Randy Travis remains favorite of fans

Posted Sunday, Mar. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- Randy Travis, the troubled country music star, is trying to move on with his life and career after a disastrous 2012 that saw two arrests in North Texas on alcohol-related charges and a third in a church parking lot fistfight.

On Saturday night, he played his first local paying gig to a big, boisterous and appreciative crowd at Billy Bob's Texas in the Historic Stockyards.

Travis looked rested but his voice was scratchy during the first song, his big hit, Diggin' Up Bones. But the veteran country singer was soon back to his old form and exercised a bit of his trademark self-deprecating humor. "How many people out there have never seen my show -- and are proud of it?" he joked, with a number of hands stretching toward the ceiling at the middle of his question.

"One of the things I've always liked about Randy Travis is that it's not just a concert, it's a show," Billy Bob's spokeswoman Pam Minick said before the show. Travis celebrated 25 years in country music last year with a tour and a 25th Anniversary Celebration CD, with duets of his hits with country greats. His current tour began March 1 and will continue through the summer.

"The shows are great; the crowds are great," said his road manager, Jeff Davis. "Randy's doing fine, in every way."

Mostly, Travis has been recording. He began work on a new album in November at a studio in Tyler, Davis said, and hopes for a late-summer release date.

The album will be Travis' interpretations of the iconic songs of his own heroes: Lefty Frizzell, Vern Gosdin, Hank Williams Sr., George Jones and Marty Robbins.

It doesn't seem that long ago to many fans that a young and lanky Travis scored big with 1982, a heartbroken ballad that dragged even young fans away from the country-pop trappings of the early 1980s. With fellow 1986 breakthrough stars like Dwight Yoakam, country took a right turn into the traditional music and themes that had always been its backbone.

The singer's high-profile legal troubles last summer played out like a forlorn country song.Travis was first arrested in February 2012 in Denton County on a public intoxication charge. He was sitting in his car in a church parking lot with a bottle of wine; police said he smelled of alcohol.

Things got worse in August, when Travis was taken into custody near his home in Tioga, after reportedly walking naked into a convenience store, wrecking his car and ending up lying in the roadway. Later, arresting officers said he threatened them.

A few days later, he was arrested in Plano in a fight with another man in a church parking lot.

Travis pleaded guilty Jan. 31 in Sherman to driving while intoxicated in the August incident in Tioga and received probation, a fine and a suspended jail sentence. He was also sentenced to spend 30 days in an alcohol treatment facility, do 100 hours of public service and use an ignition interlock on any vehicle he drives for two years. It is unclear whether he has completed treatment.

If work is cathartic, things are better now for the country star at 53.

Travis has been seen around the area and the state recently, performing high-profile events that honor members of the military. He sang at the Cowboys Stadium memorial for slain ex-Navy Seal Chris Kyle recently, and last fall he performed for a Wounded Warriors event in Kilgore.

The Billy Bob's show Saturday night was a hotter ticket, outdoing his performance last year in ticket sales and in media interest, Minick said. And the media requests "are beyond nutty. Every photog and every publication you have ever heard of, and the TV stations. There is a ton of interest in this show."

Radio airplay has been a different story for Travis, and for better or worse, the arrests didn't change much on North Texas mainstream country radio.

"I don't know if it really did much of anything," said Smokey Rivers of 99.5 The Wolf. "It may have helped him a little bit on his live shows since he's had some attention turned on him. It's that old saying, 'There's no bad publicity.' It may have put him on people's radar again."

It was the same at country station KSCS/96.3 FM.

"We've been talking a lot and following the story, but his hits are really over 20 years old," said Mark "Hawkeye" Louis. "If you're a 30-year-old woman, Randy Travis is someone you've heard on the radio when you were in fourth grade."

Louis' chatty listeners "really wanted to talk about" Travis' August arrests, Louis said.

The station made its own popular parody of Diggin' Up Bones.

"He's part of the conversation again," Louis said. "Now he can elevate himself to that same icon level of George Jones and Merle Haggard."

Longtime fans flocked to Travis' show Saturday, just to see if he was OK and to hear his voice.

"Country audiences are pretty forgiving for the most part, as long as it's not a huge transgression," Rivers said. "That's the hallmark of country music; it's about real life."

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @startelegram

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