Tracy Lawrence: Loving Life
By Rob Patterson © 2006 CMA Close Up News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.
Tracy Lawrence, as gracious as he is hardworking, just has to confess to his interviewer: "It's gonna be a long day, brother." It’s springtime, he's home in between dates opening for George Strait and has just taken his daughters to school and wedged in a quick workout at the gym.
More than 15 years after he arrived in Nashville in an old Toyota Corolla with a guitar and some very big dreams, Lawrence still labors with the devotion of a scrappy and ambitious newcomer.
Lawrence has album sales in the millions and a series of No. 1 singles to his credit. He considers himself a Country Music lifer who is aiming at success over the long haul.
Touring with Strait reinforces the standard for success that Lawrence wants to achieve. "He was the driving force who made me want to do this," he noted. "If it weren't for George, I might be driving race cars or working in radio or God knows what I'd be doing. He was the single most influential person in my life from when I was 12 years old to date.
"He's just a class act," Lawrence enthused. "I've never been out on a tour with anyone who's as gracious and accommodating as they've been with us. They've shared their entire stage with us. We're using their drum kit. They're giving us 98 percent of their bells and whistles, all the moving lights. They've been wonderful about every aspect of it."
Just about everything has been wonderful of late for Lawrence. After shuttling from Atlantic Records to Warner Bros. and then from DreamWorks to Mercury Nashville, he's regaining the momentum that shot him to stardom on his 1991 debut album, Sticks And Stones, which yielded four Top 10 singles, and his second album Alibis, which featured four No. 1 hits.
"Just trying to keep my place in the commercial format in the industry is the biggest struggle I have," he said. "I'll be 38 years old this weekend. And Country Music these days is kind of like being in sports. It wasn’t always that way. They used to let you age gracefully. Your Haggards and such were still getting commercial airplay at 50. Nowadays, you're like an athlete. (Today) when you hit 40, you're kind of like an old guy. They want the next flavor of the month ... because they're trying to sell to teenage kids.”
Lawrence knows that Country Music fans are faithful, as he sees every night opening for Strait. "George isn't setting off any pyros, and he's still setting attendance records," he noted. And staying true to the Country tradition as Strait does is what Lawrence intends to do as well. "I know what I do best. And I believe in my soul that there are lots of people out there who want the same thing."
Lawrence has set the stage for the next phase of his career with Then & Now: The Hits Collection, a unique greatest hits (and more) package that is 17-songs strong. He re-recorded 14 of his classics for the set, which took the singer down memory lane. "It was real cool because it was like reliving all of it in condensed form — getting a chance to go through in chronological order everything that went down. I was in the studio with a lot of players I worked with years before. The energy was great in the room and we actually blasted through it pretty quick. It was a lot of fun," Lawrence said.
Lawrence indicated that he made the decision to re-record his hits because the masters for his previous hits were owned by another record company. Still he felt this was the time to re-introduce the public to those songs, so he recorded them once more. But he got more from the process than he expected.
“In making this record, I got the chance to study myself as a vocalist and as a person. It was pretty educational to go back through 14 years of my life and pick myself apart. I learned a lot about myself. In a lot of ways I found the whole process healthy and therapeutic,” Lawrence shared.
Released from any old demons and ready to move on, he recorded new works for the projects that apply to life today. "If I Don't Make It Back" is based by its writers on a true story from the Vietnam War, but Lawrence feels it addresses even today's military conflict. "I really fought recording songs like this," he admitted. "I had everyone and their brother pitching me these things since September 11th. I don't like to capitalize on people's suffering. And I like songs that have powerful emotions. This song moved me because of the twist at the end. It wasn't really as much about the guy going off to war. It kind of ended up being about the girl. It was really about the emotions people feel when they lose someone. And I think you can apply that to anything. It's universal."
Recording songs with that sort of wide and lasting appeal is paramount to Lawrence's goal of making a life of his love for music. "I'm at a very pivotal time in my career right now where the moves I make are going to influence the next six or seven years," he noted. "A couple of right moves from here and a few pieces falling in line and I'll be headlining arenas and backing off on my tour schedule. I have aspirations of my management company growing. I'm going to be managing acts and producing records. All the aspirations I have are in the music business and it all centers around making music. I still haven't lost the passion for the craft."
James Stroud, current Co-Chairman of Universal Music Group, produced Lawrence’s early recordings, along with Then & Now: The Hits Collection. He noted, “(Tracy) is a stylist with his own style of country music. When you hear his songs, you know they come from his heart. He's also one of the best song men I've ever heard.”
It's a passion that has fired Lawrence from an early age. "He always talked about it and dreamed about it," said Tommy McDonald, one of his best friends from the age of 6 and his tour merchandise manager. "Even when we were in grade school he always carried a little cassette recorder and would record himself singing along with some song or announcing a Pee Wee ball game or something. In junior high he learned how to play instruments, and that's when he got a passion for singing. And he always talked about going to Nashville.
"Coming from a small town in Arkansas of about 1,200 people, it just doesn't happen to someone you know. It was always an unattainable goal in my opinion. But for Tracy, it was always attainable. He talked about doing it ever since I can remember."
Lawrence is evolving this new phase of his career. In May, Lawrence and his brother, Laney, started their own record label, Rocky Comfort Records. The forthcoming album For the Love features his new single, “You Find Out Who You’re Friends Are,” which will be released to radio this summer. The title track is a duet with Brad Arnold, the lead singer of the rock band 3 Doors Down. Lawrence is currently on tour performing his hits and giving fans a preview of his new music.
Does Lawrence have further ambitions aside from solidifying his career and working with other artists? “(You mean) other than being Entertainer of the Year? I don't know if there's a lot," he said. "I've driven race cars, I've flown in an F-16 fighter over German airspace. I haven't been to Australia, which I'd love to do. I'd love to broaden my fan base and tour more outside the United States. Other than that, most of my goals are extremely career minded."
And with his career back on track and the new endeavors that await him, Lawrence is a very happy man. "I'm so satisfied with my life these days that I thank the Lord every day," he concluded. "My kids are healthy; I've got a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters. I've found a stable home life after multiple trial and error. I'm just enjoying life."
On the Web: www.tracylawrence.com