Interview: Travis Tritt Wants to Surprise Listeners With New Live Album, DVD
Plenty of artists have released live projects, but few have been brave enough to do what Travis Tritt did for his new live album and DVD, A Man and His Guitar — Live From the Franklin Theatre: Recorded at the Franklin Theatre in Franklin, Tenn., during an unplugged solo concert, each performance is just Tritt and his guitar.
A Man and His Guitar, released Friday (Nov. 18), features some of Tritt’s biggest hits — “Here’s a Quarter,” “Best of Intentions,” “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” and “Help Me Hold On” — along with classics such as “I Walk the Line” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” among others. The country singer recently sat down with The Boot to discuss his new live record, sharing his reasons for releasing an acoustic project, how he picked the songs and why he chose Marty Stuart and James Otto to appear with him on the DVD.
Why was now the right time to record and release A Man and His Guitar?
From the very beginning in my career, when I was first getting started and I was doing live band shows with all of my guys, there would always be a portion of the show when I would send all the guys offstage and I would come out, just me and my guitar, and do one or two songs by myself; that goes all the way back to the late ‘80s. The response was always tremendous to that particular portion of the show.
Over the years, I had different managers and booking agents that tried to encourage me to put an entire show together of just me and my guitar, acoustically. I resisted it for a long time: I told all the managers and booking agents, I said, “Nobody in their right mind is going to want to come out and sit there and listen to a guy like me sitting down and playing guitar and singing for two hours. It’s just never going to happen.” Finally, about six years ago, I started occasionally going out and putting a solo acoustic show together, and the response to all of those shows was just phenomenal, much more than I ever dreamed that it would be.
How did you go from performing acoustic shows to deciding to release a live DVD?
Because of the tremendous success of those shows over the years, we finally decided, “Look, since I have don’t do that many of these type shows throughout the year, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to go in and record one live, in front of a live audience, and capture the uniqueness of those type of performances and put it out in CD format, and also film it, so that people can see what these shows are all about?” And I think they kind of bring a different aspect to the music that I’ve done over the years. It’s really exciting for me to get the chance to show some different sides that some people might be so familiar with.
How did you choose the 24 songs that made it onto the project?
I think the biggest challenge for me was, first of all, deciding on the songs. It’s a nice problem to have, to have so many hits that have been so successful throughout the years, and know that you can’t get to all of them. But to pick out the ones that have been sort of the staples of your career and the ones that have meant the most to me over the years, that was a challenge.
But, once you get that kind of set in stone, then the other challenge was going out and finding cover material that were songs that influenced me over the years — finding those songs that really stood out, that were songs that might show a different aspect, aside from just straight hit country. I was always influenced by country as my No. 1 influence, but I was also heavily influenced by bluegrass, by Southern rock, by blues and by gospel music. So this live solo acoustic show gave me an opportunity to really showcase those different aspects, as well as the country side, in a way that maybe I had never been able to do before.
"I think any time you can surprise people after having been out there as long as I’ve been … it’s thrilling for me, and I think it’s thrilling for audiences as well."
Did you do anything different with the live DVD that you don’t typically do in your acoustic shows?
We didn’t change anything or try to add or subtract from any of the things we’ve been doing. We thought, we’ve got a formula here that works, and we know it works, so let’s just go out and do it like we’d do any of the other solo acoustic shows, and then record it and film it and put it out there so more people can see what those shows are all about.
Why did you include Marty Stuart and James Otto on A Man and His Guitar?
Marty Stuart and I have a tremendous history that goes a long way back to the beginning of my career, from the original recording of “The Whiskey Ain’t Working” to the other songs that we’ve done together — and also, tremendously successful tours together, starting with the No Hats Tour back in the early ‘90s. Marty and I consider ourselves to be “brothers from different mothers;” we’re such great friends, and we have a tremendous chemistry onstage, and off, that each time that we perform together, it’s really kind of special. It’s magical. And so, when this project started coming together, I basically called Marty and asked him if he would want to be a part of it, and he graciously agreed.
James and I met some years back, when he was first getting started, and he contacted me about getting into the music industry. And, any time you hear that, as an artist that’s been around for a while, you always find it flattering; I always did … To have people that are new and getting started now, that are extremely talented, to come out and say, “You know, you were my Johnny Cash,” or, “You were my Waylon Jennings,” or, “You were my George Jones or Merle Haggard, that kind of inspiration to me,” it’s just extremely fulfilling, and it gives you a tremendous amount of satisfaction, and it’s one of the reasons I was so excited to have James Otto be a part of this project.
You have maintained a really busy touring schedule for almost 30 years. Any secrets to your success?
I’ve been so blessed to have a career that has lasted this long and still be able, after nearly 30 years of doing this, to be able to go out and not only entertain audiences and have sold-out shows and have such a tremendous following, but also to be able to surprise people.
"People walk away from those shows, and they say, ‘Wow. I never knew.’"
I think the biggest comment that we’ve heard throughout the past few years, when I’ve been doing this solo acoustic shows, is, people walk away from those shows, and they say, “Wow. I never knew.” And that can be followed by a group of different phrases: “I never knew that you had that many different influences in your music.” Or, “I never knew that you had those relationships with people like Johnny Cash and with Waylon Jennings and some of those other people. George Jones. Personal relationships. I never knew that.” Or, “I never knew that you played guitar like that. I never knew that much about your personality that comes off in these live acoustic shows.”
So all of those different aspects — I think any time you can surprise people after having been out there as long as I’ve been, which is a long time — to be able to still, at this point, to be able to surprise people and really kind of reveal and unveil a side to you and your music that people might not be as familiar with, I think that’s always — it’s thrilling for me, and I think it’s thrilling for audiences as well.