Travis Tritt Makes Country Music His Way

Travis Tritt Makes Country Music His Way

Originally published in the August 20, 1996 issue of Country Weekly magazine. 

Despite raves about his new album The Restless Kind, Travis Tritt says country music’s no picnic.

As he earned three platinum and two gold albums on his way to the top, Travis also survived two failed marriages, drug and alcohol problems and negative press that branded him an outlaw.

“I’ve tried to fit into the clique in Nashville,” says Travis, 33. “I have a real tough time with it. Maybe it’s because I’m outspoken, maybe it’s because of the long hair and the fact that I wear leather while everybody else is wearing jeans and starched shirts and cowboy hats. Maybe it’s a combination of all the above.

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“But no matter how hard I’ve tried to fit in, I always end up going against the grain.”

As his career skyrocketed, Tritt, who still lives on his 75-acre farm in Hiram, Ga., got one bit of advice more often than he wanted to hear it.

“A lot of people tell me I need to move to Nashville,” he says. “I refuse to do so. Nashville doesn’t feel like home.”

Maybe it no longer matters. There’s the new album, which Tritt co-produced with Don Was; the last one, *Greatest Hits: From the Beginning*, now gold; a tour of Britain and Europe; and work in the recent *Sgt. Bilko* film. There’s also his ongoing tour with Marty Stuart, his duet partner on the hit “Honky Tonkin’s What I Do Best.”

“I’ve had so many fabulous things happen in my life,” he reflects. “So many doors have opened. I’ve had more success than I ever dreamed of.”

Until his recent engagement to Teresa Nelson, Tritt was known as a man who was extremely cautious about marriage. He also watches his back around those he thinks give him red-carpet care that’s related to his now-healthy bank account.

“People *do* treat you differently when you’re successful,” he maintains. “As we get older, our circle of friends becomes smaller. If you’re well-known, famous or successful financially, your circle of friends becomes even smaller because you have to keep everybody at arm’s length. I can count on one hand the friends I would call in an emergency.”

Tritt knows his determination to stay on top has affected his life.

“Seven years ago, I made about $16,000 a year playing clubs,” he says bluntly. “I don’t think you can go from that to making what I make now and *not* be affected by it. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it’s nice to know I no longer have to borrow from my MasterCard to pay off my Visa. I used to do that quite frequently.

“I try to stay as grounded as I can. That’s why I live close to where I grew up and where my parents live. I love getting out on a tractor and mowing hay, taking a chain saw and clearing land; I live a normal life when I’m not on the road.”

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Tritt reacts with an evangelist’s fervor when he discusses country radio, however. “When I was pitching `Country Club,’ I walked into stations where they didn’t know me from Adam,” he says, recalling his first hit in 1989. “They’d say, `Travis *who*?’ But they’d listen to the record and base their decision on whether it was a good song.

“Today, even if program directors like a song, they won’t play it if it isn’t testing well. Everybody is looking for something that tests as well as the last big hit,” he fumes. “I can’t tell you how many times I turn on my country station and hear five or six newcomers who all sound like Joe Diffie, Clint Black or Garth Brooks.”

Tritt believes a common thread can be drawn from the originators of country music to his own work, a continuity traceable from Bluegrass to folk to country’s swing era. He is sure that artists who carry on that tradition, modernizing it in their own way, will have longer careers than those who rely on the formula for radio-friendly hits.

“When all the boom and fluff in country music is over and these fly-by-night artists have fallen by the wayside, country music will keep on going,” Tritt says. “It won’t become extinct. There’s a spirit that’s always been there, a spirit based on the lyrics, melodies, attitude and opinions of people we in the South refer to as `just plain folks.’

“These people are the backbone of this country and they appreciate country music because it speaks to them about their lives. That’s the thing I’ve always tried to strive for.”

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