From a working-class background in North Carolina to being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Randy Travis has sold more than 25 million albums in both country and gospel music. This seemingly charmed life began a downward spiral in 2009: his marriage dissolved, he discovered that his finances had unraveled, and his struggles with anger led to alcohol abuse, public embarrassment, and even police arrest in 2012. Then, just as he was putting his life back together, Randy suffered a devastating viral cardiomyopathy that led to a massive stroke which he was not expected to survive.
Bible Gateway interviewed Randy Travis (@randytravis) about his book, Forever and Ever, Amen: A Memoir of Music, Faith, and Braving the Storms of Life (Thomas Nelson, 2019).
Please explain what the title means.
Randy Travis: The song and the book are about unconditional love. The first time I heard the song, “Forever and Ever, Amen,” I knew it had potential to touch people. It was a song celebrating love and commitment and marital fidelity through the years—a major departure from country music staples that touted “lyin,’ cheatin,’ and tears in your beer.”
Everywhere we went, we heard heartwarming stories of what the song had meant to someone.
“That song reminded me so much of my grandparents, who have been married forever. So we played it at their fiftieth anniversary,” a young woman said. “And Grandma and Grandpa danced.”
“That’s the kind of relationship we want to have in our marriage,” a goo-goo-eyed engaged couple said. “Where we keep on loving each other no matter what happens.”
“We were headed for divorce,” one man admitted. “My wife and I sat down at the kitchen table and listened one more time to ‘Forever and Ever, Amen.’ We both started to cry, and we realized we were throwing away something truly precious. Then we went to see the lawyers and tore up the divorce papers.”
Untold numbers of middle-aged couples smiled, I was told, every time the song played, as they looked adoringly at each other and declared their renewed commitment to each other, as they sang along to “I’m gonna love you forever and ever. Forever and ever, amen.”
You begin the book with your harrowing experience in the hospital. Briefly describe that time in your life.
Randy Travis: I was hospitalized by a rare virus in my heart that affected my ability to breathe. Doctors thought I had pneumonia, but it was much worse. I flatlined in the hospital and was technically dead for more than two-and-a-half minutes before I returned to life. I had always believed in the resurrection of Jesus. Although I suffered a massive stroke, apparently, he was not done with me yet.
You write candidly about your troubled youth: criminal activity, taking drugs, drinking, and immorality. Looking back on it all, how do you see God working through it all?
I was every parent’s nightmare during my teen years. I did bad things just for the sheer evil of doing them. For instance, I once threw a brick through the window of Pruitt Phifer’s country store so I could steal some pocketknives and Timex watches—and Mr. Phifer was a family friend! Thankfully he didn’t press charges.
A lot of the trouble I got into as a teenager revolved around alcohol, drugs, and vehicles. I totaled two cars, a couple of pickup trucks, and a horse and buggy. The horse survived okay, but the buggy didn’t fare as well.
I was on probation because I had recently been arrested several times—once for a DUI, again, driving on a revoked license, and once for disorderly conduct. So when I was arrested for trying to steal a van, there was little doubt that I’d be heading to prison.
God was certainly merciful and patient with me. He didn’t give up on me, even when others did.
How did you handle all the rejection you received at the start of your career and what did you learn through it all?
Randy Travis: When my first album was finished, we played several of the songs around Nashville for various record executives, hoping that some might catch a vision for our music. None did. Everybody turned us down flat, some twice, some three times, some more emphatically than others.
Over and over we heard, “You’re too country. That sound will never sell.”
I was disappointed but not discouraged. After all, I’d been hearing that remark for nearly ten years.
Throughout those years, I never said, ‘This isn’t going to work,’ but I believed I’d make it eventually. The ability to withstand was a gift and having a certain amount of knowledge from the Word of God certainly helped.
How has the Bible impacted your life and career?
Randy Travis: The Bible has been my Guide Book for life. Country music and Gospel Music are closely linked. Most country artists have a deep respect for the Word, even though, like me, we haven’t always lived accordingly. But many artists and songwriters know the Scriptures. Songs like “Three Wooden Crosses” tell the Gospel story in a fresh way that unchurched listeners understand.
I was on a treadmill the first time I heard the song about a farmer, a teacher, a hooker, and a preacher who are all on a midnight bus to Mexico when it collides with an eighteen-wheeler. Just when I thought I knew where the story was going, the lyrics took an intriguing twist. The last verse of the song revealed a preacher telling the story, blessing the farmer, and the teacher, and the preacher who gave the blood-stained Bible to his mama—the hooker—who had read it to him.
I’ve always included a gospel song in every show, whether in a casino or any other venue—songs such as “Have a Little Talk with Jesus,” and other songs with strong spiritual messages that I’d recorded on my albums. Later I included “Baptism,” “Shallow Water,” and “Pray for the Fish.” The lyrics in that last song described a fella who sounded a lot like the former me, so regardless where we performed it, the audience got the message.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Randy Travis: Second Corinthians 5:17 has always meant a lot to me. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away, behold new things have come” (NASB).
For me baptism was a powerful illustration of the statement that the old Randy was dead, buried in the water and gone, and that I was a new person. Thanks to Jesus, I have been raised to a new life here and now and eternal life in heaven to come.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Randy Travis: The Bible Gateway audio app is a tremendous blessing. Especially since suffering a massive stroke, reading is difficult for me, but I love to hear the Word of God. It is life to me . . . and as I like to say, it always will be, forever and ever, amen!
Forever and Ever, Amen is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Randy Travis is a country music singer, songwriter, guitarist, and actor. Since 1985, he has recorded 20 studio albums and charted more than 50 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, and 16 of these were number-one hits. His debut album Storms of Life sold more than 4 million copies and established him as a major force in the neotraditional country movement. Travis followed up his successful debut with a string of platinum and multi-platinum albums. He has sold more than 25 million records, and has earned 22 number-one hits, six number-one albums, six Grammy Awards, six CMA Awards, nine ACM Awards, 10 AMA Awards, eight Dove Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2016, Travis was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
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