Thursday, May 14, 2009

Class of 89 - Travis Tritt

In honor of the 20th anniversary of debut of Country Music Class of 89, I am writing a series of posts on each of the artists. I am including those artists who debuted in 1989 – Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. I am also including artists – Vince Gill and Lorrie Morgan – who had their first true commercial impact in 1989.

Decided to do two posting today, so here a post about Travis Tritt.

In 1994 I was a member of the K102 (the local country music radio station) Country Club. Country Club members got special perks like free concert tickets. One of the free shows I got to go to was Travis Tritt’s.

Travis was originally signed to a “singles deal” which meant he was allowed to record a single, but not a whole album. The single was then release to country radio to see if there was any interest. Travis debut single “Country Club” made it to #9, and Travis had to quickly record his debut album “Country Club” which was released in early 1990.

Like fellow Class of 89 members Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Travis found almost instant commercial success. Travis’ first three albums - “Country Club” (1990), “It’s All About to Change” (1991), and “T-R-O-U-B-L-E (1992) - sold 2, 3, and 2 million copies respectively. He had just come off a successful co-headlining tour with hot new artist Trisha Yearwood. An in November of 1994 I was about to see his first big headlining show with Joe Diffie and LeRoy Parnell opening for him.

The show itself was electrifying. Travis had a huge lighted Harley Davidson Eagle hanging over his stage. He entered the stage riding a Harley (I read the fire marshal would not actually let him ride the Harley onto the stage, so he had the Harley rigged on a track so it could be pulled in making it look like he was riding it). Travis rocked most the night, showing seemingly unlimited energy. He also did a great acoustic set of country classics and his #1 hit “Anymore” that showcase his great voice. The crowd loved every minute of it. I left the arena that night with two thoughts:

  • Travis Tritt was a gifted live performer with a great voice.
  • He as not as popular as I thought he was. There were only 9,000 people there of which I figured 3 – 4,000 thousand got in free via the K102 Country Club. That was not the kind of crowd I expected to see at a superstar artists concert. In August of 1994 I had seen Alan Jackson perform in front of over 20,000 fully paying fans. Travis thought, as did others, he was on par with Alan Jackson. He was not.

That was Travis Tritt in a nutshell. He was a gifted artist who had major success, but he never could quite get over the hump to be the superstar that his fellow early 90’s country peers Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, and Brooks & Dunn became.

Travis had risen from being an artist not deemed worthy enough to get a record deal to record a full album to an artist who had an album sell 3 million copies. Travis also was an artist who had his first four studio albums combined for 9 million in sales and his next seven albums combined for 3 million albums.
Travis Tritt won the 1991 CMA Horizon Award, but never won another major award again winning only a few minor awards like Vocal Event and such.

The edgier Travis Tritt seemed a perfect fit for his record album - Warner Brothers - that was noted for having edgier artists like Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams Jr., and Dwight Yoakam, but Travis was one of the first major stars of the early 90s’ to leave his record label.

Travis Tritt viewed himself as a rebel who spoke his mind, but it was his harsh comments about Billy Ray Cyrus and Cyrus’ mega hit “Achy Breaky Heart” that made Travis look like a bad guy. In 1990’s country music fans expected their stars, especially superstars to be upstanding, kind, and humble. Travis Tritt may have been upstanding and kind most the time, but humble was not his gig. That may have cost him.

Like Clint Black, Travis Tirtt started strong then faded into background. Travis charted top 10 singles from 1989 to early 1997. He had a brief “comeback” charting four top tens from 2000 to 2002. After 2002 Tritt never reached the top 10 again and now has been gone through three record labels. He is currently suing his last record label.

I still hear Travis Tritt’s music on the radio. Mostly it is his up-tempo stuff, but an occasional ballad can be heard. I still listen to some his early albums. They have weathered time pretty well, and though they are not great albums, they are still good.

I always thought Travis Tritt would do more than he did. He seemed so talented, but perhaps he was not made to be a superstar. He was a star who had his moment, but his rebel ways never allowed him to be an artist that appealed to the greater masses for an extended time period. In fact that may never have been his true goal. Likely we will never know.

Here’s a video of Travis Tritt performing his major hit “Here’s a Quarter (Called Someone Who Cares)” at the 1991 CMA Awards. Enjoy it now before it disappears from YouTube.