Travis Tritt & Marty Stuart - "No Hats--But Plenty Of Fun!"
|This appeared in Country Fever Magazine - October 1992|
|It's no surprise that Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart have been packing them in on every date of their whimsically titled "No Hats Tour." How often do fans get to see two of country's most popular, most talented (and best-looking) acts not only sharing a bill, but also sharing the mike for duets?
Some people are calling Travis and Marty "The Waylon and Willie of the '90s," which suits them fine, since those are the guys that these two non-conforming types grew up admiring. Along the way, the two have found not only commercial success, but a deep and lasting friendship.
I first met Marty during rehearsal for the Academy of Country Music Awards show in 1986. He was nominated for Top New Male Vocalist in a field that also included T. Graham Brown, Keith Whitley, Billy Burnette and Randy Travis. Even in this stellar field, Marty stood out, with his good looks, unique wardrobe and rockabilly flair. He was wed at the time to beautiful Cindy Cash, one of Johnny's daughters, and his first album had just come out on CBS Records. Marty seemed bound for the big time. Alas, Randy Travis won the award, Marty and Cindy split, and the album (although critically acclaimed) went nowhere. Marty was to put in several more discouraging years in Nashville before signing with MCA and hitting the top with his Hillbilly Rock album in 1989. That's the year I met Travis Tritt under more auspicious circumstances, over trendy little Spago pizzas on the patio of the Sunset Strip office of his superstar manager, Ken Kragen. Kragen had realized early the potential of this young man from Georgia, and his career was in high gear from the very first hit, "Country Club." I recall joking with Kragen's assistant that Travis had "the devil in those eyes"--and female country fans agreed. My friends have grown tired of hearing me rave over these two, but I'm not through yet.
These guys have so much in common that it seems inevitable that they would eventually collaborate. Both are Southern-born singer/songwriters with unconventional attitudes and the ability to appeal to a hip, young audience. They're good-looking, sexy, dynamic, ambitious, and passionate about their music. Separately, they're hot. Together, they're the hottest ticket of 1992!
Travis recalled how the two hatched the idea for the "No Hats Tour." "The whole thing got started when Marty and I were backstage at Nashville Now and we had just read an article calling all the new country singers 'Hat Acts.' That was a little discouraging to us, because we were just as strong as anything else out there at the time, and we didn't wear hats, and we weren't hat acts. We decided that we were going to have to get some attention and come up with a name for ourselves, so we started calling ourselves a 'Hair Act.' Later on, when we started putting this tour together, we needed to come up with a name, and 'Hair Act' tour just didn't sound right. I believe it was Marty's manager who came up with the idea of the 'No Hats' tour since we don't wear cowboy hats. They came up with the logo with the cowboy hat with the slash through it like the Ghostbusters thing, and we loved it. It just seemed to stick because the fans really latched on to it."
"It was poking fun at ourselves," Marty added. "In Nashville, the executives refer to you as a hat act or a non-hat act. Well, Travis and I were talking and saying how we both look ridiculous in cowboy hats. Then my manager said, 'Why don't you just call it the no-hats tour? Have a hat with a slash through it.' It's just a commercial hook."
Travis looked back to how the two met for the first time. "Marty and I met backstage two years ago at the CMA Awards in Nashville. It was just a quick meeting in the hall, and I told him how much I really enjoyed his music, and he told me how much he enjoyed mine, and we went our separate ways. A few weeks later, he sent me a song that he thought I would be real interested in called 'The Whiskey Ain't Workin',' which he had done the demo on. I immediately fell in love with the song and recorded it for th album. Since he had done such a fantastic job on the demo, we called him up and asked him if he would be interested in playing on the record. He came over and did a great job on it. Then we asked him if he would be interested in singing on it, so he did, and he was just fantastic. It was the first duet I'd ever done and it turned out to be a number one record for us."
"I wrote the song 'The Whiskey Ain't Workin' to be on my Tempted Album, but we ran out of time and space." added Marty. "I thought the song was a hit, so I made a demo tape of it and had my publisher send it over to Warner Brothers to Bocephus or that new guy Travis Tritt who had a song out called "Country Club." So Travis recorded it, and his producer called and asked me to play guitar on the record, then to sing a verse. I did and didn't think anymore about it. They put some harmony on it and it became a duet. That became my first number one record and, through that song, Travis and I became friends."
The two realized very quickly that they had a great deal in common. "I liked him right away," Travis said of Marty. "I'd heard all kinds of stories about him, that he was a cocky little ass [laughing], and I heard other people say other things about him, but he really turned out to be a good ole down-home boy. The thing about it is, people were saying the same things about both of us, and none of them were really true. We're both different from the average run-of-the-mill country singer."
