EXCLUSIVE: Randy Travis Gives His All for Forever and Ever, Amen

At this stage in Randy Travis’ career, he doesn’t have to do interviews.

The North Carolina native is a legendary household name who is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ole Opry, and he’s a seven-time Grammy winner. He’s sold 25 million songs and albums, achieved 22 No. 1s, received over 20 ACM and American Music Awards, eight Dove Awards, five CMA Awards and two People’s Choice Awards.

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He’s a survivor of several adversities including a 2013 stroke that at one time had him on life support. He’s been in many car accidents and experienced a tough childhood with an alcoholic father. His name is Harold Traywick, who as an American child of the Depression and World War II, had a hard time expressing to his six children how much he loved them.

But despite the storms that life has thrown Travis and the mistakes he’s made, he won’t allow himself to be defined by setbacks. And they certainly didn’t keep him from conducting at least three hours’ worth of back-to-back, in-person interviews on Wednesday (May 15) in Nashville with his wife Mary Travis and author Ken Abraham to promote Travis’ first autobiography, Forever and Ever, Amen: a Memoir of Music, Faith and Braving the Storms of Life.

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He believes his words are worth the work. In CMT.com’s exclusive 20-minute interview with the three individuals, Travis laughed often and was ready to answer any questions about the book. There were specific parameters to follow – questions needed to be phrased as “yes” or “no” questions so Travis could concur with observations about his story in his own words. Positive questions were encouraged, and generalized questions about braving the storms of life were acceptable.

Forever and Ever, Amen shows that Travis is a walking miracle who looks at his adversities as setups toward his higher purpose. He loves his faith, family, friends and fans more than anything, and he is genuinely grateful for every moment he’s given. The first 10 pages of his memoir start with the epitome of a nightmare, but it was his reality at age 54. First, Travis is semi-conscious on life support listening to the beep of his heart monitor while loved ones discuss pulling the plug on him. He can hear all this but is unable to speak for himself.

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Then it transitions into Travis’ colorful upbringing in North Carolina and the stories of the first people who believed in him. His father Harold put a guitar in his hands. The Traywick children were raised in the family tradition of riding horses, and he instilled in Travis a devotion to country music. His father’s death fell within a week of his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016. That night, Travis surprised the crowd when he stood up and sang the chorus of “Amazing Grace.”

Travis told CMT.com he felt his father’s presence with him that night.

“No one knew [Randy] was going to do that,” Mary said. “We didn’t tell his manager. We didn’t tell the Hall of Fame, nobody knew it. Garth [Brooks] didn’t know it, and Garth was the one inducting him. Nobody knew it but the two of us. He had friends that were there from Texas, and when I said, ’I give you back the voice of Randy Travis,’ they thought, ’Oh my God, Mary has lost her mind.’”

CMT.com: Along with your faith, do you think your friends and heroes got you through some of life’s toughest challenges? Were they your bandmates and other musicians?
Travis: Yeah.
Abraham: What struck me is the guys in the band got together a bus and somebody volunteered to drive the bus from Nashville to the hospital just to visit with Randy. Not every musician would do that.
Mary: Josh Turner, John Anderson and Jamey Johnson came. The Oak Ridge Boys came. Those people who came, they would sing to Randy while he was in a coma, but I know he was hearing that. Those were magical moments for us. It’s one of those times in life where a lot of people may not know what to say, or what to do, so, they don’t do anything at all, and I understand that. But the ones that do go out of their way to let you know that you’re not alone, for somebody that’s laying in a coma that’s tied to life support in the hospital, to know that people cared enough, that means the world.

We had plastic crates full of fan mail that came from around the world. If you have all those prayers coming in, you’re hard-pressed not to fail because you’ve got God on your side, you’ve got all these prayer warriors and people supporting you. It feels good. He would lay in that bed, and he’d be in semi-coma or in a coma, but I’d read all of those letters to him. That’s how we spent our time. If it wasn’t the Bible, it was the fan mail. Both of those were great supports for us. Then when you get out of the hospital, you have the friends who bring you food and the friends who come by just for a laugh or to share a joke.

To be six years down the road now, to have survived what he survived and still be on the right side of the dirt, it’s glorious.

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CMT.com: I have a feeling that people will look back on this book as an essential read in country music, like Coal Miner’s Daughter. Talk about the challenges of knowing where to start.
Abraham: There are all kinds of Randy Travis stories so we could have started at a high point, but I wanted the reader to understand how difficult it was that we almost lost Randy. It could have gone either way there for a while. A lot of people were thinking it was going to go the wrong way. So, I wanted the reader to understand that it is a miracle that he is alive. He’s here for a reason. God hasn’t given up on Randy Travis. So, I wanted to start there in that tense moment, almost as if you’re seeing this book as a movie, and we’re starting out in one of the worst moments of Randy’s life where everybody’s given up on him except for Mary and God. Then we’re going to go back and tell his story.

What you said about how people are going to read this book for years and years, I think you’re right. Similar to Coal Miner’s Daughter, if you’re going to be in country music, you have to know [Loretta Lynn’s] story. People have to know Randy Travis’ story because he changed not only the fabric of music, he changed the culture of country music. It is a part of country music history.

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Has the importance of the written word become more important to you at this stage in your career?
Travis: Yes.

Since songs, and words are your legacy, are you happy with the way the book turned out and how it honors your legacy?
Travis: Yes. Good.
Abraham: He wouldn’t have let us put it in print if it wasn’t what he wanted.
Mary: It’s his story, his life in his own words and not in somebody else’s words. It’s Randy Travis. It’s the stories he probably wanted to tell before but wasn’t able to, and now he can, even in his broken silence by the stroke.

He’s always been honest and transparent. This was a way to get it in a book, that colorful life he’s lived for 58 years and for the last two years Ken has got it in a bound book. And here we are a 60, and we’re going to go live life as if somebody left the gate open and have a good time.

I see you guys out a lot, and I’m thrilled by that. Does seeing the rising talent perform in Nashville, does that get you excited about the future of country music?
Travis: Yes.
Mary: He certainly still has such an acute ear. Maybe even more acute than before. They say when you lose one sense, you gain another. But he’ll listen to songs. If he hears any note out of whack, he winces, and it’s precious to watch him listen to music. He can scope in on these artists that he feels like will go somewhere and stay a long time.

How often do you get to see live music in a week
Mary: There have been three or four times a week. It depends on where we are logistically if we can get to someone. Where we live out in Tioga, Texas, we an hour-and-a-half out of Dallas and Ft. Worth. Anytime we can we like to get to where there’s live music. It doesn’t have to be professional. It can be somewhere like a little town hall with a one-man band at a restaurant or at a local honky-tonk. It’s just good for the soul.

Have you talked about the dreamy actor you’d like to play you one day?
Travis: Yeah.
Abraham: Who’s that going to be?
Travis: I don’t know (laughs).
Mary: Someone brought up Matthew McConaughey, and then another one is Matt Damon. There were some movies that [Damon] did, and they have that same beautiful intensity in the forehead and in the eyes. If you have good suggestions, let us know.

Garrett Hedlund maybe? But they have to have the same eyes.
Mary: They’re sweet eyes, but they’re so intense when he was performing they’re like windows into the soul.

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.