Randy Travis was an instrumental figure in country music’s transition from crossover ambitions to hard country retrenchment. Along with George Strait, he was the genre’s dominant male vocalist prior to the hegemony of neo-traditionalist "hat acts" in the early 1990s, whose style he’d played a major role in nurturing.
Born Randy Traywick in Marshville Carolina, his father—a farmer and construction company entrepreneur who greatly admired classic honky tonk singers like Hank Williams, George Jones, and Lefty Frizzell—encouraged him to learn guitar as an eight-year-old. By the end of the 1960s, he had teamed with brother Ricky to perform at area venues as the Traywick Brothers. Running away to nearby Charlotte at sixteen after his brother was incarcerated, he won a talent contest at Country City U.S.A. The bar’s owner, Lib Hatcher, immediately hired him as a performer, cook, and dishwasher. She also became his legal guardian when a judge pronounced him one transgression short of a long jail term.
As his manager, Hatcher helped Travis sign with the Paula label in 1978. Two singles—including "She’s My Woman" (Paula 431; #91 C&W—issued in 1979 flirted with the country charts. The couple (who would marry in May 1991) relocated to Nashville in 1982, where she managed the Nashville Palace. As the resident performer there, Travis made a recording, the independently released Randy Ray Live, sold largely at the nightclub.
The publicity ensuing from the album and his live shows lead to a record contract with Warner Bros. in 1985. His first release, "On the Other Hand" (Warner Bros. 28962; 1985), did not sell particularly well; however, when reissued following the Top Ten success of "1982" (Warner Bros. 28828; 1985), it rose to number one. His first LP for the label, Storms of Life (Warner Bros. 25435; 1986), achieved triple platinum sales. The follow-up, Always & Forever (Warner Bros. 25568; 1987), went quadruple platinum and helped earn Travis the Country Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year award for 1987. It also contained "Forever and Ever, Amen" (Warner Bros. 28384; 1987) the first of seven straight number one country singles, followed by "I Won’t Need You Anymore" (Warner Bros. 28246; 1987), "Too Gone Too Long" (Warner Bros. 28286; 1987), "I Told You So" (Warner Bros. 28256; 1987), "I Told You So" (Warner Bros. 27969; 1988), "Honky Tonk Moon" (Warner Bros. 27833; 1988), and "Deeper Than the Holler" (Warner 27689; 1988). Although his first nine Warner Bros. albums all achieved platinum or gold status, his aching vocals and bedrock country arrangements have not translated to a wider pop audience.
Although eclipsed commercially by rock-influenced artists such as Garth Brooks, Travis remained an important country artist in the 1990s. He switched labels, signing with the newly formed DreamWorks, in 1997. Inspirational Journey (DreamWorks, 2000), a collection of traditional and contemporary religious material, represented a stylistic change of pace typifying artists who have achieved institutional status.
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