100 Greatest Men: #31. Randy Travis

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November 23, 2012

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

He’s widely hailed as the leader of the new traditionalist movement of the mid-eighties, but his impressive sales numbers made him something the genre had never seen before: a traditionalist superstar.

Travis was born Randy Traywick in a town just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina.   His youth was marked by two distinguishing features: a prodigious talent for music and a dangerous rebellious streak.   As a teenager, he played clubs with his older brother Ricky, but when the elder Traywick was jailed after a car chase, Randy moved to Charlotte proper to launch his own career at age sixteen.

Randy won a talent contest at a club owned  by Lib Hatcher, who took him under her wing and soon under her guardianship, after he barely evaded jail for what he was warned would be the last time.   Hatcher took on the role of manager, and managed to land an independent record deal that resulted in a minor hit in the early eighties.   A stint at the Nashville Palace and a well-received independent live album helped him land a deal with Warner Bros. Records.

The label convinced him to change his performing name to Randy Travis, and in 1986, his star took off.  He released the seminal album Storms of Life, arguably the most significant country album of the decade.  Its stunning multi-platinum success made Travis a household name, and destroyed the conventional wisdom that country must abandon its traditional sound to cross over to mainstream popularity.

Travis dominated the singles and albums charts for the next ten years, selling out arenas and racking up major industry awards.  But as significant as his own success was, he was just as important for creating the climate that allowed future legends

like Alan Jackson, Clint Black, and Garth Brooks to reach massive sales heights without the help of pop radio.   Though he was soon overshadowed by those giants, his sound remained the blueprint for mainstream country music well into the nineties.

Travis continued to score hits after leaving Warner Bros. for Dreamworks Records, but by the turn of the century, he was focusing his attention on country gospel music.   Even this detour produced a surprise country hit, with “Three Wooden Crosses” returning him to the top of the country charts in 2002, after an eight-year absence from the penthouse.   While he still remains primarily focused on the Christian market, his legacy continues to reverberate.  Most recently, Carrie Underwood revived his self-penned hit “I Told You So”, and invited him to record a duet version for the radio that peaked at #2.

Essential Singles:

  • On the Other Hand, 1986
  • Diggin’ Up Bones, 1986
  • Forever and Ever, Amen, 1987
  • Deeper than the Holler, 1988
  • Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart, 1990
  • Look Heart, No Hands, 1992
  • Whisper My Name, 1994
  • Out of My Bones, 1998
  • Three Wooden Crosses, 2002

Essential Albums:

  • Storms of Life, 1986
  • Always & Forever, 1987
  • No Holdin’ Back, 1989
  • High Lonesome, 1991
  • This is Me, 1994
  • Rise and Shine, 2002
  • Glory Train, 2005

Next: #30. Jim Reeves

Previous: #32. A.P. Carter

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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  1. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    Country music will never get another Randy Travis, but it sure could use one right now.

    Can’t wait to see the Top 30 entries!

  2. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    If you were to rate Randy on his vocal prowess alone, he would be a top ten entry here – very few male vocalists would rank with him in that regard – Jim Reeves, Ray Price, Gene Watson, Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard, Carl Smith, Vern Gosden, George Jones and maybe a few others – would be his peers.

  3. AugusteNo Gravatar says:

    …he gave country music one of its defining works – the “storms of life” album – in 1986. he sang with a bariton voice that was simply beautiful to listen to. he was the last country-superstar before “real country-superstardom” started meaning that you had to become bigger than the genre itself to earn that title. and in some ways you could also call him a slightly tragic figure, when he was swept away by a movement – largely initiated by him – and peers, who made the 90′ the decade of a lifetime for the genre.

    he resorted to god looking for some answers and found remarkable songs along the way – whether he found all the answers – god knows.

    randy travis was a milestone, but to mix and mingle with the alltime greatest you would have to be an interstate intersection with a truck stop, 76 sign, motel, cracker barrel or a pancake house and such.

    today, he is a slightly withered milestone, but as it stands, it still marks – so far – the last exit to a sound that that most people around the world would instantly recognise as country music. in a universe littered with terrific three minutes snapshots at life, the title track of that legendary album of his is a testament of how good it can get out there.

