Randy Travis Talks Carrie Underwood, Alan Jackson, Ray Price and 25 Years In Country Music
Randy Travis is a shoe-in to be a future Country Music Hall of Famer. In 1985, he gave country music a big boost by bringing a traditional sound and style back to the genre, and surprisingly it sold. Now, Travis celebrates 25 years in country music with his 59th single release, ‘Everything And All,’ from a special album that includes Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Josh Turner, Alan Jackson, George Jones and many more. The ‘Forever and Ever, Amen’ singer recently talked with Taste of Country about some of his friends, his songs and his 25th anniversary in country music.
You’ve had a lot of success working with Carrie Underwood. ‘Is It Still Over?’ is your second duet together. If we rewind a little bit, we all know you did the Grammy Award winning ‘I Told You So’ together on ‘American Idol’. How did your friendship with Carrie begin?
I know when I saw her first. [It] was playing a show with her out in California. She called and asked if she could record ‘I Told You So.’ I thought that was funny because you know, everyone listening to us may not, but if a song is written, copywritten, and published, anyone can record it. You and I can go find any song that’s copywritten, published, put it down and ask nobody. That’s just the way that works. So, the fact that she made it a point to call and ask, I was shocked by that and my comment was, “Oh yeah, you can do that! I got several hundred other songs in a publishing company over there and you can have anything in that you want.”
Looking back 25 years ago, when you were just getting started, is this where you thought you’d be 25 years down the line — that things would work out this great for you?
Oh, yeah, you know this was all part of my master plan [laughs]. Hardly! No, you know what? Back when I had gotten signed, an album that had sold about 100,000-150,000 units was considered a success. and again, I had been turned down by every label for a little over 10 years, but I always thought I could just make a living in this business. I never got discouraged about being turned down. I don’t know whether that’s ignorance or what, but I never got discouraged. I just always believed, continued to do so. But once it happened … when you look back at when “Storms of Life” was released, it went out and sold a million copies in under a year, and then we just started getting the nominations for the awards, so I’m sure I had the “deer in the headlights look” pretty often. You don’t plan for things, or I never did anyway.
You brought in a lot of other legends for the song ‘Didn’t We Shine?’ on your ‘Anniversary Celebration’ collection, and when you first listen to the song, the lyrics almost seem to be about the end of a relationship, but the way you did it, it kind of takes on a different meaning of artists reflecting on their career. Tell us how you got all these guys involved and why you picked who you picked to be on it.
Well, the whole album, we had a wish list that I gave to Kyle Lehning, who has produced just about everything that we’ve done in the last 25 years. I had made a list and listened to some new songs and figured out who would work on this song and this song, and we asked some of the people what they would like to do — an old song or a new song — so we let them choose a lot of times. What I’m getting to is that wish list could have continued growing. Kyle came to us at one point and said, “Look, you have to stop now if you’re gonna finish this album this year.” There are still a lot of people in this business that to me would be fun to work with. But when you look at the crew of people on ‘Didn’t We Shine’ first, Kyle had heard the song before me. Don Schlitz wrote it. He and I had this group of people that we wanted to put on a song — we didn’t know the song until finding it — George Jones, Gene Watson, Joe Stampley, Connie Smith, Lorrie Morgan and Ray Price. It was so much fun. I was in there; I had chills quite often on that day. That was one of the neatest days I have ever spent in the studio, working with all of those at the same time.
It’s awesome that you included Ray Price. He is 85-years-old and still sounds amazing. His voice is still just as pure, clear, and smooth as it was back in the ‘70s.
Isn’t that amazing? I was in there in there with him, well on the end of the song. Everyone listening won’t know this because they haven’t heard it. At the end of the song there’s a back and forth [sings] “Didn’t we shine.” so I’m in there playing — I just tend to do that a lot, messing around with melodies and vocal licks, so I’m in there doing that with George and everybody else and then he said, “Go ahead and do that with Ray, too,” and Ray was 84-years-old then. I went up from the octave we’re singing in, one octave above that and he answered back and he went exactly where I went — and believe me, it was at the top of my register, so I thought, “Hmmm, all right, I’m going to go to the octave at the bottom end of that.” And I went there and dog gone, he came right back and hit exact note for note. I thought, “Well, I’m done now, there’s nothing else I can do.” He’s amazing!
One of the other highlights of your new album is the medley of you and Alan Jackson singing each other’s hits on ‘Better Class of Losers’ and ‘She’s Got the Rhythm.’ I think sometimes people forget that you and Alan Jackson wrote some songs together.
Yeah, back in ’91, that was his first year on the road. Well, we worked the whole year together, so I think it was 11 songs that we wrot,e and he had a number one with ‘Rhythm’ and I had one with ‘Better Class.’ I actually had the idea and I don’t quite know why it came to me that way, but when we started talking about the possibility of doing one of these with Alan, I said, “Let’s put them both together” and it worked out real well. I didn’t know this — Jeff Davis, our tour manager, reminded me. We were sitting at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville, Kentucky and we wrote both of those songs the same day. I said, “I didn’t remember that.” I’ll tell you what, to write two in one day and both be number ones, my percentages usually aren’t that high. I give Alan most the credit. That boy’s a good writer. Man, he’s a good writer.
When you’re out there onstage singing and you look in the audience, what is one thing that makes you smile?
Well, there are a lot of things, but one is just to see people singing with you is a wonderful thing, and I’ve heard that to such a degree. Go back several years, didn’t have the ear monitors in and every once in a while all of us forget lyrics. I forgot the lyrics on ‘1982’ three or four times. It wasn’t good but the audience was laughing. I could hear them laughing at me above the music, and then they were singing the words to me. So that’s pretty fun when stuff like that happens because everybody knows you’re gonna blow lines here and there. We’re human. Barbara Mandrell would always say it’s a great exchange of energy from the stage to the audience. It’s just being in unlike anything I ever felt anywhere else. It’s kind of hard to describe.
You’ve been blessed to record quite a few compelling songs — songs like ‘Three Wooden Crosses,’ ‘The Box,’ ‘Point of Light,’ ‘Forever and Ever, Amen’ and ‘Angels.’ Out of all those songs, the ones that tell the stories, which is the one that you often hear stories about from your fans?
People do tell me things about ‘The Box.’ I’ve heard that quite often, about actually having that happen to them. Having people tell me about finding a box, or a drawer or things that that didn’t expect to find from their dad or their mom or whoever it may be. That and ‘He Walked on Water’ because a lot of people have those wonderful times with their grandparents, but it can be a mom, dad too. The song lends itself to a lot of areas there. Then, another that people have mentioned to me more than any other is ‘Forever and Ever, Amen,’ of course, because it’s been used in so many weddings.