We Need to Have a Little Talk about Randy Travis

Randy TravisIn a year that has already brought the deaths of immortal talents like George Jones, Slim Whitman, Patti Page,  and Jack Greene, not to mention the untimely loss of Mindy McCready, it is understandable that the recent news regarding Randy Travis is having the country music fans collectively holding their breath with nervousness and dread.

There is something distinctly different about how I am processing the news about Randy Travis.    The thought of losing him is inextricably linked with a feeling that we’d be losing an essential core of the country music that I fell in love with more than two decades ago.  Now,  I remember Randy Travis from when I was a child.   What little kid wouldn’t be in love with a catchy song like “Forever and Ever, Amen”?

By the time I was old enough to discover country music on my own, he was already something of an elder statesman, despite his young age. As I delved into the history of the genre I was falling in love with, widely accepted concepts like Travis starting the new traditionalist movement and Storms of Life being one of greatest albums of all time had taken root.   The truth is, traditionalism never really went away, and even during the Urban Cowboy years, artists like Ricky Skaggs and Emmylou Harris were having commercial success with roots-based music.

But Randy Travis didn’t just have a bit of success.  He sold millions of records in a time where almost no country acts were doing so, and certainly none who didn’t incorporate pop or rock sounds into their work.   His massive success was the tipping point that made the nineties boom inevitable, as labels saw new acts like Clint Black and Alan Jackson as being capable of superstar status, instead of just being genre favorites that sold moderately well.

He never really got the credit he deserved for this, with the industry treating him like old news despite him continuing to score hits and sell platinum throughout the nineties and early 2000’s.   There are so many great singles that I was around for when they first came out.  “Before You Kill Us All.” “Look Heart, No Hands.”  “Out of My Bones.”  “Whisper My Name.”  “If I Didn’t Have You.”  “Better Class of Losers.”  “The Hole.”   “Three Wooden Crosses.” “Dig Two Graves.”  The list goes on and on.

He’s also responsible, through no fault of his own, for what I call country music’s Messiah Complex.   After he revolutionized the widespread appeal for traditionalism, which led to a solid decade of traditional country artists being signed and succeeding wildly, the sounds began to drift back to pop and rock flavorings.   Since this shift, every slightly twangy newbie has been anointed as the savior of country music.  Lee Ann Womack, Brad Paisley, Dixie Chicks, Joe Nichols, Josh Turner, Jamey Johnson, and Gretchen Wilson have all been shouldered with the burden of being the next Randy Travis.

This has led to deep disappointment when their second or third album struggled, or even worse, to feelings of betrayal when these selected stewards veered away from traditional country music.   All that pressure, and not a one of them even started off with an album in the same league as Storms of Life, though Johnson and the Chicks came remarkably close.

I can’t get my head or my heart around the thought that his contemporary titan might not be with us anymore.  I can’t stomach the coverage that focuses more on his personal troubles than his incredible body of work and peerless impact on country music as a whole.

Please use the comments to share your own thoughts and feelings about Randy Travis.  Also, I recommend reading the Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists piece that Leeann Ward wrote a few years ago.   It’s an excellent place to start for those who are looking to discover the his rich and diverse catalog.

 

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21 Comments

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21 Responses to We Need to Have a Little Talk about Randy Travis

  1. sharon wellsNo Gravatar

    He has had some good music, and is too young to die. How sad his life has been as he has gotten older. It would be sad ending. I hope he gets a chance to do more great things, and when he does go…it will be those things remembered.

  2. sharon wellsNo Gravatar

    He has had some good music, and is too young to die. How sad his life has been as he has gotten older. It would be sad ending. I hope he gets a chance to do more great things, and when he does go…it will be those things remembered.

  3. Sam G.No Gravatar

    Randy Travis is one of the reasons I’m a country music fan today. I grew up in a house with country being played all the time, but I could never really identify with them. But Randy Travis was kind of MY discovery. He wasn’t someone I heard from my mom’s records; he was a brand new artist, playing music that grabbed hold of me, though I was too young to really explain just WHY. There were a bunch of great new singers at the time — Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Patty Loveless and The O’Kanes to name a few — but Randy Travis was the one at the front of the movement, and rightfully so.

    If the worst happens, it would really crush me if people remember Randy Travis just for the last year or so of arrests and questionable behavior. He’s one of the most important country singers of the last 40 years and deserves to be in the same pantheon as Waylon, Willie and the Georges.

