Randy Travis: The Comeback Kid

Randy Travis: The Comeback Kid

Originally published in the October 05, 1999 issue of Country Weekly magazine.

Randy Travis’ hardcore-country style redefined the music in 1986 and ushered in a new era of traditionalism. Then he hit a slump and fell out of favor with country radio. But now he’s back with a vengeance.

“I was scared when I put out my first DreamWorks album in ’98,” reveals Randy. “I’d been off the radio for a couple of years and I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘Is radio going to be open to playing anything from me after so long?’ I had doubts.”

Those doubts evaporated when “Out of My Bones,” the first single from You and You Alone, soared into Billboard’s Top 5.

That felt great,” confides Randy. “And then to do it again with ‘Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man,’ plus to have two more hits from the album, ‘The Hole’ and ‘Stranger in My Mirror,’ ” made things near perfect.”

In his new album, A Man Ain’t Made of Stone, the man with one of country music’s most distinctive voices has never sounded better. The album’s title track, the poignant story of a love lost because of honorable intentions, is already a hit.

“It’s like I’m starting all over again — and it feels terrific,” adds Randy, relaxing between performances at a Reno casino.  “I now have the rush you get from a fresh start.”

When the former Randy Traywick released his 1986 debut album, Storms of Life, he created his own storm in country music. More than 15 million albums sold and 15 No. 1s followed. He captured the CMA’s Horizon Award in 1986 and Male Vocalist of the Year trophies in 1987 and 1988. He blazed a back-to-the-basics trail that other acts eagerly followed.

With a full decade of hits behind him, Randy released four singles in a row in 1996 and 1997 that didn’t crack the Top 20. Then two years ago, after 12 years with Warner Bros. records, the label and the singer parted ways.

But he quickly found a home with DreamWorks and started a barn-burner pace. He’s turned out two premier albums, criss-crossed the continent promoting singles and albums, expanded his reach beyond country music fans with a flourishing acting career and — let’s see —  he even confronted a five-foot rattlesnake.

“I’m excited about meeting with radio folks and fans all across the country to let them experience the great songs on A Man Ain’t Made of Stone, with the single being their first introduction,” declares Randy. “A lot of songs on this album deliver a different sound than people are used to hearing from me.

“We added ‘A Man Ain’t Made of Stone’ to our show a couple of weeks ago and the reception was so strong,” he notes. “The second time we performed it was at Woodstock, of all places, and the response was amazing. As I heard the applause, I remember thinking, ‘We put out the right song.’ “

That moment harkened back to the first time Randy performed “Forever and Ever, Amen,” which went on to a No. 1 spot and a trophy as 1987’s CMA Single of the Year.

” ‘Forever and Ever, Amen’ had not been heard on radio when I sang it to an audience for the first time in Kentucky,” he recalls. “The response was incredible. That night, I also thought, ‘Yep, we’ve got the right song.’

“The songwriters who wrote ‘Out of My Bones,’ Gary Burr and Robin Lerner, wrote ‘A Man Ain’t Made of Stone.’ The first time I heard it I knew I had to record it. What struck me is that it’s so well-written from beginning to end. It reads like poetry, with lines like:

I was supposed to be the rock you could stand on
Stronger than an old oak tree
But all you ever wanted was the one thing
I never let you see — the tender side of me.

Randy shifts in his chair.

“There’s also a song on the album that is so off-the-wall, so unusual for me to do called ‘I’ll Be Right Here Lovin’ You.’ It’s a sort of country rap that has fun with timely topics, such as politicians, computers, evolution and the Internet. It’s a hoot.

” ‘A Little Bitty Crack in Her Heart’ is an uptempo song that, to me, is an obvious choice for a single. When I first heard it, I told my producer James Stroud that ‘George Jones could just kill this song. It’s right up his alley.’ I was going to ask George to sing something on the song with me, but then he hit the bridge.

” ‘The Family Bible and the Farmer’s Almanac’ is a genius piece of writing which definitely sounds like a hit record. The combination and comparison of these two wonderful books — and how they apply to life — is simply remarkable. It reminds me of some of Haggard’s songs.”

Easing back into the chair’s cushions, Randy continues, ” ‘A Heartache in the Works’ is real high on my list as a possible single. It was co-written by Melba Montgomery, who also co-wrote the title track of my You and You Alone album. The vocal melody of this song is unique and was hard for me to learn, but it’s a winner.”

After finishing up A Man Ain’t Made of Stone, Randy kicked his movie career into high gear.

“I was in Texas Rangers, a feature film, shot in Calgary,” he explains. “Then I went to Mississippi to work on another movie and next to Phoenix to do a documentary.

Texas Rangers was based on a true story about Leander McNally, a ranger hired to stop marauding Mexican bandits in 1875.” It also stars Dylan McDermott of The Practice, James Van Der Beek of Dawson’s Creek, Ashton kutcher of That ’70s Show and Robert Patrick of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

“I play a guy named Bones,” notes Randy. “He was a fun character, kind of a gunfighter turned Texas Ranger.”

Randy’s many talents expanded his role. “I went to Calgary to do a small part,” he acknowledges. “I was suppose to be killed in the first battle, but I was there for two months, flying out to do shows on the weekend.

“I think they liked that I had ridden horses my whole life and that I was a shooter who knew how to handle guns. And, hopefully, they liked my acting.”

Randy confesses some scenes “got to him” in an unexpected way.

“I was in a lot of scenes where I didn’t have dialogue,” he explains. “So I was constantly looking for something physically to do instead of just standing there. I ended up smoking a lot of cigars in those scenes — and I don’t smoke at all. The cigars were small, dark, strong, and they made me a little green. I’d get dizzy for about 20 minutes, then I’d be ready for the camera.”

The movie in Mississippi was John-John in the Sky. “It’s an independent film that’ll be shown at Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s based on a true story about a guy who abuses his wife and little boy while appearing to be a wonderful, church-going husband and father. I play that guy.

“The strange thing is that the real man was there on the set. It was interesting to meet him after he watched me portray some mean things that he did. But I think he’s mellowed with age.”

Then came the historical documentary Major Reno. “Reno was second in command under General Custer,” he explains. “When the fatal Little Big Horn massacre began, it was reported by men with Major Reno that he heard the battle — but did not go to help Custer.

“The documentary covers the whole story, including his military trial. Charlton Heston narrates and I serve as a host, introducing various segments.”

So, what about that rattlesnake?

“While shooting Texas Rangers, one morning just after sunrise, I was walking down a path — and a five-foot rattlesnake was stretched across it! Since the temperature was just above freezing, he wasn’t really moving. Snakes move better when the weather’s warmer.”

Guess that means Randy just casually stepped over the rattler, huh?

“He did pick up his head and look at me,” recalls Randy. “I didn’t want to irritate him, so I walked around.”

Proving, of course, that Randy’s momma may have birthed a great singer — but she sure didn’t raise no fool!

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