"Then I got laid off from the mill and, at the very same time, lost the gigs at night. Suddenly I was getting $56 a week from unemployment and staying at one of those fleabag motels. Things were about as bad as they could be, but I wasn't going to go home to the folks. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in Foreman, Arkansas."
Instead, Lawrence joined a Louisiana band as its lead singer. That went well for two years until the bassist--who owned most of the band's sound equipment--decided to quit. Still, the steady work wrought a renewed determination. Lawrence decided to move to Tennessee.

"I had this ancient Toyota Corolla that I kept together with duct tape and baling wire," he chuckles. "I didn't even have any insurance. I sold everything that wouldn't fit in it and loaded up the rest. I was very scared. I only had about $700, and I didn't know a soul in Nashville. As I backed out of my folks' driveway, I told Mama not to worry.

"Son,' she said, 'It's not you I'm worried about--it's all those other people.'"
Lawrence hit Music City in September 1990. He frequented all the area's talent contests, using his winnings--$75 here, $100 there--to survive. He also got a regular, if not well-paying, gig on Live at Libby's, a Daysville, Kentucky, radio show heard in four states. A couple of times each week, he'd make the 150-mile round trip to sing a few songs. The $25 he received went mostly for gas. His resonant, deep-fried country vocals, however, did catch the ears of some veteran Nashville cats--including drummer Terry Buttram, who befriended Lawrence and showed him around town, as well as future managers Jeff Carver, Wayne Edwards and Mike Nunn.

Thanks to these Music Row regulars, Lawrence got a late January 1991 showcase at the Bluebird Cafe, the famed Nashville insiders' listening post. Soon afterward, he cut a demo and, with the help of his new managers, shopped it around. One tape managed to get into the hands of Rick Blackburn, president of Atlantic Records' Nashville division. Blackburn liked what he heard, and signed Lawrence--a mere eight months after the 24-year-old fled Foreman, Arkansas.

When he first met Lawrence, Blackburn liked what he saw, too. Even before releasing a single song, the label was able to garner the slender, blond and dimpled six-footer a whole passel of endorsement contracts for cowboy-type stuff--boots, jeans, hats.

Lawrence says he appreciates the attention--and, naturally, the income--his fledgling modeling sideline provides, but, he says, "It's the music that matters, man." Although he counts George Strait, Merle Haggard and George Jones as influences--he'll begin a tour with the Possum later this winter--he is particularly proud of frequent (and deserved) vocal comparisons with the late Keith Whitley--who lost his battle with alcohol a few years ago.

"I can't think of a greater compliment," Lawrence asserts. "I listen to him religiously." He pauses. "Had Keith Whitley lived, he'd be bigger than Garth."
Presently, Tracy Lawrence is finishing work on his second--as yet untitled--album. A first single and video, "Alibis," is due out in late January with the full recording soon to follow.

He's fully recovered from his wounds, too--confounding doctors who predicted a six-month recuperative period; he walked limplessly after only five weeks. Lawrence doesn't fret about the mean streets, opting instead to concentrate on the future. In fact, he reserves any such concern for childhood pal Sonja Wilkinson--to whom he has dedicated Sticks and Stones. Wilkinson continues to battle emotional problems wrought by that near tragedy in Nashville.

"She'd made it safely to the hotel's lobby," Lawrence says, "but she heard all of the shots. She stood there not knowing if I was dead or alive.

"But it wasn't my time to go," Tracy Lawrence says softly. "And I get to sing some more. I'm a lucky man, aren't

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