THE READING ROOM: Randy Travis Recounts His Storms of Life in Memoir
When Randy Travis released his breakthrough album, Storms of Life, in 1986, he had no idea how many of those storms he’d have to weather over the next 30 years of his own life. In his new autobiography, Forever and Ever, Amen: A Memoir of Music, Faith, and Braving the Storms of Life (Nelson), Travis reveals with candor and in a self-effacing style the many tempests and triumphs through which he’s traveled. He’s honest about his now-famous auto accident in 2012, out of which surfaced a video of a nude Travis — in a stupor from alcohol and sleeping pills, Travis had simply not put on clothes before he climbed into his car in the middle of the night to go to the store buy some cigarettes (though he had given up smoking 30 years earlier) — that went viral. That moment, and the year that followed, took Travis to the lowest points in his life.
Travis’ book opens as the blackest storm cloud breaks over him. Following his collapse from a virus in his heart that caused a massive stroke, Travis is lying in a semi-conscious state in his Nashville hospital room when he hears the doctors discussing his fate. “You should always be careful what you say in a hospital room when a patient is unconscious or in a coma,” he writes. “Don’t ever utter a negative statement about his or her condition because the person in the coma might well be able to hear you. I know that is true. Because when I was in that state someone said the unthinkable: ‘It’s time to pull the plug.’” His then-fiancé, Mary Davis, leaned in close to Travis and asked him if wanted to keep fighting; when a tear trickled down Travis’ face, Davis stood up and told the doctors, “Let’s do everything we can to save him.” As Travis writes, “I had braved numerous storms in my life and had frequently faced overwhelming odds, times when others had advised me to give up. I hadn’t quit then — and I wasn’t about to do it now.”
Travis pulls back from the brink of death, of course, and has been steadily recovering ever since, even singing a note or two at various events. In his autobiography Travis regales us with the stories of growing up in North Carolina, his life-long love of horses, his early breaks in Nashville, and the dizzying ascent to the heights of success in country music. He and his brother took up music as children, with his brother choosing guitar and Travis choosing to sing. After he won a talent contest in Charlotte, North Carolina, Travis met club owner Lib Hatcher, who recognized his talent, took him under her wing, and eventually whisked him off to Nashville, where his career gradually took off. Travis famously found himself a job at Nashville Palace, located out near Opryland, where he cooked, cleaned, and sang. The Palace featured a regular band, but Travis started filling in for the band on their breaks — and on his breaks from the kitchen. One night, Little Jimmy Dickens heard Travis and invited him to sing a song during Dickens’ half-hour spot on the Opry.
In many ways, the rest is history; Hatcher (whom he would marry in 1991) aggressively pushed Travis as an artist, ostensibly looking out for his best interests and promoting him all around Nashville. He eventually signed with Warner Bros. Records, releasing a series of albums that earned him a secure reputation as one of the artists credited with bringing back the strains of traditional country in the late 1980s. Travis released an album a year from 1986 to 1989 — Storms of Life (1986), Always & Forever (1987), Old 8×10 (1988), No Holdin’ Back (1989) — all of which went double platinum, and he offers insights into the songs — “Forever and Ever, Amen,” for example — that fill these albums. In the 2000s, Travis recorded several gospel albums, including 2002’s Rise and Shine — which includes “Three Wooden Crosses” — and he won several Dove Awards for his efforts.
Even in the midst of his success, storm clouds were growing, Travis reveals. Those around Travis grew more and more concerned over Hatcher’s overbearing, and almost dictatorial, ways. “The one point upon which everyone agreed was Lib’s domineering personality. Comparing her absolute control of nearly everything in my life to the domination of Elvis Presley by Colonel Parker, one friend quipped, ‘She makes Colonel Parker seem like a kindergartener,’” Travis writes. Eventually, Travis divorces Hatcher and drops her as his manager, and the split is far from amicable. During his hospitalization following his heart virus, Travis and his associates discover that his voice is not insured, and he has no insurance to cover the concerts he’s had to cancel as the results of his illness. “Lib and Gary Haber had been managing my career for more than thirty years, and we had paid between $225,000 and $250,000 a year on everything from Lib’s jewelry and furs to our office and bus, but we had no insurance on my voice or anything to cover canceled concerts at which I could no longer appear … This financial oversight — or perhaps willful disregard of mishandling of my fiduciary affairs — was the first indication that my health issues were not going to be the only problems we faced.”
By 2017, Travis had recovered enough to appear at various events, including a tribute to his music at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Garth Brooks closed the show by singing “Forever and Ever, Amen,” saving the final word for Travis, who brought the house down with his “Aaa-aa-amen.”
With a twinkle in his eye and a laugh in his voice, Travis accompanies us through the stormy nights and the brilliantly sunny days of his career. Forever and Ever, Amen is refreshingly honest, and offers an intimate glimpse of Travis’ struggles and successes. His fans will, of course, love the details he shares in his book, but even those only modestly acquainted with Travis’ music will discover moments of insight about the music business and might even be inspired to listen to some of his music.