Tracy Byrd: “Time” for Him to Fly

When Tracy Byrd discovered it was time to make some changes in his career, and, more importantly, in the quality of his music, he didn’t waste a second thinking twice. He switched record labels, sifted through tons of material to find 11 top-drawer tunes by some of his favorite songwriters, enlisted the help of renowned producer Billy Joe Walker Jr., rolled up his sleeves and went to work. Once again, he proved the old adage that “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”

The project was Byrd’s first foray into the production world, and the first album out of his last seven to bear his own personal stamp of approval, independent of label intervention or influence. It’s About Time, his first album on RCA, and the album he’s always wanted to make, is, in essence, pure Tracy Byrd. But fans will find this project devoid of catchy ditties and novelty tunes. And what it lacks in the “Watermelon Crawl” department it makes up for in serious, heartfelt country songs, which is just what Byrd intended.

“It was just time for us to shake things up a bit. We were in a rut, and there wasn’t any other way out of it but to go somewhere else and make music,” he explains. “So I was excited when RCA called and wanted to sign me, because they were willing to let me make the album I’d always wanted to make.

I was just at a point where I was ready to make a change or stop making music altogether. RCA let me co-produce the record, and I was more active with this one than I’ve ever been. I had more involvement on this one than any of the others, and I finally figured out if you’re not happy with something, and you didn’t have full control of it, then you have no reason to be griping about it. If you want to do what you want to do, then you have to do it yourself.”

Taking a more hands-on approach came naturally this time to Byrd, a platinum-seller who has spent his share of time nurturing a career through its fair share of ups and downs over the years. He currently finds himself at a crossroads of sorts in his life — a place both of reflection back at what he’s accomplished and contemplation towards the future, with a new album, label and career plan in place. The conscientious young Texan gets little respite from the constant stresses of the music business and finds peace from the hectic pace in only two places: on the water and in the woods. So it’s no surprise that he’s returning for a third year as the spokesperson for TNN Outdoors programming, since convincing him to take time off from his crazy schedule to fish or hunt isn’t very difficult to do.

“It’s my sanity, hunting and fishing. There’s no time I’m at peace with myself more than when I’m doing them. When I’m bow-hunting, out there up in a tree watching the woods wake up and the sun rise, and seeing the squirrels and deer and turkey, there’s no time my mind is more empty of all the outside stuff, yet more alert to nature. It’s like everything goes away without any effort. And the stresses and business thoughts just disappear. It’s just a peace that I find in the woods and on the water.

“I just flew in from Missouri, where we were filming at Big Cedar Lodge south of Branson, which is part of the Bass Pro Shops family. We were taping my preview show of what’s coming up on TNN Outdoors next year. We shot at a beautiful location called Dogwood Canyon because Johnny Morris, the owner of Bass Pro, wanted to create a sort of River Runs Through It type feel. It has miles of biking and hiking paths and miles of streams full of brown and rainbow trout. We shot some stuff on horseback and then visited one of the incredible cabins on the property.

“This is going into my third year with TNN Outdoors, and I really enjoy the work. I’ve grown to look forward to it each year and enjoy taping and getting to see what I’ve done. I want my own outdoor show one day where I’m actually catching the fish and hunting, and this is a great way to work into that. I critique myself each weekend to see if I’m getting any better, because it was something I hadn’t done much of when I started. Since I’ve been doing this hosting work I’ve caught myself watching other people on TV and paying more attention to what they do instead of watching the show,” admits Byrd, laughing. “Like I watch A&E all the time, and Bill Curtis, the guy who does investigative reports, he’s kind of become my TV hero because he’s so good at everything he does. It’s been great fun hosting these shows for TNN!”

For someone who’s just weathered a stagnant period filled with little career enjoyment, Byrd is happy to be having fun again, whether it’s making TV shows or great country music. He is fired up over being able to make a new record and excited at the support he’s receiving from fans and radio. Like a proud new papa, he is equally enthusiastic about all of the new songs on the collection.

“Several of these songs I’d had for a couple of years and just couldn’t get anybody else excited about them to cut them, so I just kind of held onto them. I was looking for songs that really had a lot of meat to them, because I’d primarily been known for novelty songs like, “Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous” and “Watermelon Crawl.” Those songs have done wonderfully for me, but I knew there was more to me than that, and I felt as I had matured as a person I should have matured as an artist too. So that’s what we tried to do with this album. I really pushed myself vocally on it, and the songs are really great.”

Byrd tapped into the vaults of several of his favorite writers for the new record to find that deeper material he was seeking. The title track, penned by Jim Collins and Curtis Wright, tackles the tough subject of a man who has neglected his family for the sake of his career, something that he identified readily with when he heard it. “It’s about the wife giving him a little wake-up call on what’s really important in life, and that’s something I’ve definitely been guilty of in the past.”

He also polishes off another old favorite and gives it a shine with “Undo the Right,” a Ray Price tune that Johnny Bush once cut that became one of Byrd’s all-time favorites. Former Boy Howdy member Jeffrey Steele co-wrote two songs on the album, “Ain’t It Just Like a Woman,” and “Something to Brag About,” with Al Anderson, and the Mark Nesler/Jennifer Hanson-penned “Take Me With You When You Go” speaks of the pain and passion in the give-and-take of a love relationship.

Byrd feels all the songs on the album reflect his renewed sense of creativity and purpose toward his career and can rest easier now knowing that his musical legacy won’t be dependent solely on cute, funny ditties. “The songs I felt I sounded best on sometimes weren’t the ones that made it to radio, so I figured one sure way to cure that was to cut 11 songs that sound great, and then there’s no doubt that at least four of them will make it to radio,” admits Byrd. “I have a lot more confidence now as an artist, and I’ve learned so much about myself as both an artist and a person through the five studio albums I’ve cut. They all led up to me being where I am now, and it was all meant to happen like it did. I’ve never been able to say that I loved all of the songs on one of my albums before, but with this album, I can truly say that. And that’s a great feeling.”