It’s 1985, and country music is gliding through perhaps what many described as “close encounters of Disco Twang.” Although the pure sound of traditionalism continued to occasionally seep through the cracks, the heaviest gush of country was that of bee-bop groove — yes, a tad bit scary. Enters Randy Travis, and we’re back on track.
With a rugged, farm-boy voice and an innocent charm that can’t be denied, Travis galloped onto the country scene like a knight in shining armor, waving a flag that screamed “hard-core country!” Rolling out country hits and fiddle-flavored numbers like “On The Other Hand,” “1982″ and “Forever And Ever, Amen,” Travis, CMT’s April Showcase Artist, was praised by such pioneers as George Jones, Loretta Lynn and the Grand Ole Opry cast for “carrying on the torch.” He has since sold more than 20 million records and paved the way for other such traditionalists as Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks and Clint Black.
The former North Carolina honky tonk singer continues to make such dramatic entrances with his distinctive, traditional style and unflinching honesty. In both the music and movie world, Travis has become an icon for putting his versatile talents to the test and successfully pulling it off. As the flagship artist for the new Dreamworks Records label, Travis is geared up to release perhaps his finest work yet, in addition to diving even deeper into the acting arena. The long-awaited album, You And You Alone, captures Travis at his absolute best from the get-go. The project’s first single, “Out Of My Bones,””Out Of My Bones,” unquestionably reassures us that the “classic Travis” voice is back home again.
“The perception has been that I’ve been gone,” explains Randy, “which in a way, is the case as far as radio goes, because I haven’t had a hit in quite a while. So that’s not the truth totally. What’s really weird is that most everybody asks me how I like living in Maui and has it been odd coming out of retirement,” he laughs. “I keep saying, ‘I don’t live in Maui, haven’t been living in Maui and I haven’t been retired. I think that perception came from doing interviews there a few years ago and some pictures ending up in the magazines. And ever since then I’ve been living there,” he laughs again. “But I actually hadn’t stopped working over the last several years, you know. We continued to work doing the touring of course, and then doing television shows left and right it seemed like, but it seems good to be doing this again. It’s great to have some new music. I love the process of going through new material and choosing what you like and then getting in the studio. That’s exciting for me.”
The April 21st release of You And You Alone will mark the singer/songwriter’s thirteenth album — exciting, yet a bit difficult to swallow.
“That’s really hard to believe,” he admits. “Time goes quick, especially when you stay as busy as we do. It just seems like the years go — they start and then all at once, the next day, the year is finished. And you realize you’ve done all this work and it’s hard to keep up with. Yeah, it’s hard to imagine this being the thirteenth album.”
It is as equally hard to imagine that Travis has gone on to launch a phenomenal film career that includes roles in more than a dozen major pictures like Francis Ford Coppola’s big-screen treatment of John Grisham’s The Rainmaker; Fire Down Below starring Steven Seagal; Frank & Jesse with Rob Lowe and Bill Paxton Dead Man’s Revenge with Ben Johnson; and The Legend of O.B. Taggart with Mickey Rooney. His acting credits also include guest starring on such TV hits as Touched By An Angel, Matlock and Aaron Spelling’s miniseries Texas.
The latest notch in Randy’s acting belt is undoubtedly his best work to date — his role in the upcoming picture Black Dog starring Patrick Swayze. The movie is slated for a May 1st release.
“Yes, it’s the biggest part I have ever done in a movie,” Randy explains. “Most of the work I have done up until last year had been television work and so we took a couple of really good steps forward, I was able to do a small part in Steven Seagal’s movie and the Rainmaker, so those were really big steps. They were small parts but still big steps forward, and then I went and read for this part in Black Dog and got it. It makes you feel good to know that you went and read for a part and they give it to you. I’m probably in three-quarters of this show,” he continues. “I’m a character named Earl who fancies himself a songwriter and he’s terrible. He also fancies himself a singer and is even worse at that. He’s also at odds with Patrick in the beginning of the show. Patrick’s character is in a bind, so he comes down to drive this tractor-trailer from Georgia to New York that’s loaded with guns, ammunition, explosives and that sort of thing but doesn’t know it until we get on into the trip. Then people start trying to highjack the load. That’s what my character does. I’m just there for the money. I thought I would be driving the truck actually until he comes down to replace me. But I’m still there making the run with him. So it’s a movie with a lot of action.
“It was the most unusual character I’ve played because he’s a little bit nuts at times; sometimes extremely angry, and sometimes he actually cares about what is going on. I worked with a coach on the set just about every day for the first few months, because you know, I had never done a character who had to act so many different ways.”
Working on the film Black Dog also opened the door for one of several guests on Randy’s Dreamworks debut disc. Among those appearing on the album via vocals are Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski and Swayze.
