Randy Bruce Traywick was trouble pretty much out of the gate and for all his later good fortune, has been well acquainted with trouble and troubles ever since.
Now better known as country singer Randy Travis, he lies in a coma in a Texas hospital as I write this, barely 54 but with more miles on him than most men acquire in twice that time. And whether he will live, let alone ever sing again, is very much in doubt.
But what I want to say here is less a eulogy than an appreciation of a man who is among the nicest, kindest, gentlest people you could ever want to meet and yet seems to have constantly been burdened with demons that came in endless Legion.
Travis dropped out of school in Grade nine, repeatedly arrested for car theft, burglary and getting in fights. A sympathetic judge finally agreed to assign him to the care of an older woman who ran a roadhouse where Randy worked as both a cook and a part time singer.
She began giving him more stage gigs and eventually the money to cut a demo album. But the record was turned down by every single record company in Nashville because it was “too country”.
He was a country singer too country for the home of country music.
But he kept plugging away, working as a cook by day and at any singing gig he could get at night. His bar owner manager left her husband and moved in with Travis. She was 37 and he was 17.
Some said it was love. Some that it was Mommy issues. Some figured they were trying to squash the rumors that he was gay.
In 1985, Warner decided to take a chance on the kid. They changed his name, swore him to silence about his relationship and released a record aptly titled “Storms of Life”. It would sell 4 million copies.
In the years since, Randy Travis has sold 30 million records, registered a string of 16 number one hits, won Grammys and just about every statue Country music hands out as he established himself as a musical legend.
At the same time, he ran up a rap sheet of drunken fights, trashed cars, DUIs, threatening cops and other incidents of bizarre behavior including being busted in a convenience store naked while demanding somebody give him some damn cigarettes.
His personal life has been a debacle. But professionally…
He took country music to a whole other level, blending the greats of its past with the needs of its current and future audience. Travis is both one of the easiest guys to listen to and one of the hardest, choosing subject matter and vocal phrasing nobody else would touch and making hearing it that much more rewarding an experience.
He can make the cheesiest lyric create a lump in your throat and a sentiment you would never espouse something you take to your heart.
Although he has defied the odds before, it’s hard to imagine Randy Travis overcoming what he now faces. But whatever comes of this moment, I hope it finally grants him peace.
Enjoy Your Sunday.
His last hit single…
And something old made new…