  4. Tyler H.No Gravatar

    This may seem a little ill-interpreted, but I actually discovered Randy Travis when he duetted with Carrie Underwood on “I Told You So”. I’m a product of the Shania-Faith-Martina generation and I’ve grown up through the noughties, so I wasn’t familiar with his material. I knew who Travis was, but I didn’t know his music, but hearing his duet with Underwood inspired me to delve into his discography and I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took for me to finally listen, connect, and feel his music. He really is a massive talent and I’m thankful for both Underwood for introducing his sound to me and for him for the impact he’s made, the music he’s put out, and the fantastic legacy he’s left. I hope for the best, but I’ve been bracing for the worst.

  5. My first exposure to Randy Travis came from all places, Sesame Street. I remember him being on there but not really knowing who he was outside the show. Once I discovered country music and became obsessed with CMT (Hot Ticket and Signature Series anyone?) I learned about his country music career.

    “What little kid wouldn’t be in love with a catchy song like “Forever and Ever, Amen”?” – yep. When I first heard the song in the mid-90s, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough. I then proceeded to follow Travis from about 1996 and remember his output from then on vividly.

    I doubt he’ll ever fully recover from this, given that he’s still in Critical Condition almost a week later (and heavily sedated as is being reported tonight) and I only wish he’d gone into the Country Music Hall of Fame in one of these past two years, while he was still able to accept the honor as his full self.

    Prime Country on Sirius/XM has been (even long before this) playing a lot of his music, usually preceded with him talking about the particular song. It’s been great to hear all the big hits, and even better to her him talking about them.

  6. Craig R.No Gravatar

    Excellent essay Kevin. A colleague came into my office yesterday. In my office they all know how big a country fan I am. She told me she was so sorry for Randy Travis. And the first thing I told her was that he saved country music. I too heard country music all my life, but Randy Travis singing ” On the Other Hand” married me to country music. Thank God for Randy Travis.

  7. Thank you for this wonderful Travis tribute, Kevin.

    I will be pretty devastated if Randy Travis doesn’t make it. He’s honestly one of my top five favorite artists ever. I was a huge fan of his even back when I didn’t have much appreciation for traditional country music yet. I was instinctively drawn to his voice and knew he was what country music should sound like. Long live Randy Travis.

  8. TomNo Gravatar

    …storms of life is a big piece of country music, but what makes it so huge that it really should not be used as a benchmark, is how it not only met the “zeitgeist” (spirit of the time prevailing) – it formed it, at least in country music. this is the great and historical achievment of randy travis and of that “monster”-record.

    i saw randy travis twice in concert and he was a witty entertainer, displaying a healthy portion of self-irony and humour in general. something that probably went lost in process a little later, when he turned fiercely toward religon. a better class of mindblowing, really.

    let’s hope that his fragile heart condition that seems to run in his family will not end this artist’s live at such an unfitting moment. i hate the thought of all those coming up with “heartfelt” statements that had shut up, when they should have spoken up for him way back when his star started gradually losing some of its brilliant luster, somewhere in the early to mid-ninties.

    good luck, randy travis. no prayers from here, but a real heartfelt get well again.

  9. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    Randy had a chart record in early 1979 (under the name Randy Trawick) called “She’s My Woman” that received a little airplay. After that I didn’t hear of him again until he showed up on one of Ralph Emery’s shows (probably NASHVILLE NOW) just before STORMS OF LIVE was released.

    There were three albums released in 1986 that literally exploded onto the scene and revitalized a genre that, other than for Ricky Skaggs hybrid bluegrass/country, seemingly had lost its soul. The three albums were STORMS OF LIFE, Steve Earl’s GUITAR TOWN and Dwight Yoakam’s GUITARS, CADILLACS. I dubbed all three albums onto a single cassette, which I wore out through repetitive playing. While I loved all three albums, STORMS OF LIFE has stuck with me as the 80s album I most frequently revisit, although all of Randy’s early albums (including the seldom encountered RANDY RAY AT THE NASHVILLE PALACE) were excellent.

    I hope Randy pulls through AND puts his life in order – I’m not sure Randy would even want to go through the chaos of the last few years again. He was a major talent and for a few years my favorite active country singer

  10. bobNo Gravatar

    Hope Randy makes it.

    I didn’t discover Randy Travis til the early 90’s. Since then I’ve really come to like his music even though I’m not a big fan of traditional country music. In the last 3 years I’ve seen Don Schlitz at the Bluebird 7 times and he always sings “Forever and Ever, Amen”. Don’s wife Stacy often joins Don and sings two songs, one of which is usually “On the Other Hand”.

    I enjoyed reading Leeann’s Favorite Travis songs and agree with Forever and Ever as #1. I would have had “Three Wooden Crosses” a bit higher.

