By Doug Hart
Randy Travis burst onto the country music scene in the 1980s at the vanguard of a traditionalist movement that revolutionized country music by playing ... country music. For much of the 1980s, country music basked in the warm afterglow of Urban Cowboy, the 1979 John Travolta film that gave country a mainstream appeal it had never enjoyed. The phenomenal success of Urban Cowboy inspired countless country singers, such as Dolly Parton and Barbara Mandrell, to pursue success on the pop charts. All too often, however, pop success was achieved through shallow songwriting and slick production values. In the process, country became distanced from the honest simplicity and reverence for tradition that had long been its greatest strengths.
Randy Travis, who appears Aug. 10 at the Coeur d'Alene Casino, proved to a skeptical country music industry that authentic country could be hugely successful without surrendering its values. His major label debut, 1986's Storms of Life, sold an astonishing 3 million copies, becoming the first-ever multi-platinum country album. As a result, Travis dominated the 1986 CMA awards, winning Top Male Vocalist; Album of the Year for Storms of Life; and Song of the Year and Single of the Year for "On the Other Hand," the first of 10 No.1 country singles he had in the '80s.
Travis dominated country music for the rest of the decade, in the process selling over 13 million albums. Most of the singles and all of the seven albums he released between 1986 and 1991 went to No.1 on the country music charts. Always and Forever, his second Warner Brothers album, spent 43 weeks in the top slot.
In the early '90s, Travis took a two-year break from recording, during which time he married Lib Hatcher, his long-time manager. In his absence, however, Garth Brooks rewrote the rules for country music. Building on the huge success of 1990's No Fences, Brooks in 1991 released Ropin' the Wind, the first country album to ever debut atop the pop charts. Ropin' the Wind went on to sell 13 million copies, re-establishing country music's mainstream presence.
Brooks developed his mainstream appeal by injecting arena rock theatrics into his shows, including strapping himself into a harness and flying over the audience like some pot-bellied Peter Pan. In effect, Brooks returned country music to its Urban Cowboy era, when style mattered more than substance, and sales figures mattered more than authenticity.
Not surprisingly, Randy Travis was largely greeted with indifference when he re-emerged in 1993 with Wind in the Wire, an ABC TV special featuring traditional cowboy songs. The soundtrack to the show reached only No. 24 on the charts, and none of its singles even cracked the top 40.
Wind in the Wire was a stunning failure for a singer who had routinely and consistently enjoyed No.1 hits, but he rebounded in 1994 with This is Me, which reached No.10 and spawned theNo.1 singles "Before You Kill Us All" and "Whisper My Name." Since then, Travis has released three more albums, and while he has never regained the dominance he maintained in country music in the '80s, he continues to be a fan favorite. He had a smattering of No.1 hits in the 1990s, including "Spirit of a Boy" in 1999.
Travis has also launched a successful acting career in recent years. He's appeared in a number of productions, including Matlock and Touched by an Angel on TV, and Francis Ford Coppola's The Rainmaker on the big screen. Travis has a role in the soon-to-be-released Antonio Banderas film White River Kid, and recently finished filming Texas Rangers with Dylan McDermott.
Randy Travis plays at the Coeur d'Alene Casino in Worley, Idaho, on Aug. 10 at 7 pm Tickets: $25. Call: 325-SEAT.
Keep an ear to the ground
Heads up, music lovers.
Coeur d'Alene's finest music emporium (uh, make that one of the finest in the Northwest) is moving to bigger digs. After enduring for years, tucked into a strip mall at 2920 N. Government Way, Terry and Deon Borchard of the Long Ear are pulling up stakes for a home they can call their own, a lovely brick number at 2405 N. Fourth with amenities galore.
"We're moving for a larger location with better parking and easier access to the store," says Deon Borchard. "But also because we've always wanted to be able to have live music and we've never had the room to do it. With this new location we can. In the back yard, we have a patio for the bands to play and for people to enjoy the festivities."
There was a time when independent record stores were the rule, not the exception. Cool people -- those for whom music was more than just something to put on while doing the dishes -- would hang out at the record store, talking tunes, bands and industry (squares would go to Sears). And the employees at these places were more than that. They were genuinely excited about what they were selling and loved to challenge patrons' perceptions and sensibilities. They were music nuts, too.
The Borchards opened their first record store in Big Bear Lake, Calif. in 1973 out of a need for...income. But they chose to be record merchants out of a mutual love of music. They moved their operation to Coeur d'Alene in 1985.
The Long Ear's recipe for greatness and success is no mystery. It's obvious to anyone willing to spend more than five minutes in the store. It's just this: great selection (they stock over 13,000 titles), good prices (usually better than their big-time competition) and a knowledgeable, friendly and enthusiastic staff.
"We always tell people we don't accept applications, we extend invitations. What that means is, we get our employees through our customer base; people that we think share our attitudes about music."
The Long Ear is thriving these days after weathering the intrusion of a large music chain into the area.
"It's too bad that independent record stores are just drying up and blowing away," laments Borchard. "We had a couple of tough years there but we're back beyond where we had ever been before. It's growing and I think this move is going to be so healthy for us."
The Long Ear will be closed for the move on Aug. 6 and will reopen at their new location on Aug. 10. The Borchards will put their new facility to the test on Aug. 19 with a music festival they are calling (what else?) Ear Fest featuring the best of regional music. Stay tuned for more details.
Ear Fest takes place Aug. 19 at noon. Free. Call: (208) 765-3472.