Tracy Lawrence Biography
The release of Strong serves as a potent reminder that Tracy Lawrence is one of the premiere voices of his generation. His first album for DreamWorks Records, Strong is what fans have come to expect from Lawrence – a rich tapestry of life in the hands of a sensitive and intelligent singer. It is a fresh and compelling piece of work from someone who continues to stretch both as an artist and a person.
“I think this album shows real growth from the last record,” Lawrence affirms. “A lot of that I owe to [album producer and head of DreamWorks Nashville] James Stroud, to my confidence in him. He urged me to challenge myself, to push myself musically. Then there’s the family I’ve started and the way they’ve helped me grow and achieve a perspective I’ve never had before.
“Songs like ‘Daddy Was A Strong Man’ and ‘Stones’ draw from new places, and there are songs like ‘Paint Me A Birmingham’ that I just wouldn’t have done five years ago. If you’re going to be successful, you have to adapt and evolve, and I think this record reflects how I’m striving to do that.”
Lawrence’s dedication to honesty and respect for tradition have enabled him to build one of the most respected careers in recent country history. Given his age and accomplishments, his success emerges in even greater relief: At just 35 – a milestone by which Brooks & Dunn had yet to have their first hit – he has posted more #1 Billboard country singles than greats like Glen Campbell, Keith Whitley, Ernest Tubb, Wynonna or Barbara Mandrell, to name just a few; more Top 5’s than Shania Twain, Faith Hill or The Judds; and more Top 10’s than Ricky Skaggs, Charlie Rich, John Michael Montgomery or Dwight Yoakam.
And though he may be too busy making music to boast of those achievements, he has never been shy about the place he seeks in music history. “My long-term goal,” Lawrence says, “has always been to get to that Haggard and Jones level, to be one of the elder statesmen who continues to influence people and leave his mark even when radio is no longer playing his current releases.”
Strong (due in the spring of 2004) is surely part of that developing legacy. Collaborating with a mix of established and promising new songwriters, Lawrence has crafted a vibrant album, rich in the real-life snapshots that have long moved country fans.
“I’ve always been drawn to songs about family and day-to-day life,” he notes. “I tend to search for songs with strong messages, songs that present an interesting perspective or put a different twist on a story, the ones that paint a picture and come to life in the mind of the listener. That’s the material I like to sink my teeth into and that’s what my fans have come to expect from me.”
Strong opens with “Think Of Me,” a look at present-day heroes, while the title song celebrates the heroic qualities of single mothers. Tracks like “That’s Your Memory,” “A Far Cry” and “The Questionnaire” are gripping explorations of relationships, and “Paint Me A Birmingham” is an evocative portrait of lost love.
The collection reflects both Lawrence’s reverence for country’s roots and his ability to bring something original to everything he does. He has nurtured these twin sides of his creativity to satisfying effect since he hit the national spotlight a dozen years ago. He was just 23, the product of a rough-and-tumble childhood in Foreman, Ark. A self-described “hellion” as a youngster, Lawrence found release in performing. He was playing at music jamborees at 15 and in honky-tonks at 17, learning, he says, “what it takes to keep them on the dance floor through four or five sets.”
He moved to Nashville in 1990 in a 10-year-old Toyota Corolla that had, he says, “about 250,000 miles on it, expired tags, no insurance, only three cylinders and a fan with a piece of wire around it to cool the car.” He was a huge fan of Keith Whitley, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, and he idolized George Strait, complementing those influences with an appreciation for Southern rock, which he knew held a special place in the hearts of his honky-tonk audiences. He was also taken by a country tradition that was then finding its chief manifestation in Randy Travis.
Lawrence adopted elements from all these sources, and his striking vocal instrument – distinctively country with a cutting edge – earned him attention from the beginning. While working a series of side jobs, he entered singing contests around town, regularly winning first prize. A live appearance on a Kentucky radio station and a showcase at Nashville’s famed Bluebird Café led to his 1991 signing to Atlantic Records.
Lawrence’s debut album, Sticks And Stones (1991) boasted an incredible four Top 10 country hits, thus launching him into the forefront of the decade’s young talent. Journalists praised his style and fans pushed sales of the album to platinum certification. He proved he had the goods on the road as well, being named SRO’s Best New Touring Artist in 1993.
