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"It was pretty ugly," Tritt comments reluctantly. "I'm glad it's over."
Those two controversies put, more or less, to bed, Tritt and fellow nontraditionalist, hillbilly rocker Marty Stuart conceived of and embarked upon their famed "No Hats Tour." Designed merely to draw a tad of attention away from hot hats Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson and their ilk, the pair played to raucous houses around the country. Reportedly, however, Brooks took the "No Hats" thing personally and Tritt was forced to soothe Brooks' hurt feelings. Tritt asserts that there was absolutely no malice aforethought.
"I don't wear a hat because I've never worn one," he explains. "I don't have anything against hats. Horses, either, but I'd rather ride my Harley." Still, the big-brimmed boys of Nashville must have swallowed mighty hard as the duo garnered the Country Music Association's 1992 honors as Vocal Event of the Year and a 1993 Grammy for Best Country Vocal Collaboration.
Straight shooter Tritt hasn't tempered his tone following two years of controversy, either. In fact, his last album, t-r-o-u-b-l-e, celebrates his blue-collar, rock-hard attitude with the gritty, anthemic "Lord Have Mercy on the Workin' Man," the title track (yes, it was originally recorded by Elvis), and a hollerin', moanin', nine-minute ride through blues legend Buddy Guy's "Leave My Girl Alone." With each collection, Tritt's fine Georgia growl gets a bit edgier and the tunes more electric. He likes it when folks think "Tritt" and "rock" in the same thought. But he doesn't like pretenders.
"Clint Black and Garth Brooks don't show their rock edges--I do," he states. "They talk about it, I do it. I'm very proud that a lot of young people have come to country because of my music. In the 70s, we had watered-down, rootless music coming out of Nashville. The Outlaw movement then brought it back to its roots--the blues."
While Tritt discounts any neo-Outlaw inclinations--To create an outlaw movement, you need more than one person"--he stresses his, and Nashville's, need to explore.
"I think you gotta have variety," he says. "I'm not really a home-run hitter, but I'm in the game because I can play any position on the field--blues, rock, country. I love to play stuff like Buddy Guy's. Next week, I'll be playing with David Lee Roth on his new album."
Not that Tritt has eschewed the country-fried aspects of his roots. He considers George Jones his idol--along with Porter Waggoner and Tanya Tucker, Jones performs on t-r-o-u-b-l-e. But he's concerned about the shelf life of contemporary country musicians, as well as the forgotten heroes of country's past.
"Six, seven years ago, Randy Travis was today's Garth Brooks," Tritt declares, the rebel rising in his Georgia drawl. "Now, where do you see him? Everybody in this business owes tons to Randy Travis. We ought to all send him a royalty check every month. And what they've done to the old stars is terrible. You should judge the individual song, not consider the age of the artist. It's bullshit what they've done to George Jones. His last album was his greatest ever--but where do you hear it? Radio is definitely part of the problem. It's getting very political. The almighty dollar rules all." Reminded that he recently stated that he himself didn't expect to be around more than a half-dozen years playing music--the high end of today's country stardom--Tritt says with a laugh.
"Well," he says, "I've decided that, 20 years from now, I'd like to be known as a George Jones or a Merle Haggard. But really, every time you do an album, you wonder if it will stand the test of time. Even better, will one of my songs become a standard on the playlists of American garage bands? I mean, look at all the great, relatable George, Merle and Johnny Cash songs. Heck, look at Dolly Parton's 'I Will Always Love You.' It's simply a great song that can withstand any treatment. Even Run-D.M.C. could do it and not screw it up.
"The bottom line is," states Travis Tritt, "getting the opportunity to reach out and touch people. Man, you can't buy that.