2019 American Music Awards

Randy Travis Forges Ahead, Seeking New Ways to Sustain His Career After Stroke

bb24 do not reuse
Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Country Music Hall Of Fame
Randy Travis attends the 2018 Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Medallion Ceremony honoring inductees Johnny Gimble, Ricky Skaggs and Dottie West at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Oct. 21, 2018 in Nashville.

When Randy Travis suffered a near-fatal stroke in 2013, it was doubtful the country superstar would ever sing again. “Those are answers we don't have,” says Travis' wife, Mary, in a phone interview. "Those are left to God."

But his manager, Tony Conway, had a plan. Two years ago, after Conway watched the Nashville Symphony perform the music of Led Zeppelin, he came up with The Music of Randy Travis, a tour of arenas and theatres that would feature the singer’s original eight-piece band, plus singer James Dupré, who'd portrayed Travis' son in the 2015 film The Price. Earlier this month, most of the dates were canceled, because of “just mostly production,” according to Travis’ spokesperson, although in late September the Ticketmaster website showed hundreds of seats available.

The idea was that the Travises to sit in the front row, giving Randy, 60, the option to join in. "If he wants to get up and throw an 'Amen' in there, or do something, he has the opportunity to do it," Mary Travis had said, weeks before the scheduled tour, referencing one of her husband's biggest hits, "Forever and Ever, Amen."

For artists like Travis -- career musicians whose songs aren’t heavily played on streaming services, but who have decades of beloved albums and deep catalogs -- the ability to play live is more important than ever. Mature audiences are also more willing to pay higher prices for tickets, as well as for merchandise at a venue.

Yet it’s not always that simple. In 2010, Travis and Elizabeth “Lib” Hatcher, his longtime manager and wife of 19 years, divorced, with the resulting settlement splitting his past publishing royalties in half. In addition, although he has sold more than 18 million records during his career, according to the RIAA, he and Hatcher had taken cash advances against his sales royalties from Warner Music, meaning he receives no income from the label until the advances are recouped. Three years later, his stroke sapped his ability to perform live.

But Travis, a revered artist of the 1990s with seven Grammys to his name, hasn’t given up on a seemingly impossible conundrum: how to perform when you physically can’t.

On Oct. 7, all but three of the original 12 dates were canceled due to production issues, according to a spokesperson. “Nobody wants to put Randy in an embarrassing situation,” one unaffiliated promoter tells Billboard. "I was scratching my head trying to figure out what was even the conceptual nature behind it. They might as well have hired somebody to go out and be a cover band.”

Although Travis needs help walking and communicating, he enjoys personal contact -- he recently spent long days signing his memoir Forever and Ever, Amen, which came out in May. "[One signing] was three hours long and I kept going up to him and saying, 'You need to go to the restroom? You need to get something to drink?' 'Nope, I'm doing fine,'" Conway says. Over the next few months, Travis plans to put out an album setting past vocal performances with a symphony, titled "This Never Happened," and hopes to release 13 recently discovered tracks one of his producers unearthed from sessions in the '90s and early 2000s. 

Travis owns the publishing on songs he wrote or co-wrote, such as "I Told You So," "Heroes and Friends" and "Reasons I Cheat," according to Mary Travis, but Conway says: "Fifty percent of any royalties or past revenue sources are split with him and his former manager. They were 50-50 partners on a lot of Randy's income.” Travis also owns some of his master recordings, but not all, and his team won't say which was which.

A scene in Travis' book describes a post-stroke meeting with Warner Bros. execs, who explain that despite his multi-platinum album sales, he never recouped on his advances. "Over the years, there have been a lot of draws against those royalties," one exec tells Randy and Mary. In addition, the Travises learned they had no disability insurance or policies taken out on his voice or canceled shows. "That was absurd -- and terrifying," he writes. 

Streaming has restored growth to the record business in recent years, but artists are not always beneficiaries, given the complicated deals they often make with labels and publishers throughout their careers. So they often have to make up their income through ticket and merchandise sales -- which can be difficult when health issues prevent them from touring.Unions provide resources to incapacitated musicians, as do organizations like the Recording Academy's MusiCares, which distributed $5.5 million in aid to 7,500 musicians, managers, songwriters and others last year.

The Travises don’t put much stock in digital. "As far as this new technology and the streaming and stuff, the kids try to teach us, but I'm a slow learner," Mary Travis says. Does Randy Travis make much money off streaming? Mary says he receives royalty payments, but “it’s half of what he used to get,” due to the divorce. 

Randy is more succinct: "Heh!" he says on the phone. “Nah.”

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of Billboard.


THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.