Early on in this series I wrote a piece Who Saved Country Music. It was a two-part series where I stated that Randy Travis was the one in 1986. I stand by that. Oh, and by the way, Garth Brooks has stated that publicly too. I feel he and Dwight Yoakam were the absolute ones. Randy Travis with a single album, put us on an entirely new track that led to the massive country boom.
His First Hit Song (Album - Storms Of Life)
When Travis showed up in Nashville, Country was still a very pop-country sounding format. The Urban Cowboy trend began years earlier was still very influential. For me, Urban Cowboy had done its job. It introduced us to a new fan base but it had a shelf life that had worn out its welcome by the mid 80's. Much of the music was piano laden ballads or medium tempo love songs with little bark and less bite, being performed by and large by older stars with the idea that we could be all things to all people. That seldom works in life - let alone music. To me, the music was rudderless. Too country for pop fans, not country enough for others, and we weren't selling tickets or albums at a very good pace.
This Song Started A Whole New Era (Storms Of Life)
I joined country radio in 1981, and this is what we all knew. Sure, Alabama, Hank Jr, George Strait, Reba, John Anderson, Earl Thomas Conley and others were the new traditionalist of that time that had a fresh sound and fan bases, but on the radio we were musically very inconsistent. Pop country was still drowning out the new sound. Around 1986, there was a new breed coming in, Keith Whitley, Holly Dunn, Patty Loveless and others were making some new waves. But everything changed when Randy Travis showed up. He about single-handedly ended the pop country era with one iconic album - a title of 3 simple words - Storms Of Life.
That album completely changed the entire direction of country music. Fans loved his big warm voice, his style, his clean younger look, and the feel of that album. I have stated too that I feel On The Other Hand is one of the most important songs in country music history. It failed in its first release, peaking on the charts in the 60's. Then re-released and going number one. The artist and the sound of that song is what country fans had been waiting for - had arrived. And a sound that many others didn't know they wanted. Then Guitars And Cadillac's from Yoakam showed up and it was on. For the next couple of decades, country would have a boom we could have never imagined.
Mel Tillis Passed On This Song (Storms Of Life)
Travis was told countless times after arriving in Nashville that he was "too country." (As were others too) That was a prevalent thought from many - against many new artists then. Seems silly now, but Nashville was in love with pop-country even though it was not doing well and whose shelf life had expired. Travis took country, TV, award shows and the nation by storm. He went on a chart and award show run that was incredible. He opened the door for so many stars, they should all send him a thank you card. Some in Country had been trying for a number of years to be more traditional from the inside with moderate success overall. He made it the rule. There was a time we could have played his music 5 times and hour and no one would have minded. Travis overnight became this humble, almost reluctant star.
Another Huge Hit (Storms Of Life)
The albums that followed were huge as well, and he was recording songs from the best songwriters in Nashville and his own writing. There were the true stories of him playing hits like Forever And Ever Amen multiple times in the same concert because of fan demand. Sometimes back-to-back. He was selling concert tickets and albums at an amazing pace that we had not been seeing except for maybe Alabama.
Big Song Fans Loved
Travis' main gift to us, beyond shifting the sound and direction of country was this. He made people fall in love with traditional country again who had been waiting for an artist like him to show up. And he also introduced that same sound to people who never knew they would like it. He made it safe for them. His easy going, honest sound was to love. Singing songs that were real, to the point, arranged simply and suited for him. Fans liked him, his way, his look, and ability to sing and say the words they could not.
I have always felt that Randy Travis deserves in the country music world a whole lot of the credit for the gigantic success of the 1990's and beyond. When the class of 1989 came, and led to the 1990's, the names were different, and so were the shows. Concerts became different, larger, bigger, louder and more along the lines of a rock show. Garth helped bring us that with his love of Kiss from the 1970's and 80's. And the acts that followed him - followed that. It to me was all made possible by Travis, and his introduction of a new day, to an eager, hungry, excited and much younger and newly enthused fan base.
Great Remake Of A GREAT Song
His run was well into the 1990's and he needs to get a bunch of the credit for the success of that decade too. Sure there were new names, bigger names, but Travis was still right there with them. There has been much written too about the relationship with his one time manager and later wife, Liz Hatcher, and their eventual nasty divorce. They had a relationship of some nature that was tabloid stuff in one way or another for about 30 years and it was a real headline starter, that seemed to follow him always. Sadly, Travis had a stroke in 2013 and has never been the same - as a young man, as he is now only 62. Sometimes life is just not fair.
Another Number One Song
That is all a part of his story, but for here, he should be celebrated mightily. Randy Travis was a new deal, a difference maker and he should be in every Hall Of Fame there is. Many artists make the charts and score hit songs, number ones, sell tickets and albums. But the raw, hard, cold truth is not many make any real difference. Randy Travis did. He totally ended one musical era and ushered in another and not many can say that. His arrival signaled the complete turnover of artists on the country charts as well. His contribution was immense. Sure, others have sold more since him, but that doesn't tell the story. The big stars, Clint, Garth, Alan, Brooks And Dunn and hundreds of others should be thankful to Travis for opening a totally new door.
Great Song - Honest
With Travis, pay no attention to the sales, number ones, or any of those stats, they are very impressive but they don't tell the majority of his story. The shift began about 1981 of a new kind of country, then in 1986 be took it all to another level.
Song Written By Alan Jackson
Travis was the lightning bolt that energized and revolutionized the format, and made a whole lot of everything possible, changing it forever.
Forever And Ever, Amen.
Mega Star Randy Travis.