M.S.+R.T. 4ever (and ever, amen)

My taste in music is varied, which, according to a high school boyfriend, means I listen to crap. I disagree with his opinion, and since one of my favorite artists, Randy Travis, was announced this week as one of this year’s inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, I’d say there are a few other people out there who agree with my taste in music.

Being the child of an avid country music fan, I’ve listened to Randy Travis for as long as I can remember. He burst onto the music scene a few years before I was born, so by the time the nineties rolled around, he was solidifying his place in country music legend, forging his own path while still preserving the heart of the genre (an ability many contemporary artists lack). Even before I thought to remember singers’ names, I recognized the distinctive baritone of Randy Travis from a young age and associated that voice with happy memories. For example, “Forever and Ever, Amen,” the titular reference in this post, always got me in a good mood in the back seat of my dad’s red Bonneville as we took back roads to Belew’s Dairy Bar in Aurora, Ky., for special occasions, like the Fourth of July.

I cast Randy aside, but didn’t forget him, for a few years in exchange for Elvis Presley and the Beach Boys (yeah, I was born in the wrong era). Then he released the album Rise and Shine in 2002, which included the song “Three Wooden Crosses.” At 12 years old, I was old enough to appreciate the messages of Travis’ songs, totally captivated by “Three Wooden Crosses,” and my parents bought me Rise and Shine, followed soon thereafter by The Very Best of Randy Travis, a compilation released in 2004. The genius of the lyrics of songs like “Diggin’ Up Bones” and “On the Other Hand” hit me hard, and I still don’t expect to recover.

In 2006, my dad heard that Randy was performing a concert nearby in Owensboro, Ky. I don’t remember giving him time to even ask me; I think I just told him I’d love to go with him. I’d wanted to go to a concert with just my dad for several years. It was an occasion I’d hoped for ever since he took my sister to see Reba McEntire back in the early nineties. Because my dad was the very reason I cherished Randy Travis’ music, I couldn’t think of a better first concert to attend.

The concert hall was intimate, and I had my The Very Best of Randy Travis CD in my purse in case he browsed through the crowd signing autographs. That didn’t happen, but I’d mostly forgotten to even consider it once the man I’d grown up listening to appeared on stage to “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart” and a storm of applause and cheers. As we drove home that night, I didn’t listen to the album on my CD player because I wanted to preserve the songs exactly as I’d heard them – at least for a while – and I kept thinking, “Man…I just saw a living legend.” Additionally, because of Randy Travis, I have a memory with my dad that I’ll never forget.

About a year later, my family and I developed an on-going joke from the film The Rainmaker, in which Randy Travis has a small part. He plays Billy Porter, a hot-tempered, foul-mouthed juror who unknowingly gets caught in a playful scheme by the prosecutor (Matt Damon) to put an end to the eavesdropping of the defense attorney (Jon Voight). Watch the clip below. It’ll be the best three and a half minutes of your life. My dad and I to this day typically refer to Randy as “Mr. Porter,” adding it to the list of inside jokes between us. Just another great memory because of Randy Travis.

A few years later, Randy fell from grace, boozing outside a church less than a year after ending his 19-year marriage. Following were other incidents involving drunk driving, nudity and assault. In July 2013, just five months after reaching a plea deal in his assault case and pleading guilty in his naked/drunk driving case, Randy was hospitalized in critical condition with heart disease. He suffered a massive stroke, and, according to The Tennessean, can now only speak in one-word sentences.

But thank goodness he can still sing.

Not all of Randy’s life has been pretty. He’s lived his first album’s title, Storms Of Life; the storms during his teenage years and later in life often by his own hand. But it’s those kinds of stories that make a celebrity like Randy Travis real, relatable. He doesn’t disguise that he’s made mistakes. He even acknowledges it in his song “I’m Gonna Have a Little Talk”:

The Lord said I could call on Him

whenever I feel low.

Any time or place I needed Him

He would gladly go.

Now, my life has not been perfect,

no matter how I try,

but He’s never turned his back on me

and that’s the reason why

I’m gonna have a little talk with Jesus…

Randy Travis also doesn’t disguise that he’s a man of faith, and it seems to have been his faith that’s gotten him through those storms. His current wife said in his Country Music Hall of Fame acceptance speech this week that he “must have ‘had a little talk with Jesus'” during his sickness, because he came back from the brink of death and still flashes that signature smile three years later.

His songs, that red Bonneville, Owensboro and jokes with my dad will always be close to my heart.

Congratulations, Randy. Thanks for the music and the memories.


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