Born Randy Traywick, May 4, 1959, in Marshville, NC; son of Harold (owner of a construction company and farmer) and Bobbie (a textile worker) Traywick; married Lib Hatcher (his manager), May 31, 1991. Addresses: Management-- The Lib Hatcher Agency, P.O. Box 121137, 1610 16th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212.
Randy Travis was among the first performers of his generation to find a mainstream audience for traditional country music. By 1986, Travis, who grew up listening to his father's recordings of past country greats, had parlayed his down-home good looks, distinctive voice, and intelligent choice of material into country stardom. He was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 28 and was the first country artist ever to have a debut album sell over one million copies. As Jay Cocks put it in Time magazine, Travis had "not redefined country so much as reminded everyone of its truest instincts."
Travis was "discovered" in Nashville just as public taste began to reacquaint itself with conventional country music. His songs of love, heartache, and the realities of blue-collar life endeared him--and thus, country music itself--to a generation of listeners raised on rock and roll. In 1991 Pulse! contributor Robert Gordon equated Travis with country music's return to basics, explaining how the singer "rode the crest of the New Traditionalist movement which began halfway through the last decade, establishing an expansive audience that Nashville never knew existed."
Whether writing his own songs or choosing others to record, Travis steered clear of material even slightly pop- or rock-oriented. He has sung duos with such country music standard-bearers as George Jones, Roy Rogers, and Tammy Wynette. Travis's heartfelt dedication to pure country forms indeed proved the catalyst to his success; as Pulse! contributor Gordon suggested, he was in the right place at the right time, with a powerful strain of conviction in his performance. "You will know the voice right away, even if you have never heard it," Cocks reported. "A backcountry baritone canters along a line of swaying melody, taking it easy, taking everything easy. The prides, the miseries, the dalliances and departures that are the mother lode of country music, all are delved into and delivered up with the sidling grace of an unordained preacher taking the back door to honky-tonk heaven."
"I do try to sing with as much feeling as I can," Travis told the New York Times Magazine. "I lived a lot. I did a lot. I got started early, doin' a lot of things. That's some of what I learned from Hank [Williams Sr.] and [Merle Haggard] and [George] Jones--because when you listen to them sing a song, they can just make you believe everything about it. They just sing to you like it really happened to them. And to me, that's what singin's all about."
Travis was born Randy Traywick in Marshville, North Carolina, on May 4, 1959, one of five children. Both of his parents worked full-time--his father owned a construction company and his mother worked in a textile mill. The Traywicks owned a farm, too, and Randy helped raise turkeys and cattle. Harold Traywick, however, had other ambitions for his son. The elder Traywick was a fan of old-time country music, especially the works of Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers. Young Randy grew up listening to recordings from another era and despite the pull of rock and roll, fell in love with the country sound. "My brothers and sisters, people I went to school with--I mean, all of them--were definitely into rock 'n' roll," Travis told Time. "Sure, I heard it. I mean, if I was riding in a car with them, I didn't have a lot of choice. But it never really appealed to me that much."
What did appeal to Travis was country music, especially the George Jones and Merle Haggard songs of the late 1960s and early 1970s. When Travis was only ten, his father bought him a Gibson guitar for Christmas. A brother, Ricky, received a set of drums. With their parents' enthusiastic approval, the two began performing as "The Traywick Brothers" at local functions. Randy was still in grade school. "My folks pushed me to do it," Travis told People magazine. "It has always been in Daddy's mind especially." Travis absolutely hated school, dropping out before finishing the ninth grade. For a while he worked on his father's turkey farm and in the construction business, but he seemed more bent on getting into trouble than making a living.
He continued to perform--now as a solo singer--in tough venues where acts would be protected from the audience by chain link fence. Soon Travis was drinking excessively and using drugs. He has been brutally candid about his troubled teen years, telling Newsweek that he began drinking at 12 and using drugs at 14. "Sometimes a lot harder drugs, but at least marijuana every day," he admitted. "I think all that was part of why I got into so much trouble. Because I drank so much and did so many drugs that it was like it wasn't me. It was like another person was in control. Nobody can handle that kind of abuse. You go crazy, you're not mentally in control. I'm just thankful that cocaine wasn't around when I was going through my bad time. I'd have probably died. I'd have probably killed myself with it."
