20 Questions With Randy Travis

He Talks Animals, Alan Jackson and Andy Griffith

When Randy Travis calls CMT.com one afternoon from a film set, he quickly recounts everything he’s been up to — music, movies, travel and so on — before the first question is even asked. Clearly, he’s ready to catch up with country fans, satisfying their curiosity about doing his own stunts in Black Dog, his duet with Kenny Chesney and why everybody thinks he lives in Maui.

1. Do you still have your house in Hawaii?

We do and have for probably 12 years now… We have a house that my wife and I vacation in and then a couple pieces of rental property that we have bought over the years in Lahaina.

2. My favorite song is “Reasons I Cheat.” I’m wondering why it was never released as a single.

Thank you so much. Man, I appreciate that. That’s going back quite a few years now. I’ll tell you the truth, I felt the same way at that point in time. To me, that song should have been a single. There was talk about it in that day and time. I thought it should have been. But back then, if you got four singles off of an album, that’s pretty much where it ended. And a lot of times, it was only three. I only go on what I like, and that’s all I can judge songs by. On those first several albums we did, I really wish we had gone at least five singles into each album because I think they were there.

3. I’m a big fan and have followed your career since Storms of Life. I’ve run across several great songs you wrote before hitting it big, but you never put any of those songs on an album: “Ain’t No Use,” “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” and “Free Rider.” Any chance you might put these on an album someday?

Yeah, I think those songs are good enough to record for an album — whether I’m doing them or someone else records them. I would love to go back in our catalog, so to speak. My wife and I have in our publishing company. … It’s hard for me to imagine this, but I’ve written or co-written over 400 songs.

4. What was it like working with Andy Griffith and singing along with him in the Matlock series?

It was wonderful. The best way I know to describe that is, he was exactly what I wanted him to be like. There were times we would be playing music when we weren’t working, you know, because he played I don’t know how many different instruments. So we’re sitting around playing, singing, talking. Sometimes he would say something to me, because he was helping me out, you know. I was very new to acting. He was helping me out here and there, and he would say something to me … it was like Sheriff Andy Taylor talking to me! It was all I could do not to laugh sometimes. He was great. Everybody on that set loved him.

5. What is the latest on the movie based on “Three Wooden Crosses”?

There are three different groups — independent filmmakers to major companies — interested in doing a film on “Three Wooden Crosses.” At this point, there are three different writers thinking about it or in the process of already writing scripts for it. It’s moving along. I don’t know exactly when it will come to be as far as filming.

6. Do you have any other movies coming up?

Yeah, I’m working on a film right now called The Visitation. It’s about a small town, and a character named Brandon Nichols shows up in this town and some miracles start to happen. Or what seem to be miracles, healings and things like that. I’m a minister. There are several pastors in the town. Some are going for it, some are not. I’m one of the two who is looking at it saying, “This is not right. Something’s not right here.” So, ends up that this person is a demon-possessed person, like an anti-Christ. I have words with this character and filmed that scene right before we flew to Nashville for the CMAs. So I joked with some people in Nashville, I told them, “I just had a nice confrontation with Satan right before coming here.” It’s unlike anything I’ve ever worked on, where the supernatural comes in and is shown on film.

7. What’s your favorite movie?

Man, that’s a hard one to say. I mean, there are movies that I love. I am a Western fan, there’s no doubt, and two of those would be Lonesome Dove and Outlaw Josie Wales. Outside of that, if you are looking at other types of movies, there are several. On Golden Pond I loved. Who didn’t like Forrest Gump? It’s hard to say a very favorite of all time. I’m the same with music, outside of my same answer in music being “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” from Hank Williams. That one, I think, is going to always stand as my favorite song.

8. Did you drive any of the trucks in the movie Black Dog?

No, but that was me driving that Camaro. I was getting a kick out of that. … I grew up driving out on dirt roads, and I raced some vehicles a few times, driving like a nut in other words. I got a kick out of it, being there doing these things, having policemen blocking the road and watching me do what I used to get arrested for.

9. Have you ever thought about writing your life story?

I’ve had a lot of offers. I’ve had, I bet you five different people and publishing companies wanting me to do that. I’m going to do it sometime. I don’t know when and how to do it, to be honest with you. But here’s how I see that, and maybe you’ll agree, maybe you don’t. If I’m going to do something like that, I don’t want to do a one part, two part. … I don’t want to do all of that, you know? I want to do a one-time shot. I’ve been approached to do a book just on when I came to know that the word of God was very important. I said, “If I’m going to do a book, I want to do it all.” I want to start from the beginning. Go through all the mess and it was that, the drugs, the alcohol. Let’s just get it all in there, coming to know my wife, coming to know the Lord and all of the changes there and just do it all in one shot and get it done.

10. Do you like animals?

Yes. I grew up on a farm with all kinds of animals, from chickens, to turkeys, if you can imagine that. Goats, pigs, cows, horses. … That’s the way I grew up. I live in Santa Fe now, but when my wife and I were living in Nashville, for quite a few years, we had quite a few horses and several head of cattle, some goats, dogs. Yeah, I love animals.

