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.
The list of nominees for the 46th annual Country Music Association Awards has been released. Eric Church had a big breakthrough this past year, and such is reflected in the nominee list – Church leads the pack with five nominations. Power couple Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert follow with four each, including a shared Song of the Year nod for their co-write “Over You.”
What’s your take on this year’s field of CMA nominees? Whose nominations were deserved, and whose were not? Who got snubbed? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
The live presentation airs Thursday, November 1 at 8pm Eastern on ABC-TV. The Country Universe Staff Picks & Predictions will be released the week of the show. Feel free to join us on show night for some live-blogging fun!
Entertainer of the Year
Who’s in: Kenny Chesney
Who’s out: Keith Urban
No real surprises here. This year we swapped out Urban for Chesney, but all of these nominees have been here at least once before.
Female Vocalist of the Year
Who’s in: Kelly Clarkson
Who’s out: Sara Evans
Well, I was hoping for some new blood in this category, and that’s definitely what I got. Pop crossover star Kelly Clarkson scores her first nomination in the Female Vocalist field, displacing Sara Evans. There will likely be some amount of upset over Clarkson receiving such an accolade, as she had one #21-peaking country hit in the past year with “Mr. Know It All,” but has yet to release a full-length country album. And…that makes her one of the top five leading female vocalists in the country format? Okay…
Male Vocalist of the Year
Who’s in: Luke Bryan, Eric Church
Who’s out: Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley
Bryan and Church’s recent career strides are rewarded
Jackson to find a #1 single on a Roger Miller box set.
Miller co-wrote “Tall, Tall Trees” with George Jones. Jones recorded it first. Miller recorded it a few years later.
With Miller being the king of comedic country and Jones of honky-tonk drawl, Jackson managed an awesome feat with his version. He sounds more comfortable with the rapid wordplay and hillbilly humor than either of the two guys who wrote it.
Jackson’s cover isn’t just the most commercially successful of the three. It’s also the best.
Love Me Anymore” at radio, it’s easy to forget that country radio once played the bad Alan Jackson singles just as much as the great ones.
Case in point: “I Don’t Even Know Your Name” was a #1 single.
Perhaps that’s a little unfair. The song is somewhat clever, and it was apparently memorable enough that Carrie Underwood rewrote it a decade later. I think I’d like it a lot more if it was missing the final verse, much like the waitress was missing her front tooth.
But it’s that kind of forced humor that makes me wince every time Brad Paisley tries to be funny. Jackson pulls it off better than most, but it’s just not my cup of tea. Love the instrumentation, though.
Written by Alan Jackson, Ron Jackson, and Andy Lofton
You know the country music market is in sore straits when a career-best effort from Alan Jackson dies outside the Top 20 on the charts. It’s easy to wonder if, after more than two decades of populating country airwaves with quality material well-sung and tastefully produced, the hits may finally be drying up for Alan Jackson. That would be a huge shame, because finely polished country tunes like current single “You Go Your Way” are becoming increasingly rare on country radio, with Jackson having been one of the last nineties veterans standing who was still able to sneak such efforts into the playlists.
In structure and theme, “You Go Your Way” bears a moderate resemblance to George Strait’s classic 1993 hit “Easy Come, Easy Go,” but with a deeper shade of heartache. Though Jackson’s narrator at first seems to profess the same casual indifference as Strait does when watching his lover leave, he soon reveals that he’s not taking it all in stride – a fact made unmistakable by the hook “You go your way… and I’ll go crazy.” Clever little couplets like “I poured some bourbon in a coffee cup/ It’s been too long since I drank too much” add interest and first-person detail to the scenario without distracting from it. He’s not so much wallowing in his sorrow as accepting it with passive resignation.
The lyric is framed in a quietly infectious melody as well as a fiddle and steel-drenched Keith Stegall arrangement that sounds absolutely fantastic. Though we would generally expect nothing less from Alan Jackson, such work seems almost revolutionary in comparison to the warmed-over sounds that have all but taken over country radio.
Whether “You Go Your Way” will re-ignite Jackson’s radio success remains to be seen, but if not, it won’t be for lack of quality. Though its artistry doesn’t stand quite as tall in Jackson’s catalog as “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore,” “You Go Your Way” is an all-around solid record that would make a most refreshing presence on the airwaves should it find a home on country radio.
Since bringing back Recommend a Track proved so popular, I’m resurrecting another CU oldie but goodie: the iPod check.
I’ve only recently discovered the Most Played feature on iTunes, since it never had any relevance until iPods were large enough in memory to sync all of my music. So going back to early 2011, I have a lengthy list of the songs I’ve played the most.
