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Closeup Magazine

 

 

THE STUFF DREAMS ARE MADE OF

TRACY BYRD article

By Weslea Bell

            “It’s crazy, but I’ll dream almost nightly about this magnificent buck. I can see the whole thing happen. The deer comes in on this side, and he’s downwind of me. What’s my shooting range going to be, and what are my chances of hitting him?”

            Tracy Byrd squints into the distance and moves his hands along the table to simulate the approaching prey. His voice escalates as the man versus beast scenario unfolds in his imagination. If you want to get to bottom of a man’s heart, just listen to his dreams.

Back in 1995 Tracy Byrd was flying high, being reported as the “Next Big Thing” and hailed as Country Music’s most exciting new talent. He had recently been spotted by a talent scout at a Beaumont nightspot called Cutters, the same place where Mark Chesnutt got his start, and immediately produced a successful debut album entitled TRACY BYRD.  Even though things were going better than any new artist could dream, there was something unsettling about that first project. In some of his earliest published interviews, Tracy talks about the importance of producing music that will last. He detested what he referred to as “bland, middle-of-the-road Country,” vowing, “that stuff isn’t built to last.” His subconscious has been beckoning him to construct songs that would indeed last ever since, and with his latest release IT’S ABOUT TIME, he’s finally satisfied that calling.

Tracy Byrd thinks big. He doesn’t want to come out of the studio with an album that just sounds good. He wants it to be music that will survive the ebbs and flow of popular affection, music in the vein of Merle Haggard and George Jones. His commitment to traditional music has always been the driving force of his performances, but only recently has his career matured to the point of giving him almost total control of the music that represents him. In the day of Country Music magazines featuring Shania Twain and Alan Jackson standing back to back on their covers, audiences and artists alike are faced with a decision to go one way or the other with their musical taste. Tracy was in the producer’s chair for IT’S ABOUT TIME, and you don’t have to wonder who he’s standing behind.

            The first six years of Tracy’s career pulsated with rhythmic waves of success, including a new, hit producing album every year. Songs like “Holdin’ Heaven,” “Watermelon Crawl,” “Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous,” wedding favorite “The Keeper of the Stars,” and “When Mama Ain’t Happy (Ain’t Nobody Happy)” have earned Tracy a permanent place in the public’s heart. Just check out his web site with its special page for fans who wish to discuss “personal encounters with Byrd,” people who take great pleasure in his down to earth demeanor. One fan gushes, “We saw him washing his own clothes! I love that man!”

Humble and effacing as he may be, Tracy has never lost the edginess he had at the very beginning. Although he’s always been genuinely thankful that he gets to sing for a living, he’s been listening to a little voice inside, a nagging at his subconscious, that’s been saying, “Sing about your roots. Go back to the place where it all began.” He grew up in Vidor, Texas, in the “Golden Triangle” between Houston and the Louisiana border. The last cut on IT’S ABOUT TIME is a Cajun celebration titled “Something to Brag About” and reminds listeners of Tracy’s rich musical heritage. At six months old he took his first trip to the Grand Ole Opry. The next time he visited he appeared on stage performing, fulfilling a destiny that started to take hold of him when he was still in high school.

In his teen years Tracy thrived on the music of Country legends like Hank Williams and one of Texas’s great musical icons, George Strait. His parents, Jerry and Brenda Byrd, educated Tracy and his younger sister on traditional favorites that have since surfaced as the strongest influence on his music.

Even though a handful of critics have called his earlier hits “trendy,” Byrd sees them as a little novel but not wholly removed from his traditional intentions. Since the beginning of his career striking a balance between mass appeal and solid traditionalism hasn’t been easy. Right after the release of his LOVE LESSONS album, Tracy admitted he was in a tough position. “I decided,” he explained, “to give them what they wanted, and I came up with songs like ‘Watermelon Crawl’ and ‘Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous.’ But I wasn’t as pleased . . . It’s kind of tough for me. I like to play traditional country – western swing meets honky-tonk. I’ve had radio in general say my music is too country.”

With his switch from MCA to RCA Records and his place in the producer’s chair for the very first time, Tracy has charged confidently ahead, staying true to what have always been his Country Music ideals. “I like to think that ‘Crawl’ is a more traditional record, as traditional as those kind of record can be,” he muses. “I guess what it really goes back to is that I had become known for those novelty kind of records, and those were great records. I still love doing them every night. They’re a big part of what I am and of what I’ve become, but I had gotten to a point where I was kind of known for those, and there’s so much more to me than that.”