11. What’s your favorite vacation spot?

Maui probably. Like I said earlier, we bought that place over there quite a few years ago now and, unfortunately, we don’t get as much of an opportunity as I would like to go to Maui. We haven’t been in two years, to be honest with you. We have not really had a break from any kind of work for around two years. So, when we finish this year, we are going to head to Maui … and recuperate. That’s exactly what we need to do. (laughs)

12. With all the breakups of stars, what is your secret to having such a great marriage during these tough times?

That’s a tough question there. I know that I truly love my wife, and I know she truly loves me. That’s not to say that there have not been hard times. We certainly love each other enough that when hard times arise we have not walked away. We have worked out whatever problems have come about and stayed together and been married for 14 years and have known each other over 25 years now.

13. Was there a particular event or circumstance that led you to the decision to become a Christian?

For me, having come to study and understand some of the Bible and finally getting saved made a huge difference in me, because my wife was a big influence on that. I saw in her, when I first met her, a person’s soul at peace with everything and everybody around her. She did so many nice things for people constantly, and that made me really want to change.

14. What are the advantages to being married to someone older?

I don’t know that there are any advantages to being married to someone older. I mean I’m 45 years old, you know. If you have reached 45 years old and you don’t know how to take care of yourself by that point, you got a problem. So, the age itself, I don’t think there is an advantage to that. It just happens to be the fact here. We just love each other and to start with, she is a brilliant business person, you know, looking at things from purely a logical standpoint. She’s not a person that has all these degrees from college and studies in business. I mean, it’s nothing like that. That, to me, is like a musical gift. Some people just have that ability and she does. She really has a gift. She can read people like a book. … She can be in a meeting with someone and, I’m telling you what, I’ve seen her just literally shut down … time to go … talk is over … we’re not doing anything with this person or this company. I’ve seen her do it and, you know, later on you find out, boy, she read that right.

15. What year did you first appear at the Nashville Palace? We were there one night, and you had just finished working and came on stage to sing. We think it was about 1979 or the early ’80s. We have been listening to your music ever since.

Gosh, let me count backwards here for a minute. I signed with Warner Brothers in ’85 … so I worked at the Palace three years and eight months, two days and two hours. … No, I’m kidding. … Three years, eight months. So back from ’85 … toward the end of ’81 or the middle of ’81. Somewhere in that vicinity I would have started working in the Nashville Palace. Is that what you asked? I talked to a man the other night who saw that. He told a story to a bunch of guys about going in the Nashville Palace and listening to this guy — talking about me — sing with his group and then saw him go back in the kitchen cooking or bussing tables. I got a kick out of that.

16. How did you find all those songs in the early days of your career?

I had people, [former Warner Bros. Nashville executive] Martha Sharp in the earlier days, going and listening to song after song after she got to know me and knew the kind of singer I was. She knew the background of what I loved to listen to and what I grew up with then: Haggard, Jones, Lefty Frizzell, Ernest Tubb, Don Gibson, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn. That’s just what I came from, and once she got to know me, she helped us find a lot of music. A lot of times, I’d go with her and sit in publishing companies and listen.

But, ultimately, and Kyle [record producer Kyle Lehning] said this to me years ago when we first starting working together, he said, “I want to help you make the best record that we can possibly make. But ultimately, it’s you on stage singing those songs and doing what you want to do.” That’s exactly what we have done over the years. I mean, the good thing is Kyle and I came together early on. … This would seem hard to believe maybe, but he and I have been in agreement on every song 95 percent of the time … 96 … maybe 97 or 98 percent of the time. I mean, very seldom — very seldom — have we disagreed on a song.

Then we have my wife in there, if the scales need something to balance them out. Then we have that voice. … Kyle, myself and Lib all have the ability to just listen to something and not say, “OK, is this something country radio will like?” That drives me up the wall. Just tell me if you like it, and then that’s all I need to know. I don’t care if you think it’s a single or what you think somebody else is going to think. Just tell me if you like it. That’s what we’ve done throughout the years. I don’t know any other way to do it.

17. Who are the artists that make you perk up now, when they come on the radio?

Alan Jackson. I love the records he and Keith [record producer Keith Stegall] have made. I really do. He’s a phenomenal writer, good singer. They make good records. Alan being a great writer, he writes a lot of them, but they choose the kind of songs that, in a lot of cases, if I had heard first I’d have probably said, “We probably ought to record that.” (laughs) Keith has the ability to know what works musically on a record and makes an album where you hear the vocal very clearly and it’s not drowned by a bunch of drum tracks or whatever. I wouldn’t say it was the biggest percentage of the time, but there are records going out there and I’m listening and I’m saying, “What the heck did they just say?” I can’t understand it, because the words are drowned by whatever else is surrounding it on the record. It just drives me up the wall to listen to stuff like that.

