Randy Travis’ career revives with #1 song 20 years ago

Randy Travis, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, had an unprecedented run of #1 singles over his career. It began in 1986 with the song “On the Other Hand” and lasted until the mid-1990s, when he was signed to powerhouse label Warner Bros. Records. Even the strongest country music performers have a series of hits come to an end, and Randy experienced this in 1996. His album, Full Circle, received positive reviews from reviewers, but when it failed to produce even one Top 25 hit, Warner Bros. dropped him.

DreamWorks then intervened to save Randy Travis because they believed that his career was far from over. They achieved some success in 1998 with the album You and You Alone, garnering a pair of number-one singles. When Travis’s follow-up album, A Man Ain’t Made of Stone, failed to produce any huge singles, DreamWorks dumped him as well. Randy Travis was thrown “out to pasture” in country music as a result of this.



Randy Travis' career revives with #1 song 20 years ago
Randy Travis’ career revives with #1 song 20 years ago

 

But, rather than sitting on his hands, feeling sorry for himself, or attempting to keep up with current country trends, Randy Travis opted to redefine his career by focusing more on religious music. He didn’t want to be a contemporary Christian celebrity, nor did he want to be a straight-up gospel singer. He set out to marry his own faith with his passion for country music.

Randy Travis reconnected with his longtime producer, Kyle , and embarked on the next chapter of his career. Though Travis still wanted to sell albums and perform in front of enormous crowds, this was not the primary goal, which was a wise decision. Randy’s last three songs had all failed to make the Top 40, and he hadn’t had a #1 hit in six years.



Travis signed with the religious label Word in 2000, and the album Inspirational Journey was released. The reception was mixed, and sales were considerably worse. But Randy Travis never disputed the new approach, and he and Kyle set out to make Rise and Shine, a second religious album. Kyle handed Randy a song that he thought might complete the album at the last minute, and the album was almost finished.

Randy Travis' career revives with #1 song 20 years ago
Randy Travis’ career revives with #1 song 20 years ago

 

“I was on a treadmill the first time I heard the song about a farmer, a teacher, a hooker, and a preacher, who are all on a midnight bus to Mexico when it collides with an 18-wheeler,” Randy Travis wrote in his autobiography. “Just when I thought I knew where the story was going, the lyrics took an unexpected turn.” ‘That is an incredible piece of writing!’ I was thinking… I instantly dialed Kyle’s number. ‘I can see why you appreciate this music. I know we just finished our album, but let’s record this!”



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Kim Williams and Doug Johnson are the authors of “Three Wooden Crosses.” Randy Travis and Kyle weren’t thinking about radio or commercial possibilities for the song at the moment. Randy had already forgotten about it. They just thought it was a fantastic tune. So they recorded it, and “Three Wooden Crosses” was added at the last minute to the Rise and Shine album.

Randy’s label, Word, initially sent the song to a few local market radio stations, whose listeners would be familiar with Randy and open to a religious song. They turned out to be far more than just receptive. Requests to hear “Three Wooden Crosses” over and over began to flood these stations. The song was then played on country stations, Christian stations, and even pop stations as word spread from smaller to larger markets.

 

Randy Travis' career revives with #1 song 20 years ago
Randy Travis’ career revives with #1 song 20 years ago

Years after the country music establishment declared him done, a Randy Travis single with a religious message was racing up the charts strangely. Then, 20 years ago today, on May 24, 2003, “Three Wooden Crosses” debuted at number one, becoming Randy’s 16th official chart topper. Randy hadn’t hit number one in nine years at the time. “Three Wooden Crosses” also charted at #31 on the Billboard Hot Country singles all-genre list in 2003 and was one of the top 20 singles in country music overall.



Randy Travis, songwriters Kim Williams and Doug Johnson, and “Three Wooden Crosses” were also named CMA Song of the Year in 2003. It was not bad for an artist who had been cast aside.

 

“The last verse of the song revealed a preacher telling the story, blessing the farmer, the teacher, and the preacher who gave the blood-stained Bible to his mama—the hooker—who had read it to him,” Travis says. “The point of the story was that it’s not what you take from this world, but what you leave behind when you go.”



Randy Travis will leave behind a classic song and a wonderful performance in “Three Wooden Crosses” that will outlast us all when he departs this planet (hopefully many, many years from now).

 

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