Part 2 (Read yesterday's post, Part 1 if you missed it)
In 1985 a song was released to Country Radio that peaked at #67. The artist had been turned down by every record label in Nashville until Warner Brothers signed him. He was told by everyone he was "too country" But they did release one more song from him titled 1982, it went top 10 and fans loved it. THEN his song that peaked at #67 a few months earlier was re-released and it skyrocketed to #1 - And the rest is Country Music history. That #1 song was On The Other Hand - by a new singer named Randy Travis.
On The Other Hand - Changed a lot of things
On The Other Hand is a very important song in Country's history. Maybe one of the most important, as it put Travis in a bright spotlight. We knew it was different, it was a smash, and Randy Travis was too. Fans instantly loved him, his music, voice, his incredible range, and albums. Travis was on the map, on his way, and was pure country. His albums sold millions, when many other artists of that era were selling thousands. We couldn't play his music enough for our listeners on the radio. He reminded fans of the old guard with his big, warm, and honest voice and brought the youth to us we needed, and he was country! And he was OURS! I hosted a concert of his during his prime and the arena was jammed with an audience that was more than ready. Very refreshing in those days.
Forever And Ever Amen - Songs don't get much bigger than this!
Travis sold over 25 million records, won seven Grammy Awards, six CMA Awards, eleven ACM Awards, 10 AMA Awards, eight Dove Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He and the next artist I will chronicle were the turning point of our format. The number of albums he sold was simply staggering and completely unimaginable to us then. And his appeal went far beyond music. Acting, movies, TV. Randy Travis really opened a whole new era.
It's Just A Matter Of Time - What a version of this classic!
The other artist was coming up through the music scene during Urban Cowboy. He came to Nashville about the same time as Travis, but his style was different. His style was dubbed "way too hillbilly" and was told it, and he, were not at all marketable. So he recorded a thing back then called an EP in 1986 that was picked up by Reprise Records. The first song off it was Honky Tonk Man. The EP was Guitars And Cadillacs and we all met Dwight Yoakam for the first time, from Columbus, Ohio. The album was a smash, and we could have played it every 15 minutes on the air, and no one would have minded. I emceed a show of his in a club on High Street in Columbus in 1986, and I think people were literally hanging from the rafters. It was a new day!
Honky Tonk Man - A huge debut song that got him noticed!
Yoakam was more than just great music. He was a whole new deal. His way, his style, his avant garde look, the way he moved and he made very cool videos and that was fairly new for us too. He began to change the country stage show as the days of standing there stoically with a guitar were over with his presence. He was so incredibly cool, refreshing, new and still traditional at the same time. The Country core now had two new heroes, and those two put the format on the launching pad with the fuse lit.
This Song - Brought Yoakam huge critical acclaim
Yoakam recorded more than twenty albums and compilations, charted more than thirty singles on the Country Charts, and sold more than 30 million records. Understand these numbers have become more common place this century, but then it was unheard of. He too went on to movies, TV and other projects. Yoakam kicked down door Travis had opened, and now we were ready to go.
Little Sister - Very Cool Song!
The New Traditionalist Movement had begun!
Now with the flood of new younger fans and listeners, George Strait and Reba McEntire walked through the door with them, and would become The King, and The Queen, of Country and well was and is well deserved. Next to have great success were Keith Whitley, Ricky Van Shelton, and the solo emergence of Vince Gill, plus the continued success of The Judds. Now we had a solid base of new traditionalists and stars. Then we all braced for 1989 when Garth Brooks, Clint Black, and Alan Jackson exploded onto the scene and they sealed the deal that Travis and Yoakam started by selling so many albums we seemingly lost count. A bit later Joe Diffie, Tracy Lawrence, Brooks And Dunn, Shania, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, and the rest of the class of the early 1990's. Country has never looked back. And we continue to evolve with today's big stars led by Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Jon Pardi, and Luke Combs!
But the tipping point was Travis and Yoakam. They were the right stars in the right place and the right time. They ended what was left of Urban Cowboy, focused our format, and brought in a whole new era. They did it with the music, style, and shows. Plus, they began the celebration of the lifestyle that Country listeners love. Many that have followed have gone on to bigger success than them, But Travis and Yoakam changed the playing field - forever.
They gave us a gift we should remember. I have always been thankful for them.