Family & Companions
One of the most popular and acclaimed country and gospel singers of all time, Randy Travis was blessed with an instantly recognizable, deep voice. He became a star thanks to the efforts of his much older manager-turned-secret wife, Lib Hatcher, and scored an amazing run of No. 1 hits that included "On the Other Hand," "Forever and Ever, Amen," "Deeper Than the Holler," and "It's Just A Matter of Time." Arguably the most dominant country star of the late 1980s, Travis also acted, scoring parts in such projects as "Frank & Jesse" (1995), "The Rainmaker" (1997) and a recurring role on "Touched by an Angel" (CBS, 1994-2003). As country music tastes changed, Travis reinvented himself as a first-rate gospel singer, to enormous critical and impressive commercial success. Selling more than 20 million albums over his career and winning numerous Grammys and Academy of Country Music Awards, the singer's golden legacy was increasingly in danger of being tarnished by his frequent later-career run-ins with the law. Despite his personal demons, Randy Travis was unquestionably one of the most gifted and acclaimed voices of his chosen genres, and built an amazing song catalog impressive enough to stand the test of time.
Born May 4, 1959 in Marshville, NC, Randy Bruce Traywick grew up steeped in traditional country and honky tonk music and learned to play the guitar at age eight. (He would later adopt "Randy Travis" as his stage name.) Although he formed a duo, The Traywick Brothers, with his sibling Ricky, Travis made little professional traction since the two were more interested in youthful hijinks - both innocent and not-so-innocent; Ricky ended up in jail and the teenage Travis ran away to Charlotte, NC. Fate smiled on him, however, when he caught the eye of bar owner Elizabeth "Lib" Hatcher, who saw something special in the young man. After he won a talent contest at her bar, Country City USA, she hired him on as a singer and cook.
Although he seemed unable to stay on the right side of the law, Hatcher proved a grounding influence on the young man, and she became his manager, and eventually much more. Although she was married at the time and significantly older than Travis, Hatcher's marriage fell apart as she devoted all her energy to helping his career get off the ground. After recording his first album, 1978's Randy Trawick, the singer managed to notch a minor chart hit, "She's My Woman." Although the set was by no means a mainstream success, it emboldened Hatcher and Travis to concentrate full-time on his career, which put the final nail in Hatcher's marriage's coffin.
In 1982, Travis and Hatcher moved to Nashville, TN together, where she managed the Nashville Palace where he once again did double duty as a cook and singer. They cobbled together an indie album, 1982's Randy Ray: Live at the Nashville Palace, and continued their nonstop attempts to launch Travis. Although every Nashville music label rejected him - in some cases, more than once - eventually the couples' persistence paid off and he was signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1985. By this point, Hatcher and Travis had begun a romance, which the label quickly swept under the rug as it renamed the singer "Randy Travis." The secrecy of the couple's romance and their age difference would go a long way to adding fuel to rumors about the singer's private life as he became famous.
With a deep, powerful voice and unmistakably pure country presence, Travis immediately stood out among his Nashville peers. While the public was slow to warm to him, critics and radio programmers threw their support behind him from the start, and by the time his debut album, 1986's Storms of Life, was released, the singer's momentum proved unstoppable. The album went to No. 1 on the country charts and sold more than three million copies, spinning off a string of hit singles like the No. 1 hits "Diggin' Up Bones" and "On the Other Hand," as well as the No. 2 hit "No Place Like Home." From the Academy of Country Music Awards, he won Top New Male Vocalist and Single of the Year as well as the Country Music Association' Horizon Award.
