Travis Tritt: Looking Back… And Looking Forward

In this SLN exclusive, we catch up with hitmaker Travis Tritt, who just released a new live CD/DVD. 

Written by Chuck Dauphin
Travis Tritt: Looking Back… And Looking Forward
Travis Tritt; Photo credit: Chuck Arlund

Travis Tritt has been releasing music to the public for close to three decades now. Still, the veteran performer tells Sounds Like Nashville that the release of his new CD / DVD A Man and His Guitar – Live From The Franklin Theatre is more than a little bit different.

“I’m so excited about this whole project,” the Georgia native says with boundless enthusiasm. “It was inspired many years ago by the live band shows that I started doing back in the late 1980s. In those shows, I always featured a part of the show where I would send the band off the stage, and I would do one or two songs acoustically. The response to that was always tremendous. For years, I would have different managers or booking agents who suggested that I try to put together an entire show like that,” he said, adding that he didn’t really see the credence in such a project.

“For years, I resisted the idea. My response was always the same – ‘Look, nobody in their right mind is going to pay good money to come, sit down, and listen to me play guitar and sing by myself for two hours.’ I honestly believed that until about six years ago when I finally had the opportunity to go out and try it in front of a live audience. We booked a very small number – I think about five – of solo acoustic shows that ran the gamut of covering the biggest hits of my career, along with some covers of songs that the audience had never heard before from me. The response was just phenomenal, better than I had ever anticipated. After doing that for the last six years or so, we decided that it would be great to do one of these live acoustic shows and record it, and also film it, as well. We wanted to take it to a broader audience that has never had the opportunity to see this type of show from me before.”

After seeing how the project came off, Tritt says the idea ended up taking him by surprise. “There’s been so much response to these shows, they don’t really feel like shows to me. They are so much more intimate. It feels like being in my living room, and just playing music for friends. That’s the way it felt every night.”

Tritt says that the set allows himself to present his music to his fans as he never has before. “It gives me an opportunity to share some of the stories behind the music that has been the staples of my career. It also gives me the chance to show a side of me that some of the audience might not be as familiar with. Obviously, the biggest influence on me has always been the Country Music one, but I’ve also been influenced by Bluegrass, Southern Rock, Blues, and even Gospel. These solo acoustic shows really give me a chance to showcase those styles in a way that many people have never really thought about from me before. That’s always been an exciting thing for me – to bring that side out, and showcase it in this type of format.”

The set combines such classics of his as “Country Club” and “Lord, Have Mercy On The Working Man,” as well as covers of songs that inspired him – from artists such as Hank Williams, Jr., Johnny Cash, and Bobby Bare, whom he tips the hat to with his take on the classic “500 Miles Away From Home,” a song that brought back memories to the singer.

“I first heard that song when I was very young listening to the Grand Ole Opry,” he recalls. “My dad and I used to listen sitting out in our K-Mart lounge chairs in our front yards listening to WSM. At that stage, a lot of the artists that were becoming my favorites were ones that I had never seen. I had never seen what these people looked like, but I knew what they sounded like. There were certain songs that stuck out in my head, and ‘500 Miles Away From Home’ was one of the first that I remember gravitating toward. The first time I heard it, it was done by Bobby Bare. Later, I got an album where Jerry Reed had done it. There was something about his version that really appealed to me. He had this tremendous guitar talent that was featured on it. I always told myself that if I ever did that song live, I wanted to combine the Bobby Bare and Jerry Reed versions together to show how much I tip my hat to both of those guys for their inspiration to me at a very young age.”

Appearing on the set with Tritt are a pair of special guests – fellow hitmakers James Otto and someone with whom the singer’s musical fortunes have long been intertwined – Marty Stuart.

“Marty and I have always talked about us being twin sons from different mothers,” Tritt says of the man with whom his microphone has shared the hits “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin” and “Honky Tonkin’s What I Do Best.”

“We’ve had a tremendous history together of having hits, as well as tours – going back to the ‘No Hats Tour.’ I still have so many people who will come up and ask when we are going to work together again. When this opportunity came up with the project being done at the Franklin Theatre, I called him up and asked him to be a part of it. He graciously agreed. It was thrilling for us because of how much we loved each other, but also because of how much we respect each other musically. I think it was thrilling for the audience who has wanted to see us together again also.”

One of the highlights of A Man and His Guitar is “Here’s A Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares),” which contains the same amount of fire and venom that the song included when he wrote it – over a quarter-century ago. “That’s actually the way I wrote it. I finished it in fifteen minutes. I was going through a divorce just prior to being signed to my first record contract. It was a song that I never intended to release or even play for anybody. I wrote it to cheer myself up when I was going through a depressing divorce, and a low spell in my life. I had written it as something funny to make me chuckle, and get through it.”

One night, the singer decided to test out his new composition. “Very early on, when I was touring as an opening act, I was at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth. Something in the middle of the show spoke to me to do the song to see what people thought. So, I did it acoustically. The response was overwhelming. There were a few radio people from the Dallas / Fort Worth market there, and they were asking about the song and where they could get it.”

When the singer started to record his sophomore album, he remembered the response the song received that night. “That was one of the things that inspired me when I started to record ‘It’s All About To Change.’ It’s one of those songs that I can’t leave the stage without doing,” he said, admitting that he’s had to bring the song up-to-date from time to time. “It’s kind of funny. I’ve got a daughter that is nineteen, and sons that are seventeen and thirteen, and over the years, my kids have come to me asking ‘Dad, why do you have to have a quarter to call somebody?’ So, I’ve changed the lyrics around a little bit for them to ‘Here’s an iPhone. Call someone who cares.”

In addition to the music, Tritt says one of the stars of the project was the locale – the Franklin Theatre – a venue that he was very proud to have recorded it at. “We looked at several different venues before ever deciding on it. One of the biggest reasons for me was the acoustics, but the venue also looks great on camera. It was a great venue from a visual standpoint. It was also so close to Nashville. I don’t get a chance to perform near there too often. Since so much of my music has originated from there, it gave me an opportunity to come back home to the place where my career started and showcase this live show in a market that was basically the starting place for so much of the music I’ve recorded over the years. It made it perfect all the way around, and I was thrilled with the way it turned out!”