As it was, Travis nearly ruined his health and almost landed in prison before his eighteenth birthday. "I can't count the times I've been in jail," he told Time. Once he was arrested for leading police on a high-speed chase. Another time the charge was breaking and entering. Travis was saved, literally, by his voice. During one of his stable periods he had won a talent contest at Country City U.S.A., a nightclub in Charlotte, North Carolina. The club's owner, Lib Hatcher, was bowled over by his sincere delivery and shy presence on stage. Hatcher gave Travis the second chance he needed to stay out of jail and reconstruct his life. She told him he could be a big star and that she could help him get to the top. He believed her. "The main reason I eventually got straightened out was that I met my manager, Lib Hatcher," Travis told Stereo Review in 1989. "She gives great advice, and finally I found someone I could talk to. I never had that before. It was really a combination of her and my music. For the first time I took the music business seriously. It gave me something actually to do."
At 17, facing five years in prison for the breaking and entering charge, Travis was spared prison when Hatcher appeared in court on his behalf; she told the judge she would employ Travis full-time and take responsibility for him. She was granted custody, and Travis was warned that the next time he appeared in court, he had better bring his toothbrush. Thus, in 1976, a partnership began that would bring stardom to Travis and a millionaire lifestyle to the woman who believed in him. Travis moved in with Hatcher and her husband and began to sing regularly at Country City U.S.A. Hatcher's marriage ended shortly thereafter, and she devoted more and more of her energy to advancing Travis's career. She moved her club into a new building with more seats and scraped together $10,000 to record two singles on a tiny Louisiana record label.
Faith alone propelled the pair through some lean years. Travis told Country America magazine: "Lib and I have seen numerous Christmases together, and sometimes we didn't feel like we had very much to celebrate. Before we moved to Nashville, there were some pretty hard times in North Carolina.... For several years there, neither of us could really afford to buy much of anything for anybody. I was working at the nightclub in Charlotte that Lib owned, and it wasn't doing too well. There was hardly any money changing hands."
In 1980 Hatcher sold her Charlotte club and moved with Travis to Nashville. There they rented a bungalow on 16th Avenue, in the famed Music Row area, and sought work in which Travis would be most visible. Hatcher found a position managing the Nashville Palace, one of the many restaurants featuring live music located within a stone's throw of the Opryland complex. Travis went to work at the Palace as a short-order cook and singer. Billed as "Randy Ray," he would cook, wash dishes, sing, and then wash more dishes. He often worked from dawn until two a.m. "I don't know why I didn't get discouraged," he told People. "Lack of sense or something." Almost every record company in Nashville turned down "Randy Ray" at least once; Warner Bros. passed him over twice. Still Hatcher persisted, inviting Grand Ole Opry stars in to sing at the Palace and to hear her young protege.
Then Travis's style caught up with the times. The early 1980s saw the emergence of George Strait, Ricky Skaggs, and Reba McEntire, all performers with pure country--rather than pop, or "countrypolitan," as the 1970s trend toward watered-down country was called--orientation. Though Nashville executives still preferred artists with crossover potential, pointing to the success of the Charlie Daniels Band and Alabama among teens, Warner Bros. senior vice president Martha Sharp nevertheless went to the Palace to hear "Randy Ray" perform in 1985 and offered him a contract on the spot. "I loved his voice," she told the Los Angeles Times. "But I knew I was going to get a lot of guff. The prevailing opinion at that time was that he was too country, nothing that country would work. Still, my gut told me to go ahead."
The first thing Sharp did was change Randy Traywick's stage name to Randy Travis. Then she encouraged him to focus on his strengths--especially his robust but edgy voice and the vein of irony that helped temper his more sentimental songs. Travis's first album, Storms of Life, was released by Warner Bros. in June of 1986 with anticipated sales of 20,000 units. By the end of the year it had sold more than a million copies and yielded four hit singles: "1982," "On the Other Hand," "Diggin' Up Bones," and "Reasons I Cheat." Storms catapulted Travis from anonymity to becoming the winner of the Country Music Association's coveted Horizon Award--the equivalent of a "rookie of the year" honor.
During his years of struggle Travis and his band had journeyed to concerts in a converted bread truck; equipment was hauled in a van and horse trailer. By the beginning of 1987, the Travis entourage--still ably managed by Hatcher--traveled in the comfort of a $500,000 bus. Hatcher also found Travis a publicist, who signed the engaging young singer to some unlikely television appearances, including one on the rock-oriented Saturday Night Live. Through shrewd management and sheer hard work, Travis soon eclipsed many of the other New Traditionalists. His second album, Always and Forever, sold well over three million copies and remained at the Number One position on the country charts for a record 43 weeks. The release's most popular hit single, "Forever and Ever, Amen" was named favorite country single of 1987 by both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.