Eschewing style for substance, the handsome, earnest Travis struck a chord with audiences and critics alike, and his second album, 1987's mega-selling, era-defining Always & Forever spawned an amazing four No. 1 hits: "Forever and Ever, Amen," "I Won't Need You Anymore (Always and Forever)," "Too Gone Too Long" and "I Told You So." He again took the Academy of Country Music's Top Male Vocalist and both Single and Song of the Year; Favorite Country Male Artist, Album and Single from the American Music Awards; and Male Vocalist of the Year and Single of the Year from the Country Music Association. Scoring mainstream success as well, Travis also won a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
The singer's chart dominance continued with 1988's Grammy-winning Old 8x10, which contained the number ones "Honky Tonk Moon," "Is It Still Over?" and "Deeper Than the Holler" as well as scoring him three additional American Music Awards and another Male Vocalist of the Year from the Country Music Association. As the 1990s dawned, however, Travis saw his competition begin to eclipse him; although Travis had arguably the best male voice in the genre, he lacked the showmanship, drive and charisma of Garth Brooks, who quickly took his crown as the king of country music. Regardless, Travis retained a well deserved image as a critical darling, and scored two No. 1 singles off of 1989's No Holdin' Back - "It's Just a Matter of Time" and "Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart."
Awarded membership into the Grand Old Opry and given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he was unquestionably still a superstar, yet at a slightly lower wattage. Travis continued to release albums like 1990's Heroes & Friends and 1991's High Lonesome, which spun off the No. 1 hit "Forever Together." His 1992 double disc of Greatest Hits earned him two additional No. 1 singles, "If I Didn't Have You" and "Look Heart, No Hands." He married Hatcher in 1991 and also began to dabble in acting, recurring on "Matlock" (NBC, 1986-1992; ABC, 1992-95) and filming roles in several Westerns, including "Outlaws: The Legend of O.B. Taggart" (1994), "Texas" (ABC, 1994) and "Frank & Jesse" (1995). Humming along steadily, his music career continued with the 1992 album Wind in the Wire and 1994's This Is Me, which scored him another No. 1, "Whisper My Name."
After 1996's Full Circle, Travis jumped ship to sign with the DreamWorks label, and released 1998's You and You Alone, which spawned the No. 2 hits "Out of My Bones" and "Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man" and 1999's Man Ain't Made of Stone. His screen career had continued in a lower-key manner as well, with Travis appearing most often in genre projects like "Fire Down Below" (1997) and "Black Dog" (1998), although he did land higher-profile credits, such as roles in "The Rainmaker" (1997), recurring on "Touched by an Angel" (CBS, 1994-2003) and an especially memorable guest spot on "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" (ABC, 1996-2000; The WB, 2000-03), where magical aunts Hilda (Caroline Rhea) and Zelda (Beth Broderick) repeatedly conjure him up as their perfect man.
At a crossroads in his career, Travis changed his professional direction to focus on gospel and religious music, releasing such sets as 2000's Inspirational Journey, 2002's Rise and Shine, 2003's Worship & Faith 2007's Glory Train: Songs of Faith, Worship, and Praise, which revitalized his career. Travis, who had always had a public reserve about him, flourished in his new genre, which prioritized soulful singing and spare arrangements over crowd-pleasing showstoppers. His renewed zest for what he considered more impactful music paid off with fans and critics alike, earning him a late-career No. 1, "Three Wooden Crosses," as well as a string of Grammys and Gospel Music Association Dove Awards. Travis served as a mentor on "American Idol" (Fox, 2002-16) and also saw his duet with "Idol" winner Carrie Underwood, "I Told You So," hit No. 2 on the country charts and go Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100.
Despite his success and persona as a pious Southern gentleman, Travis certainly had his share of personal demons. Long plagued by gay rumors (which he always denied), Travis's secret-but-not-secret relationship/marriage with the much-older Hatcher served as a flashpoint for many, and when the two divorced in 2010 - severing all business ties as well - it set some tongues wagging. Very few people would have expected what came next, however, when Travis began a series of highly embarrassing run-ins with the law in Texas. After being arrested for public intoxication while sitting in his car in a church parking lot in February 2012, Travis made national headlines for his bizarre behavior that August. After allegedly entering a gas station fully nude and demanding cigarettes, a drunken Travis had allegedly crashed his car and was found lying, still naked, in the road by police officers. Compounding an already bad situation, Travis reportedly threatened the officers and the odd story caught fire in the media. Travis again ran afoul of the law less than a month later, when on Aug. 24, 2012, he was arrested for fighting another man in a church parking lot at 1:00 a.m.
By Jonathan Riggs