“Well, Patrick was an accident, totally,” explains Randy of Swayze’s vocal contribution to the project. “We were working on Black Dog in Wilmington, we’re touring and we’re making this record at the same time. We recorded music tracks in Nashville and in L.A. and we did the vocals in Las Vegas and in Wilmington. But we were walking by Patrick’s trailer one day near the set, where there was a studio sound stage. The studio was about a hundred yards a way, so we were going to look at it the day before going to work, and Patrick came out of the studio. As we were leaving, he called out to us and said ‘If you want me to sing some harmonies let me know — that would be great!’ So we got to the studio and said, ‘You know, we should take him up on that.’ So we did, and he came in and did a really good job on it.”
While a career in country music will always top the list for Randy, he admits that acting is a definite addiction.
“Oh yeah, of course I’d love to see the success grow and work in more good quality movies as time goes by,” he explains. “I’m not saying better quality than what I’ve just done but just more of that kind of thing and maybe land bigger parts as time goes by. I’d love to see that happen because I enjoy the process of acting. But I don’t want to walk away from music. That’s too big a part of my life. I’ve been singing for 30 years and I’ve been acting for five, so music is still my main love.”
Regardless of the music/movie trade-off career, what keeps Randy loving his work is somewhat of a fear that most artists deny having — that of competition. For Randy, it prompts him to work even harder.
“It is a competition,” he admits. “I mean it’s a friendly one, but that’s the only way you can look at it. You’re competing for record sales, ticket sales and chart position. You’re trying to find the best songs that are better than what everybody else is doing. There’s just no other way to look at it. There again, it’s friendly competition and you wish everybody well, but you just want to beat them if you can,” laughs Randy, honestly.
It’s that honest approach to practically everything in his life that’s cradled Randy to his current success and outspokenness. There was a time, however, early on in his career, when keeping quiet and laying low seemed to be the relatively shy singer’s ticket to comfort.
“For years I went on stage and I would sing songs and I wouldn’t even say thank you,” he confesses. “I wouldn’t say good night or anything. I’d just sing songs, walk off the stage and that was it. So getting out of that and learning how to talk to an audience, or getting used to it, I guess, was something I had to overcome. I didn’t like the idea of that what-so-ever,” he laughs. “I couldn’t stand the idea of actually saying something on stage rather than just singing. I had to learn to do that. I have to usually get to know people before I talk to them a lot. When I was a lot younger, I really had to know someone to talk to them and had nothing to say to anybody.
“In front of the mike — I’ve been doing that so long and think nothing about it. I just go and sing. I’ve been a singer since I was eight years old, and I started working in front of an audience by the time I was probably nine years old. Acting is a little bit different,” he continues. “It was a little, well, scary, I guess. I had to get used to playing another character while people are there watching me do this. So that was a little strange to begin with. Then also something else that happened to me, and I guess it does to everybody as far as acting is concerned. When I’m just talking to someone, I pay no attention to the way I sound or the way I say things. Then all at once you’re doing dialogue and you have to think about all the inflections and why they’re there and which ones would make the most sense. So all at once you hear everything you’re saying and the way you sound. You have to get past worrying about that. I mean you have to think about it still, but get past the fear of it.
Obviously, Randy continues to get past it. In addition to his already long list of recent acting stints, he’s landed a role in a Western called The Shooter, which may land a slot on either HBO or Showtime.
“Another part I’ve played was in Boys Will Be Boys. This is a little ‘Home Alone-ish,’ I guess you would say. It’s mainly about the kids, but Julie Haggerty and I play their mom and dad. That’s another thing that will be going to one of the cable channels.”
While Randy’s musical accomplishments, acting credits and future endeavors all conjure to create one of the most fascinating success stories of all time, the one-time dishwasher/short-order cook and part-time singer can be the most proud of carrying the torch for tried and true country music. He fired it up several years ago, and the music continues to burn.
“George Strait, Reba McEntire, Ricky Skaggs and John Anderson — I think those guys made everybody see that traditional music was actually something they shouldn’t be ashamed of,” concludes Randy. “It was something that would sell records and sell tickets because these guys I just mentioned were having some great success. I mean they weren’t doing five million copies on an album, but then again, when you go back to the stuff Waylon and Willie did, that sold like four million copies or something like that. So I think those guys made everyone at the record companies see what they should really concentrate on and not so much try to hit the crossover audience by doing more pop-oriented. I think everybody knows it was mostly bad music a good portion of the 70s. I think I was signed because, after being turned down for ten years by every major label, they were looking for another George Strait. Timing played a big part in it and the right songs also came my way. I got to be in the right place at the right time is what it boils down to. I’m just very proud of that.”