So today’s iP0d check: List your most-played song from twenty different country artists.
You can access this info by going to your own Most Played list and adjusting the number of songs on it – I use 500 for mine – or you can just go to Music and sort by number of plays. Or you can just pick twenty artists at random and list your most played song for each. We’re easy here. (This would also work in Spotify, from what I hear.)
Alan Jackson – So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore (40)
Crystal Gayle – Why Have Your Left the One You Left Me For (39)
George Strait – Meanwhile (39)
Lee Ann Womack – I May Hate Myself in the Morning (39)
Aaron Tippin – Whole Lotta Love on the Line (38)
I’m surprised that some of my most played artists overall, like Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, and Tim McGraw, don’t have that one big song that I play excessively. Also, at least half of the songs above aren’t what I would call my favorite song by the given artist. How about you?
He became widely hailed for his lightning-fast wit and charming novelty songs, but Roger Miller’s talents ran far deeper than just the moments of comedic brilliance that made him a legend.
Miller took a long and winding route to country stardom. His brother-in-law, Sheb Wooley, encouraged his fiddle playing as a boy, and he sang and played guitar, but he was more interested in working as a ranch hand. But after a stint in the army led to a chance meeting with industry insiders, he made the jump and moved to Nashville.
An audition for Chet Atkins at RCA went poorly, but Miller persevered, focusing on his songwriting. He wrote the classic Ray Price hit “Invitation to the Blues”, along with hits for Jim Reeves, Ernest Tubb, and Faron Young. He also co-wrote with George Jones, and although it wasn’t a hit at the time, their collaboration “Tall, Tall Trees” would become a #1 hit for Alan Jackson three decades later.
Miller’s success as a writer garnered him new attention from Nashville labels, and he had a handful of minor hits on RCA during a short stint on the label. While he was known as a hardcore country singer up until this point, he tried a new approach, moving to California and appearing on network variety shows as a more comedic country singer.
The new image was a big success, and when he began releasing singles and albums on the Smash Records label, he became a superstar. Over the course of just three years, he released several major hits, won eleven Grammy awards, and earned several gold albums, along with the million-selling single, “King of the Road.”
After those peak years, he continued to chart, and often brought attention to material from newer songwriters like Bobby Russell (“Little Green Apples”) and Kris Kristofferson (“Me and Bobby McGee”). His own songwriting led to additional hits for other artists, most notably Eddy Arnold, who had a #2 hit with “The Last Word in Lonesome is Me.”
Miller’s storytelling skills led him to pen several songs for the Disney animated film Robin Hood in 1973, which foreshadowed his next and final major signature success. In 1985, he became the toast of Broadway for his score to the show Big River, which won him two Tony awards. Though Miller continued to work after this incredible achievement, he was soon sidelined by throat cancer, which claimed his life in 1991.
The list of distinguished artists who have recorded “Song for the Life” is a long one, but Alan Jackson is the only one who managed to make a hit out of it.
That radio played this pensive and philosophical ballad at all is a testament to Jackson’s incredible popularity at the time. Its mere presence on the airwaves elevated the genre for the handful of weeks it was in heavy rotation.
When you have some time, check out the other versions of this by the Seldom Scene, Johnny Cash, Jerry Jeff Walker, Alison Krauss, John Denver, Waylon Jennings, Kathy Mattea, and its writer, Rodney Crowell. It’s one of those songs that reveals quite a bit about where a singer is in their life and how they feel about the meaning of it all.
For my money, Jackson’s reading is the best, though I suspect he’d hit it even further out of the park if he recorded it again today.
So, Alan Jackson is at the peak of his first wave of popularity, and he partners up with a still-potent George Jones to cover one of the Possum’s greatest singles.
I qualify that statement with “one of”, simply because “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, “The Window Up Above”, and “She Thinks I Still Care” exist, but in my personal opinion, the original recording of “A Good Year for the Roses” really is the best George Jones single.
So the two traditionalists pairing up to resurrect this classic couldn’t possibly go wrong, with Jackson being an heir apparent for Jones, who was creatively resurgent at the time. But they don’t go quite as right as they could have. The tempo is a bit too slow, and the dramatic strings are conspicuously missing.
Maybe they didn’t want too much tamoxifen production getting in the way, but for all that Jones is praised for being pure country, what made his best seventies and eighties records soar were those big strings and layers of backing vocalists. Jones is a big enough singer to maintain a commanding presence amidst all of the bells and whistles. That approach wouldn’t play to Jackson’s strengths, so maybe that’s why they kept it simple.
But even though both men are in fine form and they perform the song well, it sounds like something is missing.