Remember almost ten years ago when Travis Tritt barreled onto the country scene with his grinding “Country Club” debut? There was the long hair, faded denim, black leather, buckskin fringe, biker boots and, of course, the music — pure grain country, southern battered and skillet fried. Learning early on to do things his own way, the tough-skinned Marietta, Georgia boy came through the door with something to say. Folks heard it and they heard it loud. He’s since then earned 11 No. 1 hits and has sold more than 17 million albums.
It’s almost a decade later, and the singer/songwriter barrels in with album number eight, plus a growing list of acting credits under his belt. There’s the long hair, faded denim, black leather, buckskin fringe, biker boots and, of course, the music — pure grain country, Southern battered and skillet fried. He’s also married to Theresa, with whom he’s deeply in love, and is “Daddy” to their 6-month-old baby daughter, Tyler Reese. Having learned early on to do things his own way, he still does. His skin, by the way, is a lot tougher.
“There’s been a lot of water underneath the bridge in the last ten years,” says Travis. “That staggers me because it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. It’s like ten years have gone by and I’m 35 and still feel 22. It’s one of those situations where you can’t believe all this stuff has happened. The thing that has stayed the same is that I still have that same push-the-envelope, rowdy approach to the music. The lyrical content may be somewhat different in some situations. But the fact remains that I still will get out there and ‘go-to-the-wall,’ if you will, constantly, in not only my live shows, but on my albums as well.
“There are a whole lot of folks in this town who would never ever consider cutting songs that I’ve put on this new album because they’re too ‘against the grain’ of what a lot of people would consider to be traditional country. That fits just fine with me and that’s exactly where I want to be. I want to be a little bit against the grain and I don’t want to fit in with everybody else. God knows, I love George Strait and Reba McEntire and so many of these other people who are out there, but one of them in each category is enough. I don’t like to follow in anybody else’s footsteps. I want to charter new ground.”
There was a time, however, that Travis’ rough-edginess, rowdy-rock approach to music and often blunt outspokenness actually grew much deeper than merely his image alone. The singer admits wholeheartedly that he was no stranger to ‘sowing several wild oats’ earlier in his career. Marriage and family have undoubtedly required sowing a different brand of seeds.
“There has been some maturing and there has been some growing up,” he explains. “Because if not, God only knows where I’d be today. It really wasn’t part of my dream,” he says of being a husband and father. “It was something that caught me by surprise. If you had asked me as little as two years ago ‘would I be in this position?’, I probably would have told you that you were crazy. I think sometimes when you’re not trying so hard to keep something back, you tend to be a little bit more natural with your emotions and you just kinda let it flow. When things flow, that’s when things happen sometimes that will surprise you. That’s exactly what it was with me. I was completely blind sighted about it all, but looking back now, it was the best possible thing that could have happened in my life. I’m definitely happier now than I’ve ever been in my entire life. It’s so neat to be able to feel comfortable with your off-stage life. Quite frankly, it makes your on-stage life much better. Having a baby is the best move I ever made and I’m gonna do it again. I love being a father and I love being involved as a father and being there every day. First of all I’m lucky in the fact that I get to do what I love to do for a living. Second of all, I’m in a position where I’m able to be there and watch my child grow up every day. I don’t miss anything. So many working fathers and mothers are pulled away from their children and miss so much.”
A recent movie role in the forthcoming CBS Movie of the Week, Outlaw Justice, co-starring Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, changed Travis’ feelings about the importance of family even more so.
“I went to Spain for almost eight weeks to film this movie,” he says. “It was a fabulous experience and I loved being there. The only downside of it was that it happened right after the baby was born. I literally came home and felt like I had missed out on a huge chunk of her life. She had changed so much and was doing so many things she wasn’t doing when I left. That was the crowning moment for me to just sit back and say, ‘Look, I’m not going to do this anymore. From now on, we all go together. We get on that tour bus and we all go down the road together. There’s no reason why we can’t.’ I’m sure that with all the things that have happened in my life over the past 18 months — getting married and having a baby — there’s been some concern that I’ve heard voiced from some fans, ‘Is Travis going kind of a softer path?’ The answer to that is musically, no, but lyrically, yes. What I’ve learned is that I can still go out there with that same attitude and same rowdy approach, yet still be very settled in my personal life and very happy in my personal life. The two don’t necessarily have to go hand in hand.”
