stop.”