Perhaps more than anywhere else, the world of music loves a good comeback story, and after a surprise appearance last week, we are hopefully witnessing the beginning of another dramatic resurrection. Randy Travis, arguably the most distinctive voice of country music in the 1980s, was on hand February 3 for the funeral of Pierre de Wit, a noted businessman, in Bullard, which is a few miles south of Tyler in East Texas. His performance of iconic hymn "Amazing Grace" was his first public performance in almost three years, when a devastating stroke almost took his life.
The words to the Christian classic Travis sang are certainly cogent here, as Travis, who publicly battled substance abuse and legal troubles in the years immediately preceding his stroke, seems to be a living embodiment of the grace from the God he has vocally worshiped for many years that's as "bright shining as the sun." Having called Texas home for the past several years, Travis will hopefully continue to build upon this positive reboot.
In an all-too fitting turn, the last time Travis performed was during the Nashville memorial service for George Jones, where he also performed "Amazing Grace." Jones, who authored one of country music's most legendary comeback stories for himself, became infamous back in the 1960s for his erratic behavior attributed to hard drinking. Then in 1999, a car crash left the creator of more than a dozen chart-topping hits battling for his own life before triumphantly returning not only to the studio and onto the touring road, but to critical and commercial relevance, where he enjoyed the life of a distinguished elder statesman survivor until his death from respiratory failure.
Travis also performed "Amazing Grace" as an ode to a transcendent voice that will forever be linked to the very definition of what many consider to be true country music — just like his own rich baritone has been for three decades.
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Like so many other compelling comebacks — Johnny Cash, Porter Waggoner, even Loretta Lynn, to give a few prime examples — Travis has spent many years on the outside looking in on the current mainstream money makers. His signature neo-traditional style went from en vogue to passé in the eyes of radio programmers years before the new millennium began to welcome primarily songs about sexy tractors. But one look at his award-winning, big-selling and beautiful-sounding resume for the years between 1985 and 1990 is all it takes for one to see why a newly healthy Travis is more than a welcome development. While there's nothing currently reported in terms of Travis returning to music full-time, before his stroke there were a handful of examples to show he could stand in the spotlight with class when he felt the time was right.
In 2012, just a few months removed from two different embarrassing drunk driving-related arrests, one of which found an inebriated Travis naked and belligerent toward police, he appeared with the Avett Brothers for a CMT Crossroads special, where the famously bearded banjo brothers couldn't help but glow in the presence of one of their heroes. Last year, Travis, though seemingly not well enough to sing, made a surprise stop at the ACM Awards in Arlington at AT&T Stadium, where he was showered with a goosebump-inducing ovation.
For generations, country radio and the major record labels have made a disgusting habit of turning their collective backs on the trailblazers who once made them all very rich. Many of those true legends have passed away in recent years, leaving only a small handful of icons to carry the traditional country torch. While we may be reaching a bit to think we'll see Travis packing stages all over the country terribly soon, it's encouraging to think that his "Forever and Ever" isn't set in stone any longer.