As he approaches the quarter-century mark since he first topped the country music charts, Randy Travis should be taking life easy and enjoying the fruits of his hard-earned labor.
Since the release of his 1986 debut record Storms Of Life, Travis and his music have touched the hearts of millions, selling upwards of 15 million records in the United States alone.
Influenced by country music legends such as Lefty Frizell and Merle Haggard, Travis is often credited as being a major player in the resurgence of country music at a time when the genre was far from dominating the pop charts as is the case today.
Travis is the first to downplay his role in the resurgence of country music in the mid 1980s, however, preferring to credit peers like George Strait and Reba McEntire for keeping the country flame burning when the genre was on the outs with the public.
“That’s a pretty big title you just put onto my shoulders,” Travis laughs before momentarily heading down memory lane. “You know, I’m coming up on 25 years of touring and recording. It is really hard to believe that time has gone by that quickly. So many labels turned me down for such a long time, including Warner Brothers who eventually signed me in 1985. A lot of the labels were saying they felt I was ‘too country’ and didn’t feel that the music would translate into music and ticket sales.
“But then I realized I just had to wait my turn,” he says humbly. “You had people like George Strait and Ricky Skaggs who proved there was indeed a market for country music. It was the industry that had to take the time to look at the business and come to the realization that traditional country artists were selling more than anyone else in the genre at the time.”
His debut record Storms of Life was released in 1986, eventually moving a very respectable three million units. It would be Travis’s follow-up record, Always & Forever that would prove he was no one trick pony. Buoyed by hits like “Forever and Ever, Amen” and “I Won’t Need You Anymore,” Travis’s sophomore record almost doubled the sales of his debut and, if nothing else, served to show Warner Brothers that there was a market for country music and they were sitting on an artist who stood to become the biggest male country star of the ’80s.
Asked how he feels of those who have followed in his country music footsteps, Travis quickly rattles off a laundry list of artists whom he admires but takes the time to elaborate on a couple of today’s country music elite.
“I’ve been a huge admirer of Alan Jackson since day one. And I look at a guy like Brad Paisley and am just in awe of how good of a songwriter and guitar picker he is.
“At the end of the day, I have always been more interested in the traditional-leaning country music artists, guys like Josh Turner. It is where my heart has always been, it is what I grew up with and what I love. My only concern is that I hope enough of those types of artists continue coming along to help keep the genre alive.”
In addition to his celebrated career behind the microphone, Travis has also been featured in a number of movies and television shows including Matlock and Touched By An Angel. Asked whether he always had always wanted to get into acting, Travis laughs heartily.
“If you had asked me 30 years ago if I could have seen myself doing work in TV or movies, I would have asked you if you were crazy. I always thought it would be an interesting thing to get into and have been fortunate enough to have been given the chance to make some westerns and appear in a handful of television shows.
“It is definitely an interesting line of work. There is so much rehearsal work that goes into it though and frankly, I don’t like rehearsing,” he laughs again. “I made a film with Francis Ford Coppola once and for the two minutes of camera time I received, I must have re-did my part a good 45 times.”
While Travis may choose to keep acting as an indulgence, one thing is for certain: he looks forward to continuing his life within the music business, admitting that retirement is far from his mind. He is at a life stage though where he doesn’t have to work quite as hard as he has in the past. Travis’s tour schedule of today still sees the country legend playing an average of 70 shows per year, a far cry from the hectic days of trying to get his career of the ground.
“When we first started touring, we routinely played two shows a day for two years,” Travis recalls. “Then we just gradually started trimming back the amount of shows we played. At this point in my life and my career, 70 or so shows seem like enough in the run of a year. That’s enough bus riding for me,” he laughs.
“I do still truly love writing songs and finding the songs to put on my records. Playing live is really the addictive part though. Once you’ve performed in front of an audience, it is unlike anything else you could possibly experience.
“Barbara Mandrell once said that playing live is a wonderful exchange of energy between the crowd and the performer and I think that is the best possible way you can sum up any live experience. It is so much fun; there is nothing else like it.”
Article published in September 8, 2010 edition of the Times & Transcript