Tracy Lawrence Talks Duets Album 'Good Ole Days,' Advice He'd Give to His Younger Self

Laura Roberts/Invision/AP
Tracy Lawrence performs at the 2017 CMA Music Festival at Nissan Stadium on June 11, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn.

It was early in 1996 and Tracy Lawrence was working on his fourth album for Atlantic Records when he came across a song called “Time Marches On.” It didn’t take him long to form an opinion about the Bobby Braddock composition.

“I knew the moment I heard it that it was a smash, and that it was a career song,” he recalls to Billboard. “Those don’t come along every day. To be able to say that much about multiple generations of a family in three minutes is pretty masterful, but that’s the caliber of a songwriter that Bobby Braddock is. When you hear a demo like that, you know it’s a hit.” The song – which became the title track of the album - was a No. 1 Hot Country Songs smash, and was nominated for the CMA Song of the Year award that fall.

Lawrence recently re-recorded the song for a brand-new set, Good Ole Days, which is out now. On the album, the singer teams up with many of the hottest stars in the business to perform his classics – including Tim McGraw on "Time." He says that the singer has been his friend since long before either artist hit it big in the early 1990s.

“Tim and I met when I first got to town. He had been here for a little bit. I think he had an independent deal, and we became friends, and started running around the clubs together. The first time I ever rode on a touring bus, it was with Tim in Louisiana. He was playing a club in Shreveport, and I got to ride down there with him. It was very exciting for me. I remember when I got mugged in the early '90s, and woke up in the hospital, Tim was one of the first people that I saw. He and I have been friends for such a long time. Our lives have all moved in different directions, and Tim and I make it a point to call each other periodically, and meet each other for lunch. We work very hard at trying to maintain that friendship.”

Though he has been friends with artists such as McGraw and Craig Morgan – both of whom appear on the set – for years, many of the collaborations are with artists who consider Tracy Lawrence to be an influence on their style – much the same way that he felt toward artists such as George Jones and Merle Haggard. He says that the role reversal takes some getting used to.

“I’m adjusting to it a little bit, because in my mind, I’m still that young kid who came to town idolizing Jones and Haggard, and all those guys. I’ve had a chance to get to work with so many of those artists, and spend some time with them over the years. That may be part of the reason that it’s a little difficult for me to swallow at this point. My career started very early. I was in my early twenties when I started having hits, so I’m still adjusting to that [He released his debut single “Sticks and Stones” in late 1991 when he was just twenty-three]. A lot of these kids were playing my stuff in the honky-tonks when they were teenagers, and I was still pretty young. It’s strange to adjust to all that.”

But Lawrence says that the process of putting together Good Ole Days was a humbling one. “I’ve done a couple of Greatest Hits packages in my career, but never anything like this,” he surmises. “We felt like there was such a great list of young artists out there that I had influenced, and we started reaching out to a few people, and were pleasantly surprised with the feedback that we got that people wanted to sing on this record. I was very blessed. Tim was the first to commit to the project, and the second was Jason Aldean, and the list just grew from there.”

Giving his classics an updated sheen made him realize how fortunate he is to have been part of an era in country music that still resonates with fans of all ages. “I think one of the great things about a lot of the music from that era is that it still holds up today. The production values were so strong, and the writing was great. Those songs were so impactful. It was the story of people’s lives back then, and it’s great to see that those songs have transcended the generations. A lot of kids are searching the Internet, and they might find one song that they like, and then listen to the entire catalog. It’s great to have teenagers come out to the shows and sing along with ‘Sticks and Stones’ and ‘Alibis.’ They have been exposed to all of it. It’s pretty awesome.”

One of those artists who was exposed to Lawrence’s music was Justin Moore, who turns in a fabulous performance with the singer on “Alibis,” a 1993 hit that Lawrence reveals almost went to another Tracy. "I felt like I was very fortunate to get that. There were a lot of people after that song. Tracy Byrd had been playing it at a house gig he had been doing in Texas for a while, and had recorded it, but the label had bumped it off. Waltzes were always very special to me. I loved the George Strait waltzes that he did. I think it was meant to be mine.”

There are two new songs on the album: the title cut, which pairs him with Brad Arnold of 3 Doors Down and Big & Rich, and “Finally Home,” a song that he collaborated on with Morgan, which turned out to be the perfect fit.

“Craig and I were labelmates at Atlantic in the late '90s. We didn’t get to spend a lot of time together. I always have had a lot of respect for him. I think he’s a fine human being. He’s one of those guys that if I needed something, he would do whatever he could to help me. He’s had some great records. It was written with the Finally Home Foundation in mind. They provide interest-free housing for soldiers and wounded veterans. I had tracked the song, and it was the last piece that we didn’t have a duet partner on. I found out that Craig was the celebrity spokesperson for the Finally Home Foundation. So, I called him up, and we were able to get it worked out. It was really special, and you could tell that the lyrics brought some old memories to his eyes. You can feel the emotion in his voice when he sings it.”

Good Ole Days consists of all male guest appearances – with one exception, a remake of “Stars Over Texas” with Kellie Pickler, which Lawrence says he’s very proud of. “I’ve never done a lot of love songs. I’ve done a lot of crying in your beer/heartbreak material. I wrote this years ago, and it turned out to be a big hit. I felt that the album needed a female perspective on it. Kellie has such a great traditional country voice. I really wanted to work with her, and she was gracious enough to come and sing with me.”

Lawrence hopes the artists on this album think of him the same way that he thought of the legends he shared the stage with early on in his musical story. “You always have that feeling that the people that you look up to are not going to be very nice people. I was blessed that most of the heroes that I met were gracious to me, and I hope that I’m able to be that way with them. You’re instilling something to the next group that will be passed on.”

And, what if a la Brad Paisley’s “Letter To Me,” Lawrence could write a letter to himself when he was just starting his career climb? He didn’t hesitate. “Wait for your third wife,” he says with a laugh. “Skip the first two. You would have saved a lot of money.”

Good Ole Days Track List

“Time Marches On” / with Tim McGraw
“Sticks and Stones” / with Luke Bryan
“Alibis” / with Justin Moore
“Can’t Break It To My Heart” / with Jason Aldean
“Good Ole Days” / with Brad Arnold and Big & Rich
“If The World Had A Front Porch” / with Luke Combs
“Texas Tornado”  / with Dustin Lynch
“Stars Over Texas” / with Kellie Pickler
“If The Good Die Young” / with Craig Morgan
“Paint Me A Birmingham” / with Easton Corbin
“Finally Home” / with Craig Morgan