But, there are some other singers out there … Martina McBride for instance. She is a phenomenal vocalist. If you want to go to some folks a little more recently, I like the quality of Josh Turner’s voice. He’s a good singer. He knows how to pick what works for him. He’s just a good guy, too. I’ve really enjoyed being around him a couple of times, and I like what he records. Lee Ann Womack — another great singer. She may take this as a compliment, she may not like it, but there’s a quality there in her vocal that puts me in mind, at times, of Dolly Parton’s vocals on some of her records several years back. So yeah, there are things that I like, and there are things that make me just down right mad, and we won’t get into those. (laughs)

18. Doing both country and gospel, does either fan base or industry give you grief about doing the other?

I’ve had that question put to me many times, in different ways. People in the past asked, “Does the record label ever tell you that you need to do something that sounds a little more pop?” But that’s an odd comment anyway. Listen to me even speak. What else am I going to do, you know? I’ve been fortunate, in that respect. The record label and I were doing nothing but country music. Kyle and I would go in and record what we truly loved. That is the only thing we based what we record on. They can be a little off the wall. “Diggin’ Up Bones” is a little off the wall if you get right down to the lyrics. “Is it still over, are we still through/Since my phone still ain’t ringing I assume it still ain’t you” You know, those are off-the-wall lyrics, but we record them because we really love the songs. I have been fortunate there. I have done just what I want to do and never had anything musically forced on me. Gospel recording being exactly the same thing. I have never had anyone at the record label push anything on me and force me to record anything that I did not want to do.

19. What has “Three Wooden Crosses” done for your career?

It felt like that put us back in the game. I don’t have a better way to put it. I never felt like I was out of it, in a way. I mean, I have not quit doing shows. I’ve had people ask me how I like retirement, and I look at them and say, “Say what?” … Some people, if you’re not having records on the charts, just perceive that you are gone, I guess, and you quit, you retired. Then people ask me how I like being retired and living in Maui and I say, “Man, I’ve never lived in Maui to begin with.” Sometimes it’s years and I don’t go to Maui at all. I forgot who the reporters were but they thought it would be a wonderful idea just to go to Maui and take pictures and write an article for whatever magazine it was, and, of course, getting to go Maui was part of it. So, they did that and took the pictures and ever since I’ve had to deal with this “How do you like living in Maui?” question. I don’t live in Maui, and I’m sure not retired.

But “Three Wooden Crosses” was quite an amazing boost, I guess, to the country career, because it turned out to be truly a hit in the sense of songs like “Forever and Ever, Amen” and “On the Other Hand.” What you would refer to as signature songs, and I didn’t think I would ever find anything like that again.

20. What was it like to record the “Baptism” duet with Kenny Chesney?

Ah, it was great. I met Kenny the first time, you remember back when Ralph Emery was still doing Nashville Now? I think that was probably the second time I heard a comment like, “I grew up with your music.” I wanted to say, “No, you didn’t.” That’s just such a weird thing to say. I meet so many people now that went through school back when Storms of Life and Always and Forever were hits, those two albums and a couple that followed that … “Diggin’ Up Bones,” for instance. There were little kids, I’m talking 4, 5 and 6-year-old kids that just love that song. I don’t think they had a clue about what the subject was really about.

But Kenny, when we did Nashville Now, we were sitting there during a commercial break, and he told me kind of the same tune. He said, “I went through college listening to a lot of the early stuff you recorded and sang a lot of it, too.” I was very honored to hear that from him. He was already having hits. I had just not met him until that point.

Anyway, a few years later, he asked me if I would sing on a song. I said, “Yeah, man. I’d be honored to. I’d love to.” When he asked, I said, “Just send me whatever you want me to sing on,” and what he sent was something that I had already recorded, so I didn’t have to learn anything. I’d already recorded “Baptism.” I wish Kenny or the folks at Warner Bros. had decided to release that as a single, because the gospel message is in there, there’s no doubt about that. But it was a really good country song with a very well-written story. You think about it, “He Walked on Water,” the song that I recorded years ago, and “Forever and Ever, Amen” … there are no doubt gospel references there. Maybe not as strong as “Baptism,” but still that’s just a wonderfully-written song. I wish the duet had gone out. It would have been neat to see that as a single and be played at country radio.

A lot of people ask me about that song. … I’ve had requests, actually. One place we played last year … I had not, at that point, done the song in a while. We went into a church and this fairly young guy, he loved Kenny Chesney. He knew “Baptism” through that recording. He asked me to do it, and I said, “Sure, I’ll do it. Yeah, I’ll do it.” We get up there, and this kind of happens every once in a while when fatigue sets in. We get into it, and when it’s time for the second verse, it was like, “Oh, man, what are the words?” (laughs) And they left me totally, and I recovered. Did a bit of the second verse and just skipped the bridge and went right into the second chorus and got out of it as quick as I could. (laughs) It was funny. The boy felt bad about it.

After we finished, he apologized to me and I said, “Hey, man, don’t worry about that. That’s no problem.” Years ago, when things would go wrong, I would get mad. I figured this out a long time ago, and actually Andy Griffith said some stuff about this to me about a certain kind of energy doing a performance. “If it goes in the wrong direction,” he says, “it is hard to recover, but there have been one or two times when I never recovered.” Really, that stuck with me. When things go wrong, I don’t care if they’re laughing at me or with me. If they’re laughing, they’re enjoying it, you know? Even if you’re messing up, they get a kick out of it.