Tracy Lawrence’s latest single, “When The Cowboy’s Gone,” was released at just the right time, though it wasn’t planned that way when the song was recorded. His album, Made In America, focuses on the men and women who are the backbone of America, the people who go to work every day and do their job to keep America going. He wrote the album’s title song with Rick Huckaby and Paul Nelson.
Little did Lawrence know when he released the album in August of last year that just seven months later, this country would be hit by a pandemic that would turn everything upside down. Many of those men and women he was singing about would be out of a job because much of the country had been shut down to try to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“This is the most personal album I’ve ever made,” says Lawrence, whose previous hits include “Paint Me A Birmingham” and “Time Marches On.” “It’s something I’m very proud of. I wanted to celebrate the American worker and remind people how important the small things people do every day embody everything that is good about our country. I co-wrote a number of the songs, pouring my heart and soul in each of them.”
Such is the case with “When The Cowboy’s Gone,” a tune that the Texas native says is very appropriate for the time and place the country is in now. He wrote the tune with pals Carson Chamberlain and Wyatt McCubbin. As he says in the song, “the world’s in trouble when the cowboy’s gone,” but the singer believes that we still need our heroes.
“I think a hero in the public’s mind is changing a little bit — honor and integrity is coming back around, and to me that is what a cowboy stands for. You always know where he stands, the truth is right there in the forefront with him. That is something we wanted to create for people to hang on to – the image of someone riding in wearing that white hat and cleaning the room … you would like to see those days come back. I’m very proud of this song.”
The video for the song was shot at various concerts around the country before Lawrence had to cancel all tour dates, and on his farm outside of Nashville. And yes, those are the singer’s dogs, Tango and Cash, Great Dane brothers who just wouldn’t stay away from the cameras.
“They are a handful, but we have plenty of room (on farm). They will be four in June. We have seven dogs – Tank just turned 12, he’s an English bulldog. Then we have Gizmo, a Brussels Griffon with the strange little mohawk, that we got from my sister, and a mini Australian shepherd named Marly. Then we rescued a Pekingese and Shih Tzu, Bandit and Ruby, from a puppy mill. We also have two cats. We were in Abbington, West Virginia at a fair and my wife was taking a nap so I took the kids to the animal barn. They had a box of kittens there, so we came back to the bus with a yellow kitten we named Abby. Then my youngest daughter found another kitten, a black one, in the church parking lot. You love them all, they all have different personalities and we get very attached to them.”
While the coronavirus shut down Lawrence’s touring, it didn’t shut down his creativity. He has been working on his next album.
“I’ve been trying to write while we’ve been off the road. I haven’t stayed quarantined here, I’ve been down to the COOP, Tractor Supply, the grocery store and I’ve had songwriters who come out to the house to write. I know people who have died … Joe Diffie, I miss him dearly … but we have to get back to our lives, and let people get back to work.”
Lawrence says he thinks he and his band may have had the virus in January while they were still touring. “My tour manager had something when he got on the bus on Monday and by Wednesday, I had a tickle in my throat. My respiratory system felt like it was on fire, I had no energy, I couldn’t breathe. Everybody on the bus caught it. It took me five weeks to get over it.”
The singer says he has been writing for the next album but no specific plans on when it might be out. “I’ve just been writing some traditional country music and may start cutting again in the fall. I had planned to write while I was on tour and cut in the fall, but now we’re still discussing what our next step will be.
“There’s an art to cutting an album, you’ve just got to let it flow. I don’t know exactly how I want to approach the new record. I like to work on a record in its entirety, see what I’m missing to have a complete package. Does it need a swing tune, a power ballad, another mid-tempo – those are the things I look for to make a well-rounded country album.”
Lawrence hopes to be back on the road in June but nothing is definite. Most of the shows he had booked with Justin Moore are gone and even though his agent has tried to salvage as many shows as possible, it’s hard to reschedule things that had to be cancelled. The hope is they will be able to add a few of those in the fall.
“The last show we played was the first weekend in March, so we’re all ready to go back to work. We are discussing internally about our own guidelines, about wiping the guitars down, keeping the trailers clean. I am more worried about the crew guys than anyone else. I can’t ever remember being off for this period of time in the 30 years I’ve worked. We’ve always worked 10 months out of the year.
In addition to his music, Lawrence stays busy playing the music he and his friends recorded in the 1980’s, 90’s and 2000’s on his popular radio show, Honky Tonkin’ With Tracy Lawrence. He has received two ACM nominations for National On-Air Personality of the Year for his work with the show.
“I have yet to listen to one single episode,” the part-time deejay admits. “I don’t like to hear myself talk. Patrick [Lawrence’s side-kick on the show] and I like to enjoy ourselves, play a lot of great music and interview our friends. If I overthink it, I might mess up. My motivation when I first started the show was because mainstream radio wasn’t playing anything from that old catalog before 2010 and I heard from fans that wanted to hear that music. I feel the reason we had success was that we were playing hot music from that era and fans loved it. I think since then you’ve had other stations who have started to play the stuff we play on ‘Honky Tonkin’.”
The singer says he remembers when he came to town, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard and that group of singers were complaining because it was the era when radio had just started cutting them from the playlists. “I remember thinking ‘Why are you doing that? You’ve had a great career.’ Now I’m sitting on the other side of it and I understand. I see where they were coming from.”
Lawrence will celebrate 30 years in music in 2021, and he’s seen a lot of things change in those years, among them the way albums were distributed and how the Billboard and other magazine charts were put together in the beginning. Now technology has changed so much that songs and albums are instantly on the internet in online stores to purchase, and radio turns in their playlists the week they are played so they are totally up-to-date when people see them.
“I treasure the friendships from the 90’s the most,” Lawrence says. “We were really proud for each other’s success; we all had our own sound. We did package shows and we would be on the bus together after the show.
“I think we had more fun in the 90’s before social media came along. I think the mystique isn’t there any more about people because by the time you get back to town, everyone knows everything about the shows and what is going on with each artist.”