"I didn't know what to expect," Marty recalled. "I thought I liked him. When we were doing 'The Whiskey Ain't Workin' video, I had my bus there, so we used it a a dressing room between takes. We hung out for two days and, by the second day, I felt like I'd known him all my life. I felt like we grew up down the road from each other. I feel like Travis is my brother now. He's the kind of person that I don't have to look over my shoulder because I know he's there. I hope he feels the same about me. It's a lifelong friendship. I know the difference in a passing-through friend and a lifelong friend because I have both, and Travis is a friend for life."
One of the many things these two have in common is that neither fits the mold of the typical country singer, and each has been labeled a maverick. Travis gave some reasons why. "Yeah, we are, and I think that's why we hit it off so well. He and I both see things in the same light. We both see what we did as being country music with a rock 'n' roll attitude. It's music that we approach a little bit differently. We don't walk, talk, look, sing, dress or do anything else like the other country acts that are out there, and even he and I are different from each other. But we have a common thread that keeps us going, and that's that we want to represent the side of country music that really is not being shown by some of the hat acts that are out there, and try to draw in a younger audience if at all possible. So far, I think we've been very successful with that."
Marty's thoughts were similar. "People used to tell me, 'Your hair's too funny. Don't wear those coats.' And I said, 'I know.' Nobody handed me a rule book when I got off the bus at 13. The heroes I had in Nashville were the people who dared to be different, like Johnny Cash and Waylon and Willie, people who did it their way. Those are the people I look up to and admire. I knew that my point of view was a bit different. I knew it was going to take longer, but I knew I'd be around a long time too."
Travis and Marty are two of the handsomest and sexiest performers on the country music scene today, so it's inevitable that their audiences will contain a large number of young ladies. Travis estimates that "85% of my audience is 25 and under--and they're female." He's not especially surprised when feminine undergarments land at his feet while he's on stage. "They probably don't do that as much as rock audiences, but we get some of that. Night before last, a girl threw some panties on stage with a rose attached to them and a phone number [laughs]. That's always very flattering when that stuff happens. I would say that when you come to one of our shows, energy-wise, the energy level of the crowd and the energy level of the performers on stage is much more than a rock 'n' roll show than what you've been used to in a country show in past years."
Since these two are not only desirable but single, lots of those female fans would love to spend time with them after the show but, alas, their busy schedules leave little time for partying on the road. Marty joked, "You're just dying for me to tell you that me and Travis run after women and drink and go crazy, but we don't do that! A couple of times we've gone to listen to bands play and hung out but, for the most part, the 'No Hats Tour' is a real business thing. When I get through, I go my way and he goes his, and it's a job. We don't hang out all day together. I think that's healthy because Travis has his business to run and I have mine. We're real close, but we stay out of each other's way."
Travis concurred. "We don't get a chance to hang out very much because the schedule keeps us so busy. We stay on the road all the time and, when we're not on the road traveling from gig to gig, we're doing interviews. It's rare when we get the chance to go out clubbing. We have a few times, but it's not an every-night occurrence. There's just not enough time. To be perfectly honest, I don't think either Marty or I has the energy to do all that every night!"
One of the things they have found the time and energy to do is write songs together. "We've written a couple of songs together," is Marty's evaluation. "I don't think we've written a great one yet, but we've written a couple of good ones. I think if we keep working at it, we'll write a great one." Travis added, "We occasionally get on the bus together and ride together from gig to gig and we'll write together. We're hoping at some point to come up with an entire album worth of material. I would like nothing better than to cut an album, somewhere down the road, of me and Marty together with some of our heroes and make it sort of kin to the Outlaw album. We've been called the Waylon & Willie of the '90s, and we're both huge fans of Waylon and Willie. I loved the Outlaws album, and I'd love to do something along those lines. Just bring in a lot of friends, cut and have a ball."
While Travis already had a platinum album and several single hits to his credit, it's Marty's career that has really been boosted by the "No Hats Tour," a fact that pleases both performers and Marty's now enjoying more success than ever before. "I've been successful at a lot of different levels as a performer, but I'm closer to mainstream right now than I've ever been." Marty reflected, "This September I'll be doing this 20 years, and I've been successful at a lot of different levels. I've had a pretty good career. I could have quit a long time ago and left a good track record behind. I brought a whole different point of view, a whole different style to mainstream, and I've been trying to get in there for a long time, and it wasn't happening. But you know what--if it had happened five years ago, I'd probably be over with and forgotten by now. I'm glad it's just now happening. Right now is the most wonderful time we've ever had in country music, so the wait was well worth it."
