Fishman Artist // Travis TrittTravis Tritt was one of the leading new country singers of the early '90s, holding his own against Garth Brooks, Clint Black, and Alan Jackson. He was the only one not to wear a hat and the only one to dip into bluesy Southern rock. Consequently, he developed a gutsy, outlaw image that distinguished him from the pack. Throughout the early '90s, he had a string of platinum albums and Top Ten singles, including three number one hits.
Born and raised in Marietta, Georgia, Tritt was an early and eager student of music, picking up guitar at age eight, singing in his church youth choir and playing in bluegrass, rock and country bands through his teens. His honky tonk history started when he applied his blue-collar work ethic to the diverse sounds of Southern popular music. Tritt spent years playing small clubs where he was expected to be able to cover everything from Hank Williams to Otis Redding to Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Travis was determined to have a musical career, but his parents didn't encourage him to follow his instincts. His mother didn't mind that he wanted to perform, but she wanted him to sing gospel; his father was afraid there was no money in singing. When he was 18, he tried to settle down, work, and have a family but was unsuccessful -- he was married and divorced twice before he was 22. He continued to play music while working various jobs, including one at an air-conditioning company. The company's vice president was a guitarist who gave up hopes of a musical career and urged Tritt to follow his dreams. Tritt quit his job and began pursuing a career full-time.
In 1982, Tritt began his pursuit by recording a demo tape at a private studio which was owned by Danny Davenport, who happened to be an executive at Warner Brothers. Davenport heard the vocalist's songs and was impressed, deciding to take Tritt under his wing. For the next several years, the pair recorded demo tapes while Tritt played the honky tonk circuit. The singer was developing a distinctive sound, adding elements of country-rock and Southern rock to his honky tonk style.
Partway through in 1989, Warner Brothers' Nashville division signed Tritt, and his debut album, Country Club, appeared in the stores in the spring 1990. His first single, Country Club, roared into the top 10, and the album of the same name went on to become the first of many platinum records. He won the CMA's prestigious Horizon Award in 1991, was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry the following year and amassed a body of hits including "I'm Gonna Be Somebody," "Here's A Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)," "Anymore," "Ten Feet Tall And Bulletproof," "Foolish Pride" and dozens more.
Despite his success, the Nashville music industry was hesitant to embrace Tritt. His music and stage show owed too much to rock & roll, and his image didn't conform with the behatted legions of new male singers. Nevertheless, Tritt had a breakthrough success with his second album, 1991's It's All About to Change. Prior to its release, he had hired manager Ken Kragen, who also worked with Lionel Richie, Trisha Yearwood, Kenny Rogers, and We Are the World. Kragen helped market Tritt in a way that appealed to both country fans and a mass audience, sending It's All About to Change into multi-platinum territory.
T-r-o-u-b-l-e, Tritt's third album, was released in 1992. Although it didn't match the success of It's All About to Change, it had the number one single, "Can I Trust You With My Heart," and went gold. Tritt bounced back in 1994 with Ten Feet Tall & Bulletproof, which went platinum, spawned the number one single "Foolish Pride," and marked his highest position, number 20, on the pop charts. His 1995 compilation Greatest Hits: From the Beginning went platinum within six months of its November release. Restless Kind was released in 1996, followed two years later by No More Looking Over My Shoulder; Down the Road I Go was issued in fall 2000.
The aptly titled Down The Road I Go, released in 2000, spawned four top ten hit singles and returned him to platinum stature. The 2002 follow up, Strong Enough, entered the country album chart at #4 with strong sales out of the gate. However, only two top twenty singles resulted from that disc. Which brings him to, My Honky Tonk History. Introduced by barroom piano and a shotgun blast, the album speeds into the aforementioned title track. The outlaw theme runs through to the fatalistic gospel of "Too Far To Turn Around," co-written by label mate Gretchen Wilson, who also lends backing vocals. First single "The Girl's Gone Wild" features Tritt's hardest-driving backbeat since "T-R-O-U-B-L-E."
"What Say You," a duet with John Mellencamp and featuring Bela Fleck on banjo, affirms traditional values but stops well short of being jingoistic. The album's first ballad, "Circus Leaving Town," is a little-known gem from singer/songwriter Philip Claypool that, through metaphor, explores the touring life's toll on a relationship.
A cover of Delbert McClinton's "Monkey Around" is high-test blues, powered by what might be the most explosive recorded vocal performance of Tritt's career. Even a traditional cut like "I See Me" follows the album's theme as the lament of former renegade who sees himself in his son.
The sole self-penned cut is a tender ode to lifelong love titled "We've Had It All," co-written with pal and former tour mate Marty Stuart. "When Good Ol' Boys Go Bad," "It's All About The Money" and "When In Rome" crank up the attitude again, while the stone country "Small Doses" finds heartbreak leaning on a familiar crutch.
Taken as a whole, My Honky Tonk History is far from a rehash of past glory, nor is it an attempt to return to previous successes. But why would an artist who has written the bulk of his own material only record one of his own songs? Why would someone whose talent has continually defied pigeonholing create such a laser-focused album? Why would a committed family man return to sounds that evoke images from a much more turbulent time in his life?
The answer might just be found in that startling confession at album's open. With nothing left to prove, personally or professionally, perhaps Travis Tritt finds himself unencumbered enough to revel almost exclusively in the sounds and themes of the music at his very core. Maybe, just maybe, the sound of outlaw music really has set him free.
Professionally, the new millennium marked a turning point as Tritt's relationship with his first label Warner Bros. deteriorated precipitously, and the singer soon found a new home with Sony/Columbia. Today, Travis Tritt is known not only as a country-rockin innovator, but as an artist who respects country-music tradition.
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