What does go hand-in-hand with Travis is his consistency in making music that he describes as ‘loud.’ His latest recording effort entitled No More Looking Over My Shoulder, is no exception.
“It’s about loud in the sense of not just volume, but about in the attitude of the songs and the energy level. This is an album that has some songs on there that just absolutely scream. Obviously, I’ve known what my perimeters were. I’ve been very fortunate in understanding what my audience expects from me at a very early time in my career, and I try to give that to them every time. But knowing the perimeters that I had to work in, I always try to do something from time to time that’s different. The last album was definitely along those lines. It was an opportunity to go back and kind of reattach myself to my traditional country roots and do as traditional country album as I would ever feel comfortable doing. So if that was a really hard turn to the left, this is a really hard turn back to the right. I really had a chance to hook up with some of the original ideas I had when I first started out, which is basically showing all the different influences that I have musically, everything from the conglomeration of the really straight-ahead country to some really Southern rock and some plain-out, rock-n-roll stuff to some really tender love ballads.
“I think this is the first opportunity I’ve had since the Greatest Hits album to do that sort of thing,” he continues. “It’s been a long time. Ten Feet Tall and Bullet Proof was the last studio album, prior to the Greatest Hits album, and that was a little over five years ago. So literally, it’s been five years since I’ve been able to do a studio album that has had all of these different elements tied into it.”
Another element that Travis has tied into his career is a rare music video success story. It was a few years ago that the accompanying video for his “Anymore” hit, starring the character of Mac, an injured Vietnam veteran, touched hearts with the friendship shared between Mac and his Vietnam buddy Al. The story line continued in Travis’ video for the song “Tell Me I Was Dreaming,” where Mac’s pregnant wife Annie is killed in an accident. The video for his new album’s first single release, “If I Lost You,” yet another gut-binding ballad, picks up where the story left off — with Mac and his six-year-old daughter Annie, named after her deceased mother. Travis credits all of the video “hoop-lah” to his fans.
“If any song ever has shown the power of the fans to make things happen, this song does. I would have never ever brought this character back again had it not been for the fans. Literally, I got thousands of letters and tons and tons of telephone calls to our fan club,” Travis explains. “Every time I would go and do personal appearances either before or after a show or at Fan Fair or wherever it may be, fans consistently were asking ‘What’s going to happen to Mac? When can we see Mac again?’ Back when we did the ‘Anymore’ video, we created, quite by accident, a character that people coincidentally enough cared about. That, I think, is the element of any good movie. It’s the element of any strong book — that you create a character that people want to know more about. They care about this character. They want to find out all they can about him and they want to know what this character is going to do next. As a result, we’ve seen how videos that are done well that have a strong message can move people. So we brought the character back for “Tell Me I Was Dreaming.” Obviously, there was the same response. At that point, it did create in me a sense of responsibility. Not that every video that we ever do has to be that way, but that somehow or another we’re trying to make ourselves capable to do videos that touch people’s lives and mean something. There are a lot of videos out there right now. We want to make sure at least at some point, from time to time, we do videos that stand out sort of as the mouthpiece for people’s emotions. This character obviously gave us an opportunity to do that.
“The last time we saw him, Mac had lost his wife in child labor, but had gained a beautiful little daughter,” he explains of the latest video. “That’s a place that I can very easily identify with because I’m a brand new father of a new daughter as well. So I thought ‘OK — this guy has lost so much in his life. He’s lost his self esteem, his dignity, his pride and the use of his legs and has lost his wife. He’s just lost so many things, but he’s learned to deal with all that. Everything’s all right in the world because he’s got this beautiful little daughter that he centers his whole world around. But he just couldn’t handle it if he lost her; because he knows she’s the key to his existence.’ I started basically putting that video idea in my head and as a result of the video idea coming first, Stuart Harris and I wrote that song together. I called him up and I said ‘I got this great idea for a video and I want to write a song to go with it.’ That’s opposite of what you normally do. You normally write a song, record it and then go in and try to find a video idea that matches it. But the idea for that video would never have come about, therefore, the song never would have come about had it not been for the persistence of fans who constantly said ‘We care about this character and we want to know what he’s doing now.’ So it happened and I’m so glad that it did.”