For his part, Travis is proud to be a part of his friend's success. I've been lucky, and I've been fortunate enough to be in a position where I can help Marty out, and I'm glad that he's getting this shot. He told me the other day that he's selling more records and doing better on the charts than he ever has. He got his first number-one record, and I was really proud, because I wanted that for him more than I did for myself. Marty has always had the talent and everything he needed to be a monster in this business. He needed that one big record and big tour to push him up there, to make people realize what he could do. I'm real proud for him, and I hope that he continues for years and years and sells a ton of records, and people wake up to what a great talent he is."
It's no big surprise that the editors of Playgirl magazine picked both these characters for their list of the ten sexiest men in country music, but they're a bit taken aback by it. Marty joked that they must have run out of prospects, but Travis had more thoughts on the subject. "I never considered myself a sex symbol at all, and I still don't. It's really flattering, but you have to consider that I came from the kind of background that, growing up, I had one friend and that was my guitar, and my guitar introduced me to every other friend I ever had. Growing up, I was always sort of an introvert, and never thought of myself as a sex symbol. To all of a sudden have that happen, it's great, but you have to keep it in perspective.
"People fall in love with an image. I heard Robin Williams describe it the best I've ever heard it described. He said that it's kind of like going to Mardi Gras, and you see all these big beautiful paper maché heads going down the street, and they're gorgeous and vibrant, and they have all this color and all this excitement, but there could actually be a very shy person underneath. They have this shell, this image that people could fall in love with without seeing the real person. Lots of times I wonder if those people would still be standing up and screaming and yelling and hollering and thinking I was so sexy if I was still working at a heating and air conditioning job in Marietta, Georgia. I think not. It's very flattering, it's great to have it, but you have to keep it in perspective."
Both have enjoyed getting to meet and work with the stars that they idolized growing up. "Not only have I got to meet them, I got to sing on stage with them," Travis said. "People like Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, George Jones,. Tanya Tucker, Johnny Cash. To be able to meet those people and shake their hand--Johnny Cash joined my fan club just a few months ago--tickled me to death, sent me a shirt, an autographed picture, told me how much he enjoyed my music. Meeting those people and working with them has been the thrill of a lifetime. If it all ended tomorrow, I could say that I have done more than I ever expected to do in my whole life."
Travis and Marty both have plenty more to do in the near future, like touring til the end of the year and releasing new albums. "We're touring up until the edge of summer, then we go separate ways and come back together in the fall and tour through the rest of the year," Marty explained. "It's been a good tour. We've been touring since last fall, selling a lot of records and making a lot of people happy. Mark O'Connor comes up and fiddles for a while, then I go up and do my thing. Travis does his, and we get together at the end of the show. It's a great concert. I have a new album called This One's Gonna Hurt You due in July, and the first single is a duet with Travis called 'This One's Gonna Hurt You (For A Long, Long Time).' Johnny Cash and me did 'Doin' My Time.' I played on a lot of his records but Cash and I have never recorded before as a duo." Travis also has a new album due out sometime in the fall.
Travis and Marty agree that the country music scene is changing rapidly, but both plan to be on top of it for a long time. "This day and age, things are really changing," Travis thought. "Look how fast it is. Randy Travis would be the first one to tell you, less than four years ago, he was the Garth Brooks of our age now. During that time period, he could not lose. Now he's virtually ignored by every major award show in the country. It's moving a lot faster than it used to. One day you're in, the next day you're out--it's becoming more and more like rock 'n' roll. I think the longevity of a country artist is going to probably depend on how long they can keep the great songs coming. And when you come out there on stage, you have to give people bang for their bucks. I think the days of just walking out on stage and singing all your hits and turning around and walking of are over. I don't think you can survive on that anymore. I think you have to be more of an entertainer, more of an actor, more of an aggressive personality, on stage as well as off. It all goes back to the songs. You've got to have great music, but you've got to have a great act to go along with it."
Marty's ideas were in the same vein. "I think everybody cools off faster than they used to. I love Randy Travis, but I think you're going to see a lot of people that are hot now cool down over the next few years 'cause they're so many coming up behind them. The only defense you have is to save your money and be nice to your fans along the way."
It's no mystery to either of them that country is achieving such popularity these days. Travis thinks that's "because it's music that more people can relate to than anything else. Rock 'n' rollers for so many years, like the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Linda Ronstadt really had something to say. Nowadays it's getting harder to find that kind of music, and country has lyrics that tell what people want to say. We also have a more contemporary influence than ever before, and that makes the music more contemporary."
Marty's even more emphatic. "I've been knocking on the door of mainstream for a long time. Country has been knocking on the door of mainstream for a long time. If you're different, if you're a bit of a cult, it takes a lot longer to get it through. Country music has always been here, it's a tried and true art form. It will outlast rock 'n' roll, it will outlast everything, because it's people's music. It's Earth music. It's our time. It's been a long wait for country music in the world market, but it's our time."
It certainly is their time, and it's also their fans' time when their "No Hats Tour" comes around to your town!
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