Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Country singer Randy Travis is alive, but career and credibility are all but dead
How sad that after so much industry and fan reverence, Travis derailed. Again.
This isn’t an obituary. Well, at least not the usual kind. Randy Travis is very much alive. It’s his career and his credibility that have died.
Travis was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated and retaliation and obstruction last night in Grayson County. He was found naked. This new incident follows a February arrest for public intoxication outside a Sanger church.
The famed, respected traditional country singer has seemingly regressed to his pre-stardom days. Both incidents come nearly two years after Travis divorced Elizabeth “Lib” Hatcher, his wife of 19 years and the woman who helped launch his career. That connection is key namely because Hatcher has long been credited as rescuing Travis from a life that was spiraling out of control. Travis, a high school dropout, was essentially a juvenile delinquent with various arrests for auto theft and burglary.
In the mid ’70s, the burgeoning country singer won a talent contest at a Charlotte, North Carolina, nightclub that Hatcher owned. She took an interest in Travis (who then used his real last name Traywick), hired him as a cook, put him onstage regularly and eventually began managing his career. Travis and Hatcher eventually married in 1991.
By then Travis was a country music superstar, a beacon recognized with turning the genre’s tide away from a slick, pop-heavy sound to a rich, resonant traditional style. Travis, along with Dwight Yoakam, spearheaded the new traditionalist movement in 1986. That was the year Storms of Life hit the shelves. Travis’ real country masterpiece spawned timeless classics in “On the Other Hand,” “1982″ and “Diggin’ Up Bones.” The album went on to sell 3 million copies in the United States.
Travis’ career remained charmed for the next seven years. He amassed chart-topping singles with breakneck speed, and he sold another 13 million albums stateside. He swept industry honors, taking home Grammy Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards and Country Music Association Awards.
And even when he lost some favor at country radio in the late ’90s, Travis managed to reinvent himself as a Southern gospel singer. He didn’t change his style any, only his song lyrics. In 2002, he enjoyed a surprise No. 1 mainstream country hit with the story song “Three Wooden Crosses.”
Travis’ influence has been immense. Just as he was inspired by traditional country singers George Jones and Lefty Frizzell, among many others, Travis would in turn prove instrumental in the vocal styling of Alan Jackson, Josh Turner, Brad Paisley, Tracy Byrd, Kenny Chesney and countless more. Contemporary country singers such as Paisley, Chesney, Carrie Underwood and a slew of others took the microphone with Travis for a revamping of his career hits on 2011′s 25 Anniversary Celebration, a high profile album that marked the professional milestone.
How sad that after all that glory, after so much industry and fan reverence, and after maintaining a sterling image for more than 30 years, Travis would derail again. While he’s certainly not the first musician – country or otherwise – to battle substance abuse in the public eye, he’s one we all thought had long ago sowed his dysfunctional oats.
This isn’t to say that Travis couldn’t mount a huge comeback somewhere down the road. A public apology, rehabilitation and a few sobering, wrenching country singles could certainly restore him to past grandeur. George Jones did it. So did Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash.
But there’s something different about Travis. He seemed the shining example of a youth gone bad and an adulthood done right. At 53, he should know better, especially since he had already experienced the other side firsthand.