by Julian Spivey
Randy Travis was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville on Tuesday (March 29) and when he managed to get out the words “thank you” it marked his first public words since a stroke almost took his life and the ability to speak and walk in July of 2013.
Travis might not have as iconic status in country music as artists like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, George Jones and others, but his importance to country music should not be understated, though it seems it often is just that.
When Randy Travis came along in 1986 with the traditional throwback sound of “On the Other Hand,” his first career No. 1, the country music world was overrun with easy-listening Urban Cowboy-influenced music that no longer sounded like the stuff you would’ve heard from the likes of George Jones or Merle Haggard. It might not feel that bad today compared to the pop, rock and hip-hop influenced sounds that have been ruining country music for five or so years now, but the genre desperately needed to get back to its roots and Travis really helped usher that back into Nashville with a streak from 1986 to 1990 where 11 out of 13 singles he released shot to No. 1 on the Billboard country charts, including classics like “Forever & Ever, Amen,” “I Told You So” and “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart.”
There really haven’t been many artists throughout the genre’s history that one could say “helped save country music,” but Travis is one of those artists and that’s why he’s arguably one of the most important artists in the genre’s illustrious history.
Travis helped usher in artists like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black and others who found success with a sound many deemed neo-traditional. New-traditionalists really dominated the genre throughout the ‘90s, before a new wave of pop-influenced country stormed the charts starting around the turn of the new millennium.
There has been a lot of talk for years now about the genre of country music needing to be saved – some arguing whether or not it’s something that’s really even necessary. The genre has always gone through ebbs and flows, but has always come back to something resembling its roots in the past. It’s uncertain whether or not that will happen again, but artists like Chris Stapleton are certainly trying and succeeding in terms of awards, record sales and through critical acclaim, but haven’t seen results on the “good ole boys club” that is country radio.
Stapleton might wind up being the modern Travis, he’s got a terrific traditional voice like Travis and unlike Travis actually writes the majority of his material. He’s a performer come about at the right time, like Travis did 30 years ago, but it’s to be seen if the listeners, record executives and radio programmers are going to be as willing to let tradition back in as they were in the mid-80s. Maybe the genre has been ruined too much to be resurrected?
There may honestly never be another artist with the type of impact on the genre as Travis had in 1986 and the following years. That just hits home the importance of him as an artist and why his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame is really a no-brainer.