In 1988 the former cook at the Nashville Palace found himself performing at London's Royal Albert Hall, with Rolling Stone Mick Jagger in the audience. By that time Travis had massed three platinum albums and scores of fans, many of whom had never before given country music a second glance. As Bob Millard put it in Country Music magazine, Travis's popularity had grown to the point that he "can sell a million copies of anything with his voice on it." Still, Travis is not the type to rest on his laurels. As a member of the Grand Ole Opry, he could have settled in and comfortably churned out his trademark hits year after year as other singers came and went. Instead, the singer stretched his musical skills by writing more of his own material and tinkering with his style--without abandoning the pure country sound that made him famous. His 1991 album, High Lonesome, yielded two hits he co-wrote with country up-and-comer Alan Jackson, "Better Class of Losers" and "Forever Together." The latter, a heartfelt ballad of devotion to a loved one, crested the charts just as Travis married Lib Hatcher, in May of 1991.
Through it all Travis has remained modest about his success and grateful that he has made his mark without compromising to fit markets beyond country. "I have a voice that sounds like a country singer, and there's no way around that," he told Stereo Review. "Plus, I don't want to do anything else. I love country music." Country Music contributor Michael Bane called Travis "your basic lightning rod," adding, "With his successes, the floodgates opened, and, as it always has, country music changed, evolved. Within a few years, the business belonged to the 'men with hats,' traditional male vocalists." Some of these "hat acts," in fact--most notably country phenomenon and pop music fan Garth Brooks--outshined Travis in the early 1990s. As Alanna Nash concluded in Entertainment Weekly, "Travis's success opened the door to all those guys ... and they owe him more than a wave as they pass him by on the charts."
What they also owe Travis is respect for his tenacity and his integrity as a country musician first and a crossover artist second. The singer who lists his own personal favorites as George Jones and Merle Haggard told Pulse!, "Country music has changed some, but it still addresses the things that everyday people go through in everyday life. To me that's what country music is about."
by Anne Janette Johnson
Randy Travis's Career
Began performing with brother Ricky as "The Traywick Brothers," c. 1969; began solo career, c. 1973; performed at Country City U.S.A., Charlotte, NC, 1976-81, and the Nashville Palace, Nashville, TN, 1981-85; signed with Warner Bros. records and released first single, "On the Other Hand," 1985; became member of Grand Ole Opry, 1987; has toured America, Canada, and Europe; performed at President George Bush's inaugural ball, 1989.
Randy Travis's Awards
Academy of Country Music top new male vocalist award, 1985; Country Music Association Horizon Award and Academy of Country Music top male vocalist award, album of the year award, for Storms of Life, and best single award, for "On the Other Hand," all 1986; Country Music Association male vocalist of the year award, album of the year award, for Always and Forever, and single of the year award, for "Forever and Ever, Amen," all 1987; Grammy Awards for best country vocal performance/male, 1987, 1988, and 1993; American Music Award for favorite male vocalist/country, 1989, 1990.
- Selective Works
- On Warner Bros. Records, except where noted Storms of Life (includes "1982," "On the Other Hand," "Diggin' Up Bones," and "Reasons I Cheat"), 1986.
- Always and Forever 1987.
- Old 8 x 10 1988.
- An Old Time Christmas 1989.
- No Holdin' Back 1989.
- Heroes and Friends 1990.
- High Lonesome (includes "Better Class of Losers" and "Forever Together"), 1991.
- Greatest Hits (2 volumes), 1992.
- (Contributor) Barcelona Gold 1992.
- (Contributor) A Very Special Christmas II A&M, 1992.
- Soundtrack 1993.
November 11, 2003: Travis's album, Worship & Faith, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/country.jsp, November 12, 2003.
February 8, 2004: Travis won the Grammy Award for best southern, country, or bluegrass gospel album, for Rise and Shine. Source: 46th Grammy Awards, grammys.com/awards/grammy/46winners.aspx, February 8, 2004.
February 13, 2005: Travis won the Grammy Award for best southern, country, or bluegrass gospel album for Worship & Faith. Source: Grammys.com, www.grammys.com/awards/grammy/47winners, February 14, 2005.
- Newsmakers 1988, Gale, 1989.
- Vaughan, Andrew, Who's Who in New Country Music, St. Martin's, 1989.
- Periodicals Chicago Tribune, November 13, 1986; February 22, 1987.
- Country America, January 1992.
- Country Music, January/February 1991; March/April 1991; November/December 1991; January/February 1992; July/August 1992.
- Entertainment Weekly, March 20, 1992.
- Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1988.
- Newsweek, October 27, 1986; October 16, 1989; October 22, 1990.
- New York Times Magazine, June 25, 1989.
- People, November 10, 1986; June 24, 1991.
- Pulse!, November 1991.
- Stereo Review, September 1987; June 1989.
- Time, June 22, 1987; July 25, 1988.
- Washington Post, February 15, 1987.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Warner Bros. media information, 1992.