When Randy Travis was an aspiring performer and was relegated to washing dishes and frying catfish at The Nashville Palace across the street from the Grand Ole Opry in the early 80’s, the answer he regularly received when approaching record labels was that he was too country for the day and age. Well, we all know how that eventually turned out when Randy finally received his shot. Not only did he become one of the best selling country artists of all time and is enshrined forever in the the Country Music Hall of Fame, Travis helped to lead a resurgence of interest in true country music that went well beyond his own career.
We find ourselves in a similar moment in country music here 40 years later. We’re coming out of an unprecedented period of pop, hip-hop, and EDM incursions into country, but nearly everywhere you look in the mainstream, twang, meaningful songs, and traditional instrumentation appear to be returning, with artists like Luke Combs and Jon Pardi setting the pace as opposed to the Bro-Country acts of the past.
Since Randy Travis was part of the last neotraditional country resurgence, he has unique insight into knowing if what we’re seeing now is real, or just a blip.
“Country music needed a transformation to go back to the traditional, and there were a lot of guys out there doing great country music, but, for some reason, radio wasn’t listening,” Randy’s wife Mary told The Boot recently at the 2019 ASCAP Awards where Randy was being honored with the Founder’s Award.
“Randy came along, and turned it on a dime and opened the doors for all of those guys who were doing it right. And of course, Randy stayed true to that—through his whole career. He stayed true to the traditional country music … That was in the late ’80s, and here we are almost 40 years later, and it’s about time to run again.”
And running it is. And Randy Travis has been paying attention personally, appearing at concerts for Cody Jinks and other artists who stay to the roots of country.
“We feel like it is beginning to turn back to the traditional,” Mary says. “It’s almost like fashion and everything else, there is an ebb and a flow. There are so many young artists that study Randy, and study some of the traditional [style], and they’re singing it.”
There is still a long way to go, and as Mary implies, these things work in ebbs and flows. So even with all the positive signs, things could begin flowing in the wrong direction at any point. But we could be sitting on the edge of what we saw in the mid 80’s when Randy Travis rose out of obscurity—a sincere and widespread return to country music’s traditional roots carried on the back of a wave of new, invigorating, and influential artists.