On October 16th, 2016, when Randy Travis was officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in the institution’s exclusive medallion ceremony, Garth Brooks was the man who formally placed the medallion around Randy’s neck. “Name me any artist from any genre in the history of all music who took a format and turned it one hundred eighty degrees back to where it came from and made it bigger than it has ever been before?” Garth said as he spoke on Randy’s behalf. Brooks also proclaimed that he didn’t think he would be in the Hall of Fame himself if it wasn’t for Randy. The first quote you read on the sleeve of this new Randy Travis memoir is from Garth Brooks. It states in part, “Randy Travis saved country music.”
Garth Brooks is known for speaking in grandiose terms and falling into hyperbole at times. But these proclamations about the legacy of Randy Travis are hard to argue against. There have been bigger commercial stars in the history of country music, Garth included. But when it comes to influence and impact, Randy Travis may be one of the most significant in country music history, and most certainly in the modern era.
But unlike Garth, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, and the other massive artists that he would open the door for in the “Class of ’89” and beyond as a neotraditionalist that brought country back to its roots, Randy Travis was a shy, bashful, reserved, aw shucks kind of guy—an accidental superstar whose undeniable talent couldn’t be held back, despite the adversity he had to soldier through in his life with an overbearing father and a bout of troublemaking that led to some adolescent legal troubles, and the lack of opportunity as a performer who was dogged by being deemed “too country” early in his career. The details of these moments, along with the rest of his life and career are told with surprising candidness, honesty, and thoroughness considering Randy’s current physical condition in his new biography Forever and Ever, Amen, co-written with Ken Abraham.
The first question many will have is just how honest and thorough a book like this can be with Randy Travis still rendered unable to speak due to his 2013 health problems, including a massive stroke. It states at the very beginning of the book, “Because of certain circumstances I have experienced, I have relied on a number of individuals to help describe and fill in some details of this story.” But Travis is still able to communicate to some extent, and when reading Forever and Ever, Amen, you don’t feel like you’re getting the story from someone else’s perspective, or that this is simply a way to exploit his famous name and remarkable story of recovery for book royalties. If you want the definitive and unabridged perspective into the life of Randy Travis—from the victories to the falls from grace—it’s all here, and in forthright detail.
Randy Travis talks honestly about his early legal troubles as a kid in Marshville, North Carolina. He talks about smoking pot, which may upset some of his religious listeners (remember, Travis had a second wind in his career as a Christian music artist). Randy speaks honestly about sleeping with his much older, long-time manager (and later wife) Lib Hatcher while she was still married, and delves into the unusual, but wildly successful relationship the two had for nearly 20 years, taking Randy Travis from a struggling fry cook at the Nashville Palace near the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, to the first artist in country music traveling around with a high-end light and visual rig and playing arenas usually reserved for rock stars.
Of course what the public will find the most curiosity in will be Randy Travis’s legal troubles in 2012 where he was found lying in the road naked after crashing his Trans Am and accosting a local store clerk for cigarettes, or the assault charges against his soon to be brother-in-law. This all led up to his nearly life-ending viral cardiomyopathy heart condition, and eventually his massive stroke. Randy Travis pulls no punches about these sticky and embarrassing situations. He doesn’t try to gloss over them, or bury them under his accomplishments and accolades. He meets them head on, admits his faults when necessary, but also tells his side of the story, like how Ambien was mostly at fault for the naked Trans Am ride, or how he struck a plea deal that was supposed to see the dashcam video destroyed, but it eventually ended up in the hands of the press.
Randy’s brutally honest at times, and goes into great detail, including how for weeks he had a portion of his skull they removed to alleviate the swelling in his brain implanted in his abdomen so it wouldn’t decay, and exactly how he contracted the viral cardiomyopathy in the first place, which was on a movie set, and not the result of binge drinking compromising his health like so many assumed. In fact throughout the book, Randy Travis underscores his dedication to fitness, how he would regularly work out 2 to 4 hours a day, and participated in exercise initiatives with President George H.W. Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and others. Travis didn’t really drink at all for the majority of his professional career, partly due to the controlling nature of manager and wife Lib Hatcher. Randy’s health woes really were a bad luck of the draw, just as his recovery and rehabilitation were miraculous when at one point he was given only 1 or 2-percent chance of survival, and is now able to walk unassisted, and sing all four verses of “Amazing Grace.”
Reading through Forever And Ever, Amen you’re sometimes struck of how frankly boring Randy Travis’s life was while he was one of the biggest things in all of country music. He toured, spent time in the studio, worked out, and was married to a woman 15 years his senior. His current wife Mary doesn’t come across as an overbearing influence in this book, wanting to rewrite history as some may be concerned of. Despite all of her problems, Lib Hatcher is given proper due for putting Randy Travis on the map, and managing his career during its heyday, as well as mismanaging it near the end, and taking advantage of Randy at times.
If anyone’s life has played out like a country song, or a succession of them, it has been Randy Travis. And though his singing voice has gone away, his story continues to unfold and remain as compelling as many of his landmark hits that helped save country music. Forever and Ever, Amen has its dry spots, as did Randy’s life, and sometimes, especially near the end, the sappy nature of some stories and the tear-filled moments feel tedious. But it’s really remarkable that a work like this could be assembled under the circumstances, and that Randy’s story of perseverance could be shared in hopes of inspiring others from country fandom and beyond, which he does in the many captivating moments of Forever and Ever, Amen.