The song comes over the speakers and the unmistakable voice of Randy Travis wafts through the room — “The phone rings twice, then it’s through … I don’t even have to answer I know it’s you … yes I’ll meet you for the one things we share … our once a week fool’s love affair … .”
“Fool’s Love Affair,” which releases as Randy Travis’ new single today (July 29) is a song with a long history. It goes all the way back to the days before Travis had a record deal. Charlie Monk, a well-known music publisher in Nashville, believed in him and was trying to help him find a record label who would sign him. In the meantime, Monk had a song he had co-written with Milton Brown and Keith Stegall, and he needed someone to demo it. He chose Travis to come into the studio and record it so he could pitch it to other artists he thought might record it.
“This was during a time in country music, back in 1982, when there were a lot of songs about sleeping around and having rendezvous at hotels,” Monk tells Sounds Like Nashville. “I was talking to this guy and he was telling me about a rendezvous he had at a hotel with this lady on a weekly basis, and he said that he kinda wished he didn’t do it. So I got this idea for a song and when Milton came into town I told him about it. He said, ‘Let’s try to write that one.’ I was managing Stegall at the time, so he was invited in on the writing session.”
Monk hadn’t used Randy for any demos but he asked him to do this one. “Randy came in and did a great job, but the hit singers were staying away from traditional country music during that era, they were looking more for crossover songs, so we didn’t find anyone to record it. Then Randy became a big star but the lyric didn’t exactly lend itself to a clean cut guy like him so the song was never recorded.”
About 10 years ago, Monk began playing the demo on “Willie’s Roadhouse,” where he was a deejay for Sirius Radio. He started getting emails from people asking where they could get a copy of the song. He had to tell them it wasn’t available anywhere.
“After Randy had his stroke and we were told he probably wouldn’t ever sing again, I sent a copy to Mary (Travis’ wife) and they both loved it. Randy remembered recording it, but he didn’t know who played on it or what year it was.”
Monk sent the tape to Kyle Lehning, who was Randy’s producer, and asked him what he thought about it. Lehning told him that there was too much hiss on it to try to do anything with, and asked him for the multi-track, which would have been the original recoding of the song. Monk had no idea where it was because it had 30 years-plus since the recording had been done. He looked everywhere he thought it might be but had no luck in finding it. Then he decided to sell his office building and move all his stuff from there to his house.
“The Country Music Hall of Fame was interested in some of the things I had, so they said they would catalog everything for me and then what I wanted to keep I could have back,” Monk explained. The evening before the people from the Hall of Fame were going to pick up the items, he decided to travel down memory lane one more time and began looking through boxes.
“I stumbled over a box and I looked in it and there was a title, “Fool’s Love Affair,” written on a small box in it. The box didn’t have Randy’s name on it at all. I got in touch with Kyle and told him I had found the multi-track. He said it might need to be baked, and I said, ‘Let’s do it’.”
Lehning took the multi-track to Reid Shippen, who has a system where he puts the multi-track in a convection oven and bakes the tape, then transfers it to Pro Tools. “I was actually able to hear the original recording,” Lehning shares with SLN. “I was able to take that tape and add electric guitar, fiddle and steel, and flesh it out so it was a finished record. They had put background vocalists on the demo and Randy’s vocal was excellent. I mixed the record and there you go … we had a record.”
When Mary and Randy heard the finished song, they loved it. “Anything in Randy’s voice is music to my ears,” Mary explains. “When Randy heard it, he said ‘Good, real good.
“It was a God wink, something that was supposed to happen. There are too many times it could have fell through the cracks, but Charlie’s persistence, Kyle’s work, Randy’s vocals, it was great teamwork, great persistence, and a lot of wonderful talent surfaced. We had the easy part – all we had to do was approve it. Randy has always loved everything Kyle does.”
The question now is, are there any more hidden gems just waiting to be found? Kyle and Mary admit there are, and she says they are wonderful songs. Lehning has gone through the process of readying them for release, but he says that won’t happen any time soon.
“We have found some stuff in the archives but there are some political issues,” Lehning explains. “We don’t know who wrote the songs, or who played on them. I don’t know how or when they will come out. Right now ‘Fool’s Love Affair’ is the only one legally okay to put out.”
Lehning said when he began working with Travis, he had no idea what an impact his voice would make in country music. “Randy might have but not me. All I knew was he was as pure an artist as I had ever encountered, and he was clear about who he was and what he wanted to do. I just loved the sound of his voice. When we finished ‘Storms of Life’ and we played it in sequence from beginning to end, I told Randy, ‘If we can sell 40,000 albums we might be able to make another record’.”
“Storms of Life” sold four million copies and Travis certainly recorded many more albums for his fans. “I knew it was good work and pure work and he was clear about his love of the music he was singing. He stayed true to the authenticity of his music. We were lucky Martha Sharp (A&R at Warner Brothers) and Charlie were supportive. Country music was not going down a traditional route, because everyone wanted their record to play on AC radio, so for Randy to come through and sell the kind of numbers he was selling, no one saw it coming including me.”
Lehning recalls when he first started working with Travis, there was a moment there where he could be fired. “We were in Martha Sharp’s office listening to songs for his first album. I’m from a rock ‘n roll and jazz background. I worked at Tompall Glaser’s studio and I produced a couple albums for Waylon but I wasn’t a guy steeped in country music.
“So Martha played a song for Randy and he said, ‘That’s kind of a Lefty kind of thing.’ I said, ‘Whose Lefty?’ and he looked at me like, ‘Who is this guy?’ Randy was wearing a sport coat and he pulled a cassette out of his jacket pocket and handed it to me and said, ‘You better listen to this.’ Listening to that Lefty Frizzell tape was like going to school for me. And I’m really glad I didn’t get fired!”