There’s so much more, in fact, it’s hard to believe there’s anything lacking at all. So many people come to Music City with the dream of “making it big” in the music industry, and they work at a grueling pace as long as their bank accounts, significant others and payback favors can last. A small percentage of those dreamers make it, meaning they get a record deal. Out of those lucky few, an even smaller percentage hear their songs on the radio or find their name on the Billboard charts.

For Tracy, a successful music career found him instead of him searching under every empty promise to find it. He started out like any other high school graduate. He was going to Lamar University in Texas with no particular career path in mind. “I was getting a business degree with an advertising concentration – wow!” he says sarcastically. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just knew I probably was going to need a degree, so I was a general business major. I couldn’t specify much. I wasn’t passionate about school; I got by.”

Tracy started playing gigs around town just for fun, and soon realized he may have hit on something big. “I was so passionate about music that I finally realized this was my life. I needed to go after what I was really passionate about,” he remembers. “There hadn’t been many times in my life until then that I was passionate. I was just playing gigs on the side and going to school during the day, and all the sudden I realized I was playing six nights a week or something. It just kept getting bigger until I realized I wanted to make it my life. Once I finally figured out what I wanted to do, there was no holding back.”

It’s true that he doesn’t hold back. Contrary to the typical image of a Country Music star, whose life consists of walking on stage a couple times a week and belting out a few tunes, Tracy Byrd keeps one of the busiest schedules imaginable. And he’s not packing all his time with his beloved hunting trips either. At the end of March he hosted the Tracy Byrd Homecoming Weekend, a bass fishing and golfing extravaganza he founded in 1994 to raise money for local charities. He has raised more than $350,000 for organizations like March of Dimes and Buckner Children’s Village. He considers his annual homecoming event an opportunity to say thank you for his southeast Texas heritage.

On May 24, 2000, at the Grand Ole Opry House Tracy is hosting “The Wonders of Wildlife Honors: a Concert for Conservation.” The two-hour primetime special will honor outstanding individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to Outdoor Conservation. These kinds of “extracurricular activities” are above and beyond his routine of producing number one hits, meeting the demands of over five million album sales to date, a string of top-five hits, and fulfilling his role as spokesperson for the TNN Outdoors program, which draws eight million viewers each weekend. 

His most recent success is IT’S ABOUT TIME, an album that meets his personal standards for Country Music quality and one he’s been working toward since the beginning of his career. “It’s an album I’ve been waiting to make for a long time,” he grins.

There’s really no question about whether or not Tracy Byrd will continue to produce hit records, dedicate money to charities, host popular TNN productions, and all those other things he’s so darn good at, but let’s get back to the basics, the important stuff. Where will his hunting trips take him? He gives us a general idea. “I don’t go on safari hunts, but it’s something I would love to do. Ultimately, that’s what my retirement holds for me,” he says dreamily. “I don’t really have a place to put the animals; my wife doesn’t want animals all over the house, but I just want the experience of the safari.”

Hunting is more than an afternoon off for Tracy. “It’s just me and nature, me and the outdoors,” he explains. “There’s nobody to judge me out there; nobody even cares that I’m out there. In my life, there’s not a lot of times that are like that. There are very few times when I get the peace and solitude that I have when I’m in the woods.”

“I forget totally about business,” he says. “It’s an incredible experience. I’ve hunted a lot this year, and I’ve only shot once. I had to take a long shot, and I missed. It was a beautiful animal, and as disappointed as I was that I missed, I felt privileged. I watched that animal for over an hour. I felt privileged to watch him in close proximity in his world with him not knowing I was there. He didn’t even know I was there! I’ve seen and experienced beautiful animals every time I go out there.”

As long as Tracy keeps producing traditional, rich Country hits, he can spend as much time with nature as he likes. We just want him to come out of the woods long enough to satisfy his adoring fans – and to do his own laundry!

“I do love to sing, and I’ve been given the opportunity to make a living with it,” Tracy concludes. “As a result of that, God expects me to do something good with what I’ve been given, whether it be the charities or a benefit type of thing. Maybe one of the songs will have a profound effect on somebody. I am a role model. Sure, I may slip and stumble along the way, but the end result is that you need to do something good with what you’ve been given.”