Two by Randy Travis

October 21, 2019 • 11:00 am

I’ve now finished watching to Ken Burns’s fabulous eight-part television series (sixteen hours), “Country Music”.  Don’t miss it!

There are a lot of wonderful songs, and one thing I realized about country music, which hadn’t hit me before, is that the tenor of country songs is far more personal than in, say, rock or pop music. That is, while the latter genres may tell stories about human lives, country music, in contrast, concentrates heavily on the singer’s lives. That’s something not nearly as common in rock or pop, though those songs may be built around a personal experience (e.g., “Hey Jude” or “Julia” from The Beatles). And it concentrates on the common things that working class folk (nay, everyone) experience: alcohol, lost love bad marriages, and so on. You can empathize more with those things than with Paul McCartney’s song written to console John Lennon’s son Julian.

But I digress. One of my favorite country singers is Randy Travis, who, though he’s had hard times and has lost a lot of his voice, was to country music as Johnny Mathis was to pop ballads: possessor of a voice of pure beauty, but with Travis having a nasal twang that is pure country and not at all affected. In Burns’s series, though, Travis figures largely as a modern afterthought.

Deeper Than the Holler” written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, became Travis’s eighth number one hit on the country charts. It’s hard to believe that it was released 31 years ago!

The conceit is that the singer isn’t a fancy-pants crooner of romantic love ballads; he knows only of things country, like robins, pines, and hollers. But it’s not reverse snobbery at all—it’s lovely.

Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart,” by Hugh Prestwood, was a number one country hit for Travis in 1990. Wikipedia notes that it “features a rare and very distinct rhythm harmonica beat in the final 40 seconds of the song”. Well, I’m not sure what that beat is, but perhaps you can detect it in the recorded version. Do weigh in about this, as I’m puzzled.

20 thoughts on “Two by Randy Travis

  1. I too am a big Randy Travis fan. One of my favorites of his is “He Walked On Water” (not Christ, but the songwriter’s great-grandfather!). You won’t find it on any list of Randy’s top 10 or even top 20 songs, but for personal reasons I’m a sucker for sentimental songs about grandparents, and this one fits the bill in spades. Trigger warning: get out your hankies!

  2. And it concentrates on the common things that working class folk (nay, everyone) experience: alcohol, lost love bad marriages, and so on.

    But it took Stevie Goodman and John Prine (with an assist by David Allan Coe) to write the perfect country song:

    1. Love the David Allan Coe version. I didn’t know Prine had a hand in writing this but it doesn’t surprise me. Speaking of Prine’s hand reminds me of Kris Kristofferson’s comment on hearing Prine perform: “He’s so good we’re gonna have to break his fingers.”

      1. I love Prine. Saw him at the New Orleans Jazz Fest a few years ago. Half the Fairgrounds was under rain, other half under a rainbow.

        Steve Goodman was right up there with him as a songwriter and performer. Shame of it is Stevie died so young.

        Arlo Guthrie was playing a club in Chicago way back when. During a break, an unknown Stevie Goodman came up, told him he wrote a song for him. Arlo said buy me a beer; I’ll listen to you play it for as long as it takes to drink it. The song was City of New Orleans.”

    2. How did that joke go about country western songs? If you played them backward you would get the car back, get your wife back and the dog to.

      1. O my ! TRUTH, TRUTH from outta Mr Goodman,
        Mr Coe and Mr Prine. I adore these men / their works !
        ‘nd especially that last ALL – encompassing v e r s e !

        Two from Mr Prine = what a darling dude !
        one with that incomparable Ms IRIS DeMent !

        Mr Prine’s is a comeback story ! = his physical therapist
        saved his voice. Helped him this past
        decade, after lung cancer surgery, recover
        his voice by running up and down stairs,
        grasping his guitar whilst still heaving and
        “outta breath sorta” and singing through
        two songs’ worth. It worked ! L o v e him.
        And Ms Iris, o’course !
        Ms Iris plays Iowa a lotta.lotta: with her first car =
        “turned over once; it never went far.”


          1. Blue, you have recommended some really good tunes here. I listened to all of them and would recommend that others do the same. Introduce yourself to some music different from what you may be use to. It is worth a listen. Thanks to John Prine and Iris Dement.

  3. Please find yourself some Gillian Welsh and Dave Rawlings. Try the Harrow and Harvest album, and for an understated live recording that will touch you, try the Way it Will Be:

    If you want more, try their BBC live show.

    I’m not a big country fan, but her/their stuff is something on a different plane, IMO.

    BTW, Dave Rawlings is a certified genius guitar player, entirely unique.

  4. I’ll doubtless watch the first episode only when it’s shown over here, as I did with his Jazz documentary. The origins of musical genres are interesting even if you don’t like the music itself.

    The Carter Family sound (to me) almost pure Folk rather than Country, but you can just hear the germs of what become the defining features of Country.

  5. We’ve got one more episode to go. Agree with everything that you’ve written about “Country Music” I grew up in suburban Boston and never was touched by any of the music featured in the series. It was not part of the BSO’s Brahms-Beethoven-Bach repertoire. And the notion of having anything to do with the disheveled lives of Country Music musicians would have been anathema. Learning about this part of our culture is amazingly engaging.

  6. I’ve listened to two Youtube recordings (not live) of Hard Rock Bottom, and I listened to the link provided above that actually linked to Deeper Than the Holler, and not only do I not know what a “rhythm harmonica beat” means (I have some guesses), I don’t even hear a harmonica in the last 40 seconds of any of those recordings (hope I’m not missing it in the mix somehow). So your guess is as good as mine.

  7. Haven’t been able to watch any of this so far (I’m in the UK). I feel compelled to post this:
    Johnny Cash “When the Man Comes Around”

    It accompanies the finest scene from any TV series.

    [Note. The “man” is Jesus. The lyrics make more sense when you know that.]

  8. Of all of his songs that I can think of, I relate to his Diggin’ Up Bones the most, altho not necessarily in re. my ex. And some of the lyrics are great – “exhumin’ things that’s better left alone…”

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