Livin' a Country Song
June 1, 2017
The details of Travis Tritt's love life read like something straight out of your favorite country song. First, and almost predictably, he marries his high school sweetheart. While he works long hours with an air conditioning company, she slaves away at the local Burger King, the two kids just doing the best they can to get by. Two years later, and again, predictably, they divorce, and Tritt, a freshly minted 21-year-old now with alimony payments, takes up with a woman 12 years his senior. That marriage, whose dissolution will serve as the inspiration for his hit, "Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares") lasts a little longer than the first, with Tritt signing divorce papers from wife number two shortly after inking his record deal with Warner Brothers.
Finally, in 1997, Tritt marries his true love, Theresa Nelson, with whom he later has two sons and a daughter.
As so often happens in a good ballad, what begins in drama and divorce ends in happily ever after. And Tritt, whose early working life had him doing time not only at that air conditioning company but as a salesman in a furniture store and a clerk in a supermarket, can now rest easy on his country laurels, which include seven certified Platinum albums, two Grammys, four CMAs and an enviable lifetime membership in the Grand Ole Opry.
Not that he's been tempted to slack at any point in his nearly 30-year-career. Quite the contrary. Tritt, who will take the stage at the Foellinger Theatre Friday, July 1, is a road warrior, touring the U.S. and Canada almost constantly, treating fans to live versions of his greatest hits, not to mention some of his lesser known but still beloved songs about what it means to a bona fide country singer-songwriter in a world often dominated by a crowd of empty cowboy hats.
Tritt taught himself how to play guitar at age eight, inspired by hearing his church choir sing Ray Stevens's "Everything is Beautiful." A prodigy, he started performing for fellow students at his school and joined his church band, his parents having sprung for a better guitar when they saw he was serious about his art. At first, Tritt stuck to covers, but during high school he started writing his own songs, and one in particular, "Spend a Little Time," written about an ex-girlfriend, caught the ear of his buddies. Convinced of his talent, they encouraged him to stick with it.
His parents were a bit more conflicted. His dad thought Tritt's interest in music was just a hobby. He was sure his son would never be able to make a living playing guitar. And Tritt's mother wished he would stay on the Christian music side of the fence. But Tritt was pure country from the very beginning. It was right there in the title of the demo Tritt worked on with Warner Bros. records executive Danny Davenport: Proud of the Country. Tritt couldn't hide his pride in the genre he loved so much. He didn't want to. And, as the coming years would prove, he didn't have to.
Warner Bros. Nashville division signed Tritt in 1987 on the strength of the songs on Proud of the Country, but the contract came with a caveat: he'd only get an actual record deal if one of three released singles became a hit. The Warner Bros. folks need not have worried. All but one of the demo's songs went on to be a chart-topper, resulting in Tritt's 1990 debut, Country Club.
The title track, which spent 26 weeks on the Hot Country Singles and Tracks charts, tells the tale of a pickup-driving, beer-swilling country boy who dares to make the moves on a country club girl. Said girl is almost affronted by the boy's advances. "I'll have to pass," she says, "'cause only members are allowed in here."
In Tritt's hands, however, being a member of the country club means dancing like a fool on a Friday night and bouncing aroundin back lanes in worn out jeans. It means Dixie cups and roadside pubs and hard-won games of pool. And it's all about attitude. Country boys go for it. They embrace fun over fussiness, value good times rather than the right address, and they aren't about to let snobs stand in their way.
Tritt became a member an exclusive club himself, joining the so-called Class of '89, a group of country boys that dominated the charts in the late 80s and early 90s. Garth Brooks, Clint Black and Alan Jackson were his wildly popular classmates. "Country Club," as well instant hits "Help Me Hold On," "I'm Gonna Be Somebody" and "Drift Off to Dream," earned Tritt his record deal, and in 1990, Warner Bros. released his debut full-length, Country Club, which, in turn, garnered him a legion of fans, an Horizon Award nom from the CMAs and the Top New Male Artist win from Billboard.
The very next year he put out his sophomore effort, It's All About to Change, and he couldn't have been more right. The album sold 3 million copies and went on to triple Platinum certification. It also lassoed him a tour with country legend Marty Stuart. The brothers from another mother recorded two hit duets - "The Whiskey Ain't Working" and "This One's Gonna Hurt You (for a Long, Long Time)" - and have toured together several times.
Tritt is known for his mainstream country/Southern rock style, crystal clear in early singles like "Nothing Short of Dying," "Bible Belt" and "Anymore," but also in his later work, which, in some critics' minds is his best. T-R-O-U-B-L-E, Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof, The Restless Kind, No More Looking over My Shoulder, Down the Road I Go, Strong Enough, My Honky Tonk History, The Storm and The Calm After might not have registered as high on the Richter scale as **It's All About to Change**, but the albums and their top tracks - "Can I Trust You With My Heart," "Best Intentions," "The Girl's Gone Wild," to name a few -- reveal an artist with a lot to say and miles to go before he sleeps.