As if that weren’t enough, his second album, Alibis (1993), spawned four straight #1 smashes – the title cut, “Can’t Break It To My Heart,” “My Second Home” and “If The Good Die Young” – and earned raves everywhere from GQ to Newsweek. “That got us past the sophomore jinx,” Lawrence says with a grin. During the mid-‘90s, he was #2 on the list of most-played artists in all genres.
Yet another quartet of major hits rose from the platinum I See It Now (1994), including “If The World Had A Front Porch” and “Texas Tornado.” Then, Lawrence hit a creative and sales peak with “Time Marches On,” a Bobby Braddock-penned blockbuster that led the 1996 album of the same name to double-platinum status and earned Lawrence nominations at all the major awards. He followed that with “Is That A Tear,” yielding back-to-back hits that have both remained radio staples.
Lawrence’s next album, 1997’s The Coast Is Clear, produced the trademark hit “Better Man, Better Off.” It preceded Lessons Learned (2000), which found the singer re-energized by his country roots. Both discs earned critical praise and kept Lawrence’s radio presence and catalog sales chugging along.
It’s no surprise that over the years Lawrence has received widespread recognition: He was named Billboard’s Top New Male Vocalist in 1992, garnering the Academy Of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist trophy a year later; he earned the Country Weekly Golden Pick Awards’ Video Artist Of The Year prize in 1995 and its Editor’s Choice Platinum Pick crown in 1996, among other honors. Lawrence has produced his own and others’ work and co-wrote a number of the songs he’s recorded, including “If The World Had A Front Porch” and “Can’t Break It To My Heart.”
Moreover, he has had considerable impact beyond the record industry. Lawrence contributed the song “Renegades, Rebels And Rogues” to the “Maverick” soundtrack and has starred in two CMT specials, one of which included footage from a USO tour that saw him entertain troops in Kosovo. He also co-produced nine of the 13 songs on The Civil War: The Nashville Sessions, a collection of songs written for the Broadway theater production “The Civil War: An American Musical Event.” It features Travis Tritt, Deana Carter, Trace Adkins, Kevin Sharp, Michael English, Trisha Yearwood and John Berry.
Though music is a consuming focus, Lawrence will tell you that his life revolves around his wife, Becca, and his daughters, Skylar JoAnn and Mary Keagan. “There is a great deal of peace and happiness in my personal life,” he confides, “and my wife and children contribute so much to who I am as a person right now. I believe in the importance of putting family first, not neglecting the people who love you and stand behind you. That’s the biggest priority in my life.”
Lawrence has always been active in charitable causes, and he is annually at the helm of two events that are especially meaningful to him: a homecoming concert in his hometown that funds the Tracy Lawrence Foundation and a golf tournament in Texarkana, Texas, benefiting both the Tracy Lawrence Foundation and CASA, a non-profit organization providing trained volunteer advocates to abused and neglected children caught up in the legal systems of Northeast Texas and Southwest Arkansas. Lawrence’s foundation has endowed scholarships and, most recently, provided funds to equip a high school computer science lab, a room that will be named after him.
Furthermore, Lawrence helped raise more than a million dollars for the fight against cystic fibrosis through his annual golf tournament, formerly held in Houston, and his participation in Hollywood’s annual “Sizzlin’ Country” events. “People have a duty to help each other out,” he says. “I’m happy I can give something back to society through my efforts to raise funds and awareness for these important causes.”
But the work that makes such largesse possible, of course, is never far from Lawrence’s mind. He takes very seriously his role in advancing country music, especially its tradition of songs about love and heartache, struggle and triumph, weakness and hope – reality in all its facets.
The people who do it well, who can wrench the emotion from their hearts and wring it into the lyrics of a song, are prized among all others. Lawrence has long since established himself in this exceptional group, but he is not one to rest on his laurels, and he has no desire to treat lightly the industry for which he continues to do so much.
“I’m very proud to be part of the country music business,” he attests. “I love what I do. I hope I can perform until they wheel me away.”