It must have been the producer’s idea of a sick joke.
In 1989, Randy Travis, then relatively fresh-faced and new on the country-music circuit, was recording a duet with George Jones.
Looking back on the moment more than 20 years later, Travis isn’t ashamed to admit that he was “a nervous wreck” walking into that studio. Jones is one of four performers on Travis’ personal Country Mount Rushmore, alongside Merle Haggard, Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell.
As he worked his way up through the club scenes in his native North Carolina and later Nashville, Tenn., these were the guys Travis listened to, learned from and hoped to emulate with his own music.
This would be Travis’ first time working one-on-one with one of his idols. But as soon as they were ready to record, the producer threw him a curveball: Travis and Jones would record their vocals in the same booth.
“Why in the world would you put me in the same booth with him?” Travis said with a laugh. “I was nervous anyway, but he put me right in there with him. I was looking him in the eye; I could almost reach out and touch him.”
The fact that Travis, 52, can now talk about Jones as a familiar friend and collaborator says a lot about how far his career has come. Nowadays, Travis is the kind of star who gives younger artists the jitters.
At the moment, Travis is touring behind his Anniversary Celebration duets compilation, which commemorates the 25 years since the release of his landmark debut album, Storms of Life. Once again, Travis teamed with Jones, and this time their session was much more casual.
“I’d done it before, so it wasn’t as bad as usual,” Travis said of his takes with Jones.
The duets album also features contributions from Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Shelby Lynne … and on and on.
Travis said he was able to record about “90 per cent” of the album with his fellow musicians in the same studio, as opposed to them mailing in vocal takes. It made for a pleasant, open environment, with singers trading lines and jokes as they went.
“We were laughing in there quite often,” Travis said.
Hitting the quarter-century mark provides an opportunity for Travis to look back on his career a bit and appreciate the view, but he’s mainly concerned with forging ahead.
“I don’t really keep up with the passing of years or dates,” Travis said. “You don’t miss Christmas, obviously, or your birthday. But it’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years.”
As for what’s next, well, Travis can’t rightly say. He’s always been an in-the-moment kind of artist, writing new music as it comes to him and going from there. He’s hardly tired of touring, and has a steady stream of gigs lined up through October.
But outside of that itinerary, it’s wide open.
“I’ve never been one to make long-range plans,” Travis said. “I do well to plan two days in advance.”
Travis said he prefers more intimate venues to arena shows.
“I like this more — a small venue where the audience can hear everything you may say,” Travis said. “That’s what’s neat about it. There’s a rapport that’s hard to duplicate in front of 30,000 people.”
Scripps Howard News service.