Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Randy Travis, “He Walked On Water”

“He Walked On Water”

Randy Travis

Written by Allen Shamblin

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

July 13, 1990

Randy Travis earns his second No. 1 single of the nineties with an ode to a late great-grandfather.

The Road to No. 1

As noted above, this single was preceded by another No. 1 hit, “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart,” which served as the second single from his 1989 studio album, No Holdin’ Back.

The No. 1

Country music can boast of some fantastic “ode to grandpa” songs.   “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)” by the Judds remains the gold standard.  Kenny Chesney’s “Grandpa Told Me So” is criminally underrated.   “He Walked On Water” is an earlier versoin of the latter approach to celebrating a family patriarch.

What makes “He Walked On Water” work so well is that it captures how a young child idolizes – and idealizes – an older family member.  Despite being able to see the withering effects of age, they seem at once all-knowing and immortal.   Never mind the mouth full of missing teeth.  Their stories of their younger heroics still ring true.

But for me, the clincher is this verse right here:

Then he tied a cord to the end of a mop,
And said, “son, here’s a pony, keep her at a trot”
And I’d ride in circles while he laughed a lot
Then I’d flop down beside him

One of the reasons there’s often such a strong bond between a small child and a grandparent or great grandparent: they both have the free time to amuse each other.  For me, it was my mom’s dad teaching me checkers and taking me up to the roof of their Bay Ridge apartment building to look at the Verrazzano Bridge.  He’d tell me stories about the bridge being built while feeding me Andes chocolate mints.  Then we’d go back down and he’d play me ABBA records, proudly talking about how they were from Sweden, too.  Just like him.

Kudos to the songwriter, Allen Shamblin, for capturing something universal while writing about something so specific to one child’s memory.   Our backgrounds couldn’t be more different, but our truths are the same.

The Road From No. 1

No Holdin’ Back became the first Warner Bros. album for Travis to only produce three singles, as the label moved on to a duets project called Heroes & Friends. We will see something from that set in 1991.  Its first single, a duet with George Jones on “A Few Ole Country Boys,” went top ten.

“He Walked On Water” gets an A.


Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. I had a great-grandfather like that. Grandfather too.

    They passed away within five years of each other more than 25 years ago. I still miss and think about them every day.

  2. For some reason I always think of this song along with “Look Heart, No Hands.” Somehow less celebrated Travis masterpieces in my opinion.

    Both share an innocence and communicate wonder so well.

    As Kevin pointed out, the specific details of “He Walked on Water” work their magic by turning the listener’s eye inward to see their own relationships with their grandfathers, real imagined, or just hoped for even. A gift of a song.

    Tim Mensy and Shawn Camp’s “That Ain’t the Grandpa That I Know” stands out as one of the best “grandpa” songs written and recorded. Both songwriters have recorded it along with Patty Loveless and Joe Diffie.

  3. Great song that makes me wish I knew my grandfathers. One died in late 1943 about 9 years before I was born and the other I knew only slightly (he lived in until I was 15) since we always lived over 1200 miles from his home and he was in poor health so I only saw him a few times.

  4. Another one of my all time favorites from Randy. It still never fails to get my eyes watery. Unfortunately, I never did get to know any of my great grandparents, but I did have a good relationship with my grandpa on my dad’s side, and this song makes me think of him, as well. I still miss him today.

    This one remained a steady recurrent on the radio throughout my early childhood in the early 90’s, and I was lucky enough to get it on at least a couple of my tapes. I remember listening to it on my Walkman in a restaurant with my parents one day, and the waitress asking me “Are you listening to country music again?”

    I agree that Kenny Chesney’s “Grandpa Told Me So” should be right up there with the rest of the classic “Grandpa” songs. Such a great, underrated tune.

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