In 1986, with the release of his debut studio album, Storms of Life, Randy Travis was revered not only for his artistry but also for reversing the pop-country trend of the urban cowboy years, bringing the genre back to its roots and making “neo-traditional” country popular again.
He was a country star almost out of central casting — authentically homespun, respectful of his elders, his voice steeped in the inflections of his idols, primarily Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard and George Jones.
But with the fame and riches — he’s lassoed 22 No. 1 singles, four platinum albums, one double platinum, one triple platinum and a quintuple platinum — came turmoil: a 2010 divorce and attendant financial woes, and in 2012, driving while intoxicated and bizarre public behavior that hearkened to his early years of juvenile delinquency and arrests. (Travis chronicles his beginnings in his 2019 book, Forever and Ever, Amen: A Memoir of Music, Faith, and Braving the Storms of Life, with author Ken Abraham.)
He was just beginning to get his life back on track with the help of Mary Davis, whom he began dating post-divorce.
Then in 2013, Travis was admitted to a Dallas area hospital for viral cardiomyopathy after complaining of congestion. Doctors found that his lungs had filled with fluid, his condition critical.
“Randy flatlined,” says Mary Davis Travis, who wed the star in 2015. “And it took the doctors a little over three minutes to get him back. When they resuscitated him, it threw a clot and went to the brain. But he was in a coma for the next three days, so they didn’t realize he had a massive stroke while he was in the coma.”
Doctors told Mary that Randy would need immediate brain surgery, and even then, “They said, ‘You’ve got one to two percent chance.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s 100 percent over zero.’ Randy is a warrior. He stared death in the face and didn’t blink, and here we are today, seven years later. It’s hard to believe.”
“Yeah,” says Randy, a bit of awe in his voice.
Following the near-fatal stroke that permanently affected the left side of his brain, he had to learn how to walk and talk again. Because Randy can only speak in brief sentences, Mary speaks for the two of them. But he can still sing a bit — just not with the stamina to record an album or give a concert.
“The aphasia that he was left with keeps him from speaking in full sentences,” Mary says. “Music is a little different, because it’s stored on the right side of the brain, the artistic and memory side. So the songs are all there. He knows all the words, but the aphasia doesn’t let the brain speak to the mouth and let them come out like they used to.”
And Travis still feels the music in his bones.
In late July, Travis released “Fool’s Love Affair,” a demo he recorded in 1984, before his career took off. Dusted off with enhanced instrumental backing, the song quickly racked up more than 1 million streams on digital platforms. Travis’ “honey-running baritone,” as Mary calls it, can be heard again.
Randy also makes a guest appearance on Josh Turner’s just-out remake of Travis’ classic song “Forever and Ever, Amen.” That’s Randy’s emotional “Amen” at the end of the tune, which appears on Turner’s album Country State of Mind — Travis’ performance was his first recording session since his stroke.
“Randy has always been my hero,” Turner says. “He was the reason I wanted to become a country singer. He’s an inspiring figure, not just to me but to a lot of people, so to have him sing on this record is pretty special.”
Guest Playlist by Randy Travis
Country music icon Randy Travis calls this Spotify playlist he created just for AARP “Some of Randy Travis’ Favorite Country Songs.” Through it, he reminds listeners of his influences, as well as the friendships he’s made in his 35-year career.
Read about his picks here, then scroll down to listen to the playlist on Spotify.
Saginaw, Michigan by Lefty Frizzell
“I grew up listening to Lefty Frizzell. He was, perhaps, one of the biggest influences on me as an artist. This is a classic that makes me think of my childhood.”
Gettin’ You Home by Chris Young
“Chris has become a good friend through the years. He is a kind soul with one of the best voices I’ve heard — true, pure, and strong.”
What Have You Got Planned Tonight, Diana by Merle Haggard
“Merle was a huge influence on me. I miss him a lot. Thirty years ago, I gave him a Baby Rose guitar, and his son told me he had it ’til the day he died. He also said, ‘It had a bullet hole in it when Dad passed away.’ We said, ‘Oh, dear! How did it sound then?’ He said, ‘A little better!’ ”
Hello, Walls by Faron Young
“Willie Nelson and Faron Young were huge heroes, and eventually great friends of mine. I’ve loved this song for years and listen to it often.”
Golden Ring by Tammy Wynette and George Jones
“In the beginning of my career, no one took better care to guide me in the music business than Tammy Wynette and George Jones. I toured with both of them and miss them a ton. In the early ’90s, they both joined me along with Roy Rogers and Vern Gosdin to sing ‘Heroes and Friends’ on the CMA Awards. I used to sing this song with Tammy on tour — one of the coolest moments of my career.”
Chiseled in Stone by Vern Gosdin
“The Voice. If you had to define country music with one artist’s catalog, it would be Vern Gosdin’s. So many well-written and true country songs came out of Vern, this being one of the best.”
Hey, Good Lookin' by Hank Williams
“I sing this song nearly every day to my wife. It’s been a favorite since I was a kid. Hank Williams is the pinnacle of country music. Every country artist admires him, and no one can imitate him.”
Happy Trails by Roy Rogers
“One of the greatest friends I ever made in my career was Roy Rogers. When you grow up watching someone and admiring them, you don’t imagine meeting them, but he became like a father to me. Roy gave me my favorite horse, Trigger Jr., and I still have a granddaughter of Trigger to this day at our ranch in Texas. Happy trails, Roy.”
How to add playlist directly to your smartphone
Every playlist on Spotify has its own unique code, similar to a QR code. Called Spotify Codes, these bars make it easy to add a playlist to your Spotify app on your smartphone. To use, open Spotify, click on the Search field in the middle bottom of the screen. Click in the Search field and when you see the camera icon on the top right, click on that. Aim your camera at the code and it will bring up the playlist. To save the playlist, click on the heart.
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