Tritt Tears Them Up on MWL Special

Travis Tritt brought his audience to its feet so often during his CMT Most Wanted Live special Sunday night (Sept. 29) that it sometimes looked like he was conducting an exercise class. The event was broadcast live from a studio at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House and coincided with the release of Tritt’s new album, Strong Enough.

The Georgia native sang 10 songs during the 90-minute program. He spent much of the remaining time talking to host Katie Cook about his personal and professional lives and responding to requests that were e-mailed, phoned in or made from the audience.

Late in the show, Charlie Daniels phoned Tritt from Seoul, South Korea, where he said he and his band had been performing for “one of the finest military troops in the world.”

The evening had a distinct military accent, with several camouflaged-dressed soldiers from nearby Fort Campbell seated on one side of the room and uniformed policemen and firemen from Nashville sprinkled through other sections. Tritt and his six-piece band performed in the round.

The Columbia Records artist was dressed in tight black leather pants and a gray, tails-out, long-sleeved shirt buttoned at the wrists. A woman in the audience made the request with which he opened the show. “My boyfriend is a total metal-head,” she said, “so I thought you could absolutely rock the house by doing ‘T-R-O-U-B-L-E’ for him.” Before Tritt blazed through the intro, the audience was up and dancing.

Cook seated herself beside Tritt to ask the first of many fan-oriented questions. “Do you ever feel like you have to fight for your [musical] integrity?” she inquired. Said the singer, “I know I’ve never sold out to anybody.” The crowd cheered his rectitude.

An e-mailer asked to hear “Strong Enough to Be Your Man,” Tritt’s current single. When he got to the throaty payoff line, “Yes, I am,” nodding his head up and down theatrically, the women in the crowd responded much as their mothers had done in ages past when Conway Twitty groaned, “Hello, darlin’.”

Cook asked Tritt about his friendship with Waylon Jennings and how Jennings’ death had affected him. “We knew it was coming,” Tritt said. “We didn’t know it would be that soon …. He probably influenced me more than anyone else in this industry.” Cook wanted to know if it was one of Jennings’ guitars that Tritt is pictured with in the CD booklet for his new album. Tritt said that it was, adding that Jennings had signed it, “Travis, you’re a hoss. Waylon.”

A caller from Ohio told Tritt, “There’ll never be another Waylon, but you come as close as it gets.” She asked to hear “I’ve Always Been Crazy.” Before performing it, Tritt said Jennings had asked him to sing and play guitar on this same song for what turned out to be Jennings’ final album. Tritt noted that he was one of only four country artists permitted to attend Jennings’ funeral, the others being Hank Williams Jr. , Marty Stuart and Connie Smith .

The next request came from a caller in Florida who asked to hear Tritt’s ultimate kiss-off song, “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares).” This led into a high-spirited sing-along.

A viewer e-mailed Tritt to thank him for his contribution ($25,000) to the Sipesville, Pa., volunteer fire department. That underfunded unit had helped evacuate nine miners who were trapped in a nearby coal mine this past July. “Personally, I don’t think I could take one more piece of really bad news,” said Tritt, alluding to his shock at the Sept. 11 disasters.

Tritt said that like most other people in America, he followed the rescue effort on television. He was in Wyoming, ready to go on stage, he recalled, as the miners finally emerged. “When they began pulling these guys out … I sat there clapping like crazy, with tears rolling down my face.”

Another e-mail, this one from Kentucky, asked Tritt to sing “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive.” The woman who requested it said her son was in Washington on Sept. 11 and that she associated reaching him and finding he was safe with the sentiments of the song.

Cook asked Tritt why his music videos stood apart from others. Pointing to his video for “Anymore,” a mini-movie that eventually grew into a three-part chronicle of the life of a crippled veteran, Tritt said, “I like telling stories that people wouldn’t normally associate with a song.” A caller from Pennsylvania said her father was a Vietnam veteran who had been “moved” by the video. With his band offstage, Tritt sang the song, accompanying himself on guitar. (He is a gifted guitarist, a fact that became apparent over the course of the show.)

When Cook returned to the stage, she pelted Tritt with some rapid-fire questions of her own: First album bought? (This Is Roger Miller) Favorite high school subject? (English) Least favorite household chore? (Cleaning the bathroom) Best trait learned from mother? (“Being a God-fearing individual”) Best trait from father? (“Being stubborn as hell”) Dream car? (Flame-orange Corvette) Favorite duet partner? (Ray Charles) Favorite baseball player? (Hank Aaron). He was less rapid in his response after a member of a “girl band” called in and asked him to suggest a name for the group. After a painful pause, he ventured, “Burn Your Bra Band.”

Tritt sewed up the first hour of his show with “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde,” a request from the audience. At a break, Tritt pointed jovially at a man in the balcony who wore an Atlanta Braves shirt. He then had to quickly dissuade the guy from taking the shirt off and thowing it to him. “Someone asked me the other day, ‘Why are you such a Braves fan?’,” Tritt related. “I said, ‘Because I sat with them through all the losing years.’”

It was at this juncture that Daniels called. After some mutually complimentary badinage, during which each managed to mention the other’s current album, Daniels asked Tritt to sing “one of my songs” — “Long Haired Country Boy.” Again performing as a soloist, Tritt worked in every guitar lick (and then some) associated with this quintessential slacker tune. He got in a political lick as well, extemporizing the lines, “bin Laden thinks he can bring us down/but he knows it’s a damn good joke.” At this, the crowd leaped up like trouts.

Told to pick one of his own favorites from the new album, Tritt performed the changing-times lament, “Country Ain’t Country.” He brought his band back for the roaring closer, “Put Some Drive in Your Country.”

After the show was done, Tritt spent several minutes walking around the perimeter of the stage, shaking hands, signing autographs and bestowing hugs. (One lady soldier vibrated like a hummingbird after his unexpected embrace.) Still festive, the crowd stayed on, bidding for his attention, until stagehands moved in to break down the set and clear the room.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to