Randy Travis Revisited ‘Storms of Life’, But Did He Like What He Heard?
Let's do the math on Randy Travis' 1986 album Storms of Life. For reasons only those who recorded in the '80s can recall, Travis was limited to just 10 songs for his debut album. The 2021 reissue features three additional songs, all of which would have worked well on the LP and one of which — "Ain't No Use" — would have been a smash.
Travis and his wife Mary share that he recorded 20 songs for the album. Twenty minus 13 equals seven songs that no one seems to be able to find or recall.
"If you find them, let us know," Mary says alongside the singer, who's smiling and laughing in agreement.
"I assume [Travis' record label, Warner Bros.] has them because they were all laid down. They all went to studio," she adds. "I'd love to know what they are."
Her husband, she says, would probably share the titles if not for his aphasia, a post-stroke condition that severely limits his ability to understand and express speech. He did recall the new additions upon hearing them, however, and shared a bit about where he was at personally at the time:
The TL;DR version of young Randy Travis' story is that he struggled to break into country music for the latter years of the 1970s, then moved to Nashville and was turned down by every label, as a glossier brand of pop-country music was en vogue at the time. The experience didn't built confidence, he concedes, nodding alongside Mary, who's explaining in the unique way they've developed to do media in recent years.
"He believed in the music," she says. "He wasn't sure he was ever going to get accepted like he wanted to because once you take 10 years of 'No, no, no, you're too country,' where do you go to play country music if you can't come to Nashville."
Early performances show what Mary Travis describes as Randy's humble, shy personality. There was a shift one year before the album, however: When playing the 1985 Fan Fair in Nashville, she says, he took the stage and started to sing "On the Other Hand," but the crowd of over 20,000 cut him off with enthusiastic applause. The song later became his first No. 1 hit.
Of the 10 originals on Storms of Life, there's just two songwriting credits for Travis, and both are extraordinarily dark. Producer Kyle Lehning plays up "Send My Body" with a swift, four-on-the-floor, fiddling instrumentation that makes it even more of a Johnny Cash hat-tip than it already was. There's none of that on "Reasons I Cheat," but it's a tortured ballad of infidelity that may just hit too hard.
Taste of Country asked Travis where this song, in particular, came from, and again, he turned to his wife to explain. She couldn't or wouldn't do it, but the real truth is found in the above video, at about 3:00.
Here's a hint: Cash, George Jones and Lefty Frizzell were his biggest influences. The Possum is all over this song. At times — for example, when he falls up for "old friends" during the first and final chorus — it's almost like he's doing an impersonation.
"The dreams that I’ve buried / The load that I carry / Are some of the reasons I cheat," Travis sings, with a full chorus behind him, almost ironically.
Storms of Life has been called a perfect album, and even if you feel that's hyperbole, it's hard to argue against its timelessness. Along with Lehning and a team of advisers that included his now-ex-wife, Lib Hatcher, Travis was dogged in pursuing excellent songs. Still, a few decisions seem bold by today's standards: The reluctant lover "Messin' With My Mind" relies heavily on a clarinet interlude — nobody is putting clarinet on country albums in the 21st century.
Does Travis hear perfection? Or is he the kind of artist that wants to fix the mistakes 35 years later?
With a smile, a nod and a gesture, the Country Music Hall of Fame artist lets us know he isn't the self-loathing kind. "Good," he says.
"He had an agreement — they made an early on agreement," Mary adds. "'If we don't love it, we don't do it.'"
Like the album, that philosophy still cooks in 2021.