The recurring video role as Mac has become a strong thread which weaves through an entirely separate career world for Travis — acting. Among some of his acting credits are roles in television movies such as 1993’s Diablo; the feature film The Cowboy Way in ’94 and TV’s Tales From The Crypt in ’95. Outlaw Justice is slated to air on CBS later this year.
“I can’t say that I have a whole lot of confidence in acting,” he admits. “The first real experience that I had with acting was the video for ‘Anymore.’ It was more than just letting the music speak. This character had to carry this emotion and get it across. There was one point where I had to break down and cry in the middle of that thing in the punching bag scene. That was a tough thing but it really challenged me and I’ve found that every acting role that I’ve taken since then challenges me. If you ask me to go out and sing in front of however many people, and that to me, and I don’t want to sound complacent about it, but it’s about as easy as falling off a log because I’ve been doing it all my life. I know it like I know the back of my hand and I’ve got a lot of confidence in that area. But put me in front of a camera and tell me to portray somebody else and that is something that first of all, scares me to death and second of all, forces me to concentrate and really focus to be able to pull that whole thing off and make it happen. As a result of that process though, I’ve found without exception that every time I’ve done a movie role where I have played another character other than myself and really had to go out there and make it happen, I come away from that with a whole new sense of creativity. It causes me to write more songs and I think write better songs. I think that anybody that’s a songwriter or writes scripts for movies or whatever, they’ll tell you that they have to have something — a hobby or something that takes them away from the mundane, day-to-day routine — so they can come back with a fresh outlook. I think that’s exactly what acting has been for me.
“Anytime you go into unchartered territory it’s a scary thing,” he says. “I struggle with it because it’s not something that I feel comfortable with. I know that I’m not Robert DeNiro and I know that I never will be. The first time I remember rehearsing scenes with anybody was with Kenny Rogers,” reflects Travis. “He’d obviously done a bunch of movies and was very comfortable in it. But I remember I kept rehearsing the scenes about three or four days before we started shooting and I kept cracking up laughing. And there wasn’t anything funny about the scene. I was just cracking up. Looking back at it now, it was just the nervousness of looking around and thinking ‘I am getting ready to do a movie with Kenny Rogers, for crying out loud!’ It’s someplace I thought I’d never be. I’ve been very grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had because I’ve had the opportunities to work with people who I feel have been able to cross that great divide between the music world and the acting world and be successful at it at some level. Kenny Rogers was wonderful to work with because he was very patient and showed me a lot. I learned a tremendous amount from watching Willie and Kris Kristofferson. These guys are two pros and they’re both heroes to me because of their music. They’re heroes because of the way that they do the acting, and they’re heroes because of the way they approach the music business by doing things their own way. They’ve been able to cross all those thresholds and do great at all of it. That’s something that I try to pursue as well.”
Pursuing things his own way has unquestionably been a threshold Travis has successfully crossed. “I think I have been able to do that,” he admits with a sense of pride. “I just had a conversation on a plane with a gentleman who was sitting next to me. He sold medical equipment. He was asking me about the business and said ‘Everything I’ve read on you, you seem to be the exception to the rule. You co-produce your own albums, select your own singles and you have a lot of control over your life that other people don’t have.’ I told him that it’s true, but it’s something that I’ve earned and something that I’ve had to work for. God knows the first two or three albums that I did weren’t under my control. But with time and with success comes clout and respect and also an opportunity to go in and call your own shots. I took those opportunities and I’m very glad that I did. I’m very happy with the fact that I’m involved in my career on a regular basis.
“I couldn’t imagine saving up all your life and wanting to open up your own hardware store — saving and cutting corners every way you possibly could and working for someone else. Then after 20 years, you finally have enough money to open up your own store and as soon as you get it open you turn the keys over to somebody else and say ‘You run it.’ That would be probably one of the most foolish moves you could make, because they don’t share your dream and they’re not going to run it like you want it run. Nine times out of ten, they’ll run it in the ground. The record labels are going to have tons and tons of artists come through their doors for years to come. I’ve got one career,” proclaims Travis, “and I have to take care of it and guard it the best I can.”