Digging up bones: After 20 years, Randy Travis continues to please crowds

Friday, September 9, 2005
Randy Travis

For nearly 20 years, Randy Travis has been a big name in country music.

Since he first hit the big time with the album "Storms of Life" in 1986, winning the Academy of Country Music's Top Male Vocalist Award that year, Travis has been a traditional sound in a changing country music market.

Over the years he's sold millions of albums and won many fans while keeping the traditional sound. Lately Travis has delved into the world of gospel music with several award-winning gospel releases, but continues to perform the country hits that made him famous.

His latest release was "Passing Through" in 2004, a country album with strong Christian themes.

On Thursday, Travis will play as the headlining act at the 150th SEMO District Fair, followed by Tracy Byrd on Sept. 16 and The Renegades of Southern Rock on Sept. 17. The Southeast Missourian talked to Travis as he traveled on his tour bus about his career, the tragedy along the Gulf Coast and why he loves to play in Missouri.

Q: So what are you doing now, are you touring, are you promoting your latest album?

A: We tour all year long, pretty much like any country act out there.

But, you know, we'll do new things from a current album, but for the most part when we go and play a performance I just think most people are coming to hear the hits. There are certain songs, in other words, I feel like I have to do on stage, and I'm fortunate to say that -- "Forever and Ever Amen," "Diggin' Up Bones," "On the Other Hand," "1982." I'm very happy to say that, of course.

In this case, when we're booked to go play a country show, we'll go play the hits and maybe a couple people haven't heard.

Q: How many shows do you do in a year's time?

A: It'll be close to 100, I'm guessing this year. We've cut it down. We've been touring for 20 years, so at a certain point you just have to cut down.

It's not the doing the shows part, that part I love, I still truly love that. There's nothing like that feeling of working for a live audience. You don't get that from a camera or in the studio or anywhere else, but it's just the miles you have to do so you start cutting those down.

Q: Are you working on material for a new album right now or do you have any projects underway?

A:"Passing Through" is the newest album out there right now, and "Angels" is the single off that. A lot of areas have been playing it and some have just begun to play it, so we'll see what happens with that.

We have just finished recording another gospel project. They're shooting for trying to get something out into market before Christmas time.

Q: Two of your favorite charities are the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. With everything that's going on now with Hurricane Katrina, have you had thoughts on that?

A: We've been doing things with the Red Cross, of course, and every night telling people who they can call and where they can go on the Internet -- for those who are Internet savvy, which I'm not -- if they want to make a donation.

My wife and I both are members of two different churches, one being St. Louis Family Church, and the other being Cornerstone out in San Antonio, and both churches are heavily involved also, as far as going in and helping with food and water and going in and rebuilding.

As a performer, when there's a tragedy on the national level like this, is there something in the back of your mind where you're thinking about these tragedies that are going on?

This may sound like an odd answer, but I have found myself in situations, for instance right after 9/11 going up and performing and going to perform ... at funerals of friends when those requests have come along. Just for myself, to be honest, I have to take myself away from those kinds of thoughts.

You have to get away from it or you can't go through with what you're there to do.

When you got big on the scene, country was in an identity crisis, you came out with a more traditional sound. Now mainstream country sounds more like modern pop. Is there still room for that classic country out there?

Yeah, I think there's still room. When you look at the success Alan Jackson continues to have, that's a pretty good argument right there.

Brad Paisley came out and is continuing to do extremely well. Lee Ann Womack is a wonderful country singer, those are just a few examples.

So the market is still out there. It's a cycle. We're always going to go through more of the pop sounding stuff and back to the more traditional sounding stuff.

I obviously prefer the more traditional stuff. That's where my heart is.

But there are groups out there that have a pop sound, like Rascal Flatts. They have a pop sound but you can hear some bluegrass influence, and they sound great, there's no doubt about it.

You were one of the artists that helped propel country to mainstream status. Today, country is one of the most popular formats in music. What role do you think you might have had in helping country achieve the status where it's gripped the whole nation?

The timing plays a big part in a career. So many other things come into it also -- the timing, the material you choose to sing, the management, the record label being behind you --there are just so many aspects of this business that I think people like George Strait and Reba McEntire and Ricky Skaggs, Willie, Waylon, what they were doing was all just country stuff.

I think the people that run labels in Nashville a lot of times are slow to see the obvious, and after I had been turned down for 10 years by every label in town because I was a country singer, they saw "Maybe we ought to sign a few more Ricky Skaggs and John Andersons."

It's just the timing, or the perseverance, or the ignorance ... you get turned down for 10 years and still want to play.

When did you find out you have such a distinct voice?

I don't know. You start singing in front of people when you're 9 and you don't really pay attention to it.

Then I started singing in clubs when I was 14, and the same thing, it was just a job we were doing and you don't take too serious any kind of compliment that would come.

I guess I was around 17, when my [future] wife ... asked me if I had ever thought about singing for a career.

When you come here you'll be playing an outside venue at the fair. Do you prefer to play those outside shows or in an auditorium, or is there even a difference for you?

I like outdoor shows for sound purposes.

Every night's good. There are those really special nights, but those can happen inside, outside, it really doesn't matter the situation.

There's something that happens anywhere, regardless of where it is, inside or out. There's a wonderful exchange of energy. That usually happens at a smaller venue, when you pull the volume down and it's more intimate, you feel like you're singing to them in their living room.

But that can also happen at an outdoor show, there are just differences from night to night.

All throughout Missouri has always been a good area for us, it's always been a wonderful response.

How have you managed to stay successful for so long?

I can honestly say I've done just what I wanted to do. I think probably most people who have enjoyed any kind of longevity in this business would tell you the same thing.


Want to go?

* What: Randy Travis in concert

* Where: SEMO District Fair, Arena Park Fairgrounds

* When: Thursday, Sept. 15, 8 p.m.

* Info: 334-9250.

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