June 12, 2008
By David Huff
Tracy Lawrence - Country Fever 2008 - Jun. 12-15
Hardly Seems Worse for the Wear
After surviving five record label mergers in six years, country music star Tracy Lawrence hardly seems worse for the wear. That’s because the turmoil of Lawrence’s private life – which includes parking lot shootings, highway chases, and brief but stormy marriages – prepared him for the constant battles a recording career faces the longer you stay in the game.
Though many think the 40-year old singer is in the twilight of his career, recent events would say otherwise. This past year alone, Lawrence not only recorded his eighth No. 1 single, “Find Out Who Your Friends Are,” he also received his first CMA award. The oversight was long overdue considering Tracy’s remarkable accomplishments in the business. In a recording career that spans nine albums over 18 years, Lawrence has charted twenty Top Five hits. But along with fame comes pitfalls. There are times in his past where the singer admits the thrill of musical victory couldn’t overcome the agony of personal defeat.
Lawrence’s story begins in the fall of 1990 while living in Ruston, Louisiana. Just two weeks away from starting college, Tracy woke up one night to a frightening reality. If he attended Louisiana Tech and continued playing with his current band, he’d be stuck in a musical rut with no place to go. His only choice to really make it in the business was Nashville, and for him, the time was now or never. The following morning, Lawrence gave his notice to the landscaping company he worked for, and finished his last weekend of band obligations. He then packed all his belongings, loaded up his beloved Toyota Corolla with expired tags bearing the driving scars of 250,000 miles, and headed East. Next stop...Nashville.
The brash singer hit open mic nights immediately so he could meet fellow musicians and songwriters. His great success at talent shows subsidized his living expenses. During a gig at the Bluebird Café, Tracy not only met his future manager in Wayne Edwards, but his record producer as well, James Stroud. As fate would have it, the overnight success Lawrence was experiencing would come to a crashing halt. On May 31, 1991, Tracy was shot four times in a Shoney’s parking lot while accompanying a female friend to a hotel following a concert. The album was put on hold while the singer went through rehab. Six months later, Sticks & Stones was released to universal acclaim.
At 23 years old, Tracy Lawrence helped usher in the era of the “hat act” in country music. The movement also spawned the likes of Alan Jackson, Mark Chesnutt, Tracy Byrd and John Michael Montgomery. Lawrence debut was the most impressive, boasting four Top 10 hits that launched him to the forefront of the decade’s young talent. Journalists praised his style and fans pushed sales past the million mark. Tracy also proved he had the goods to handle the road as well. SRO magazine named him Best New Touring Artist in 1993.
With James Stroud once again donning the producer’s hat, the stage was set for Lawrence’s sophomore release. Taking a more active role in the songwriting process, Tracy played an important role in fashioning the new album called Alibis. The record took country radio by storm. Boasting four No. 1 singles, (two co-written by Lawrence), the record sold over two million copies. To prove his success was no fluke, Lawrence would go on to release ten consecutive Top Five hits covering three albums in a four-year span. Though his music career was hitting on all cylinders, Tracy’s personal life was taking some severe hits that would eventually lead his record company, Atlantic, to take the unheard of action of suspending its superstar from the label.
The first of Lawrence’s personal issues occurred on April 4, 1994. While driving with his brother in a pick-up truck, the singer claimed youths shot at their vehicle, and he in turn, shot his pistol into the air. The police charged Tracy with two counts of aggravated assault and carrying a prohibited weapon with no permit. Placed on probation, the charges were later dropped. The following year, his first wife, Frances Weatherspoon, divorced him. In March 1997, he married former Dallas Cowboy cheerleader Stacie Drew. This storybook wedding ended in Brothers Grimm fashion seven months later amid rumors of spousal abuse stemming from an incident reported in September at Buffalo Bill’s Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. In January 1998, the court found Lawrence guilty on a single count of battery/domestic violence. After the verdict, Atlantic placed the star on probation.
Lawrence wisely used this time away from music to get his life together. The hiatus ended with the 2000 release of Lessons Learned. The title track did well, but between this album and a self-titled effort on Warner in 2001, Lawrence’s career was in a downward spiral. Only one of seven singles between these albums charted. To this day, Lawrence refuses to place the blame on Atlantic for his career going off track.
“I know there was a little bit of frustration from my part” conceded the singer about his ongoing incidents. “I probably needed to be put on hold for a little while. I was getting too big for my britches. It was time for me to reassess and make some changes in my life. There were a lot of things I was doing to myself and other people. I was very spoiled, very arrogant and doing a lot of things in excess.”
In 2003, Lawrence signed with Dreamworks Records. Reuniting with producer James Stroud once again, the resulting effort was the album Strong. The record would become the Foreman, Arkansas native’s highest charting recording ever. Fueled by the hit single “Paint Me Birmingham,” Strong would reach #2 on the Billboard Country charts and #17 on the Pop side.
In 2006, Lawrence started his own record label, Rocky Comfort Records. The label is a partnership between Tracy and his brother Laney, and is operated as a joint venture with CO5 Nashville. The label’s first single, “Find Out Who Your Friends Are” was released to radio on August 21, 2006. It went to No. 1 an incredible 41 weeks later. For the Love, the joint ventures first record, was released in January 2007 consisting of new material from Lawrence for the first time in almost three years. Two versions of “Find Out Who Your Friends Are” were recorded – a solo version and a remix featuring guest vocals from Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. The remixed received Musical Event of the Year honors at the 2007 Country Music Awards.
-Record Label: Rocky Comfort Records