  11. KEN SOMERSNo Gravatar

    I THINK THE ENTIRE WORLD OF COUNTRY FANS AND ARTISTS ARE HOLDING SOME FORM OF A PRIVATE VIGIL.

    WE ALL HOPE RANDY BATTLES BACK.
    WHAT RANDY HAS DONE FOR COUNTRY MUSIC WHEN IT WAS SICK AND WEAKENED BY A LOSS OF TRADITION CANNOT BE MEASURED IN ANY GOLD ALBUM OR GOLD TROPHY. RANDY IS A ICON AND WE ALL HOPE HE COMES BACK AND PICKS UP THE TORCH.

    WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES AND WE ALL HAVE DEMONS BUT THEY ARE OURS AND HE HAS HIS, IT IS WHAT MAKES US HUMAN. RANDY SHOULD NEVER BE TOUGHT OF IN THOSE MOMENTS. SHAME ON THE MEDIA ,THE MAN NEEDS US ALL TO SEND HIM THOUGHTS OF HEALING AND LOVE. GET WELL RANDY WE LOVE YOU.

  12. RowdyRedNo Gravatar

    I don’t know where to start. Back in the 80s when Randy was just getting really big, I was still living in Chicago but he reached well into that region too. I loved “Deeper Than the Holler” and “Forever and Ever Amen” just as much as I loved Seger and Springsteen’s hits of the day. It may have been that I first saw him on “Touched By An Angel,” but I certainly heard those songs before I started tuning my radio to WUSN in the 90s. Randy became crossover without crossing over, in terms of words and music. He did his thing his way, and we all came to him.

    Those two songs are still my sentimental favorites, but “On the Other Hand” also made my radar, and I was struck by how much craft went into writing these songs. Randy really was my gateway back to country music since my brief Nashville childhood.

    Then came the long dry spell when I neither saw nor heard much of him. I’m assuming that’s when both his troubles, and his spiritual awakening occurred. But I was definitely in the country radio crowd when “Three Wooden Crosses” debuted, and of course it’s not just the lyrics that brought tears to my eyes. The depth and richness of his voice was unparalleled after all those years, and it was like a reunion with a friend to hear it again.

    I read today that he is “resting comfortably” but sedated, and is still in critical condition. After the year we have already had, I have to join you, Kevin, in saying I’m not ready. I’m not in any way shape or form ready to say goodbye. So I’m going off now to visit Leeann’s article, for full immersion. Thank you for that suggestion, Kevin, and for your beautiful post.

  13. robynNo Gravatar

    I actually had the same thing randy has last year. I was admitted to icu the 3rd week of sept. had a stroke 2 weeks later because the infection had settled in my heart causing it to have to work harder and sending my blood pressure out of this world. I was in the hospital till dec. I had to learn to walk again, and still a lot of pain but I am walking and can go back to life.it took my blood cultures 3 weeks to clear it was that bad. having been there I know randy can make it through this and get back to life he had before. hopefully this will make people and country music know how close they came to loosing a great one, and allow him to make the changes he needs in his life.

  14. Pingback: Quotable Country – 07/14/13 Edition | Country California

  15. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    Quote by Ken Somers:

    WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES AND WE ALL HAVE DEMONS BUT THEY ARE OURS AND HE HAS HIS, IT IS WHAT MAKES US HUMAN. RANDY SHOULD NEVER BE TOUGHT OF IN THOSE MOMENTS. SHAME ON THE MEDIA

    I totally agree with that, of course. Unfortunately, the way the media works in this country of ours, it loves a good sensationalistic downfall like Randy’s, as it did with Elvis and Michael Jackson. I do hope he is able to recover, get on with his life, and get back to what he was put into the world to do.

  16. TomNo Gravatar

    hmm…, would it actually be out of place to ask for “hard rock bottom of your heart” at your local country station these days?

    or “it’s a heartache” for the same matter.

  17. RhuefeauxNo Gravatar

    How can you even mention the Dixie chicks in the same article with Randy Travis; might as well honor the Pompas A$$ Blake Sheldon too, just sayin’

  18. BuddynoelNo Gravatar

    I ain’t dead yet, you bushwacker! – Glen Campbell (as Texas Ranger LeBoeuf in “True Grit”

  19. RowdyRedNo Gravatar

    I don’t think Blake Shelton has ever been proclaimed the next savior of traditional country, but the Chicks were.

    Buddy, thanks for the belly laugh!!

  20. I’m a little late joining the discussion, but well said, Kevin. Let’s hope that Randy pulls through and that this health crisis will prove to be the much-needed wake-up call that will get him back on track.

  21. RowdyRedNo Gravatar

    Randy has left the hospital today for a physical therapy facility, according to CNN. Hooray!!!