Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

`Too Country' Travis Keeps Vintage Sound

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

`Too Country' Travis Keeps Vintage Sound

Article excerpt

There's no mistaking that voice.

It's a country legend on the voice mail. He's calling from a

car phone in Los Angeles, promising to call back in five

minutes.

The voice is deep, low, slow and oh-so mellow. You get the

feeling nothing short of a forest fire is going to rush Randy

Travis. Talk about being in the moment.

It's a voice that puts the world in slow motion and pulls

listeners close with tales compelling enough to sell 20 million

records, scoring 15 Top 10 hits along the way.

First Coast folks can hear those songs for free tomorrow night

when Travis performs a holiday concert at Metropolitan Park.

Travis said he'll be happy if his voice echoes a fraction of

the gut-level authority exuded by favorite male singers such as

George Jones, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Sr. and Lefty

Frizzell. Even if, he added, those singers' heartfelt vocals

often resulted from hard times.

"There's some deep believability that seems to come in part

from having led a rough life early on," said the 39-year-old

Travis. "It's too bad we made it so hard on ourselves as younger

men, but it does seem to add something to the music."

As a teenager in Marshville, N.C., Randy Traywick (as he was

known then) was a self-described hell-raiser caught in a cycle

of self-destruction that involved drink, drugs, fighting and

petty crime. He wrecked four cars, finally totaling his

brother's 396 Chevelle, and considers himself lucky to be alive.

The only positive force in his life was a fascination with

country music, and even that, it seemed, was being robbed of its

vitality by a flood of pop-sounding "Urban Cowboy" crossover

tunes.

"I just loved the old stuff," he said, "and I hated to see it

swept aside. Luckily, radio was still playing some Loretta

[Lynn] and some Conway [Twitty] back then. But the fact is, most

people were attempting to cross over. And I just thought it was

bad music. I still feel that way."

Although music insiders thought he was out of step, Travis

refused to back off his preference for vintage-sounding vocals,

fiddles, steel guitars and honky-tonk lyrics.

The rebel ninth-grade dropout found a kindred spirit in

Charlotte, N.C., club owner Lib Hatcher, who became his manager.

(Travis married Hatcher, nearly 20 years his senior, in 1991).

In 1981, Hatcher moved her client to Nashville, where he was

turned down by every record label in town.

"They told me I sounded too country for country music," said

Travis, clearly relishing the irony. "They didn't really come

right out and say I was going in the wrong direction, but I knew

that's what they thought."

Hatcher began managing a nightclub called The Nashville Palace,

where Travis was a dishwasher and short-order cook. …

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