  4. bobNo Gravatar says:

    I didn’t discover Travis til the early 90′s – it may have been after seeing him on Matlack. I do like his music. The singles you mentioned are all great. Another favorite is an album track from his “Around the Bend” album, “Everything That I Own (Has Got a Dent)”, written by Tony Martin & Mark Nesler.

  5. Motown MikeNo Gravatar says:

    I discovered Randy Travis from a kids cartoon of all places. I used to watch a show as a kid called “Hey Arnold” on Nickelodeon. Ben, you might remember that show. Anyways, Randy Travis had a cameo singing a song wrote for the show called “The Simple Things”. Travis himself was not drawn into the show, rather his voice was used when it was revealed that one of the characters on the show had a knack for signing country music. Ever since that episode of “Hey Arnold”, I’ve been a Randy Travis fan.

    I would like to add “1982″ to the list of essential singles.

  6. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    I do remember that show! I don’t think I saw it more than once or twice, but I do remember that episode. I didn’t even know until a recent Wikipedia trolling session that it was Randy Travis singing. Ah, memories…

  7. Erik NorthNo Gravatar says:

    One wishes, though, that he’d take better care of himself, given that scrape with the law he got into just a little while ago. The last thing the music business, including the country music business, needs is another statistic (IMHO).

  8. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Randy Travis is among my all time personal favorite artists.

  9. VNo Gravatar says:

    u guys plan to fill this list up?

  10. Motown MikeNo Gravatar says:

    Would it be unfair or incorrect to say that, in a post Urban Cowboy era, Randy Travis single-handedly saved traditional country music? At least that he saved the traditional sound on mainstream radio? Without Travis’ work would the pop and rock era that we have to endure today have come about a lot sooner and spread further? Who else of relevant 1980′s artists deserves as much credit as Travis for helping carry the flag? Vince Gill, Keith Whitley, Reba?

  11. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar says:

    The ones you mentioned, plus the Judds and Ricky Skaggs, and minus Vince Gill, who really didn’t become relevant until the nineties.

  12. Whenever I’m asked to name my favorite albums, I always start with Randy Travis’s Storms of Life. The impact that album had on me, at such a specific time in my life when it came out, is immeasurable. That album did more to help me understand my parents’ divorce than anything either of them ever said to me. I wrote a whole piece in my blog about it, in case anyone really wants to hear all about that.

    His star power was quickly eclipsed by the New Hats in general, and I think Alan Jackson in particular, but he’s always been dear to me. I was sorry to hear about his divorce and his very public poor choices. I love to hear him sing, and though I’ve never met him I have a vivid sense that he’s a warm, affable human being. I wish him the best not just with his career (I still think he could be a commercially viable artist given the right songs), but also with his personal and private life.

    I don’t know of any vocalist from “my” generation with his range. I’m not even sure there have ever been many vocalists of *any* generation with quite the same vocal range as Randy Travis. His 2001 live album/DVD is amazing, showcasing not just his tremendous vocal talent but also his considerable stage presence and charisma. He did in one concert what countless entertainers fail to do with all the engineering assistance modern technology can offer.

    If someone asked me, “What should a country artist sound like?” I’d answer, “Randy Travis”. It isn’t just the unique sound of his voice. He’s a master interpreter of song, knowing which words to accentuate, when to hold back and how to wring every last bit of heartache out of a syllable.

    I’ll also give him credit for his song choices for his inspirational albums. I listened to the first few of them. I’m generally ambivalent toward religion in general (though I do have my faith, it’s very private for me and I’m not always on good terms with it!). I felt his inspirational albums were about celebrating the empowerment from faith, a lot more than using dogma to reinforce social views of a judgmental nature. I got a kick out of “Pray for the Fish”. “Baptism” is a truly great story song; just so vivid…! “Shallow Water” is a joy to hear, and one of the highlights of that aforementioned 2001 live album/DVD.

    I’ve been mostly “meh” about Carrie Underwood’s music in general, but I’ll always be thankful that she covered “I Told You So” and later cut it as a duet with him. (I still wish it had been a duet on the album originally, but no one asked me.) That was very satisfying for this longtime fan!

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