This guy loves sopaipillas, Santa Fe and the Southwest –
Northern New Mexico is home to dozens of celebrities who have made names for themselves in music, movies, TV and the arts. Maybe it’s the gorgeous scenery and space for privacy that attracts famous people, who are free to let their hair down here. One of these folks is country singer and actor Randy Travis, who, with his wife and career-long manager Lib Hatcher, maintains a ranch outside Santa Fe. They are currently building a home in the Las Compañas area, northwest of the city.
Born Randy Bruce Traywick in 1959, the North Carolina native spent many years trying to break into the music business in Nashville before hitting it big in the mid-1980s. His subsequent hits – which have sold a total of more than 15 million copies – include “He Walked On Water,” “Forever and Ever Amen,” “Baptism” and “The Box.” He was interviewed on May 4, his 42nd birthday, while on the Salt Lake City set of the CBS-TV series Touched by an Angel, where he has made several guest appearances as an actor.
When not acting, Travis continues to do concert tours, record and write songs. Recently he released his first gospel music album, Inspirational Journey, and occasionally performs in churches and at religious events. During the last 10 years, Travis has managed to forge an unusual career that allows him to succeed on stage, in the recording studio and in front of the camera.
RM: What do you like about acting, as compared to singing and touring?
Randy Travis: Originally I didn’t care a thing about trying to act; didn’t think I could do it at all. I know I’m not a great actor, but I do enjoy doing it. I wanted to be in a Western. What happened first was my wife, Lib and I met Andy Griffith at a celebration that was filmed when some of the troops were coming home from Desert Storm. I was a huge Andy Griffith fan, and so I ended up doing an episode of Matlock with him that year and the next. Because Andy made it such a pleasure, I really enjoyed it even more so than I thought I would.
I literally become a kid again when I do a Western. Music is the same way. I love it. Music has been a part of my life since I was eight years old and I really wouldn’t want to imagine life without it. Only so many days can go by before I just have to sit down with my guitar and play and sing a little.
RM: You have been praised for being a “natural” actor, particularly in cowboy roles. Did you learn how to rope and ride growing up in North Carolina?
RT: I wanted to work in a Western. I grew up in that situation. I’ve been on a horse since I was three years old. My dad raised horses and cows for most of his life. As a matter of fact he’s still breakin’ horses and trainin’ and tradin.’
RM: So you‘re one of those lucky people who gets to do exactly what you want to do for a living.
RT: I am. I figure that is quite a blessing. I went through over 10 years of trying to get signed to a record deal. I was turned down by every major label in Nashville. They would say country music doesn’t sell records or tickets. “It’s not what people want to hear,” they told me. I just wanted to make a living singin’ and writin’ songs. That’s really all that was in my mind because it’s really what I truly love to do. And, gosh, you talk about goin’ beyond what your dreams were, we have gone way, way beyond anything I ever hoped for. How do you plan to win Academy of Country Music awards, Country Music Association awards, and a couple of Grammys? You can’t plan that.
RM: What is is that first drew you to New Mexico? What do you like about it?
RT: It’s a lot of things. We had been going in and out of Northern New Mexico for 14 years. I remember the first time we went there, playing the Sweeney Center in downtown Santa Fe. I remember walking around with Lib before the show and how we both fell in love with the place. I love the fact that when you’re in the plaza area, it looks like you just stepped a hundred years or more back in time. And the people in New Mexico are so friendly; they’ve treated us wonderfully. The food is incredible. It’s the hardest place I’ve ever been if you want to stick to a reasonable diet.
RM: Where do you like to eat in Santa Fe?
RT: If we’re going for New Mexican food, we truly love Tomasita’s, Tortilla Flats, Guadalupe Cafe and the Tecolote Café. I’ve got to have my blue corn pancakes when I go to Tecolote; I love ’em. Hey, you want a really good steak, I can’t think of a better place than The Bull Ring.
RM: Do you like your chile red, green or Christmas?
RT: I prefer green chile. My wife feels the same way. But I just love all kinds of New Mexican food and I think I’m kinda like an alcoholic when it comes to sopaipillas.
RM: You wrote a song about sopaipillas, didn‘t you?
RT: Yes, and people in New Mexico seem to like it. But my gosh, my wife gets embarrassed when I eat sopaipillas because I always finish them off. I once said that if two people don’t finish off the honey bottle when they eat sopaipillas, they’ve not done their job.They have great ones at both Tomasita’s and the Guadalupe Café in Santa Fe. At the Guadalupe, my wife and my brother, Dennis, once put some very finely shaved ham inside a sopaipilla, poured honey on it and put the top back on. It’s wonderful! I think they even serve it there now.
RM: Do you go to galleries? Do you collect art by New Mexico artists?
RT: We have so much artwork from Santa Fe. Most of the art in our Nashville home, before we sold it, actually came from New Mexico as well as South Dakota. Our house is full of bronzes and paintings. My wife, last Christmas, gave me an original Curtis photo. If you walk on our tour bus, youll find it is nothing but Southwest. A lot of the wood cabinets and furnishings came from New Mexico. Friends of ours in Santa Fe did a lot of the detailing and furniture work in our house and on the bus. That’s what we love. I’m very comfortable around it. To some people, Southwest design is too bright and gaudy. In our home, though, it isn’t that way. It feels so comfortable and very lived in. I love the old adobe.
RM: How much time do you actually spend in New Mexico?
RT: For about the last 15 years, the bulk of our time has been spent on the road, whether it’s for acting or playing shows. That’s just the nature of our business. We’ve made our home in Santa Fe for about two and a half years. Any time we have a block of days off we head for Santa Fe. Theres no doubt about that.
RM: Do you have a place in North Carolina?
RT: No, although I’m from Marshville, about 40 miles out of Charlotte. My dad is still living there, but my mom died two years ago. I have two brothers and two sisters there, plus one younger brother outside of Nashville. I go back to visit my dad at the old family home in North Carolina once a year and, who knows, I may some day get a place to vacation there. We also have a place in Hawaii on Maui and I don’t know what we’re going to do with it. We’ve only spent a couple of weeks there in about a year and a half. We used to go over at the end of the year and stay as long as a month. But for some reason that just hasn’t been happening because I’ve been taking on acting jobs, continuing to record, writing songs, and going on the road. Outside of our country tours we’ve been going into some churches and things like that.
RM: And yet you seem to find time to help the communities of northern New Mexico. Last year you staged a benefit concert on the Santa Fe Opera’s outdoor stage for the victims of the Cerro Grande forest fire that destroyed hundreds of homes in Los Alamos. Tell me about that?
RT: It was a wonderful thing. The concept of a fund-raiser came to Lib and me as we were sitting in a hotel room in Reno. I remember saying, “Look at this,” when the news came on and the video from the fire in Los Alamos was shown. Lib wondered what we could do and she came up with doing a fund-raiser.
She put the whole thing together in about two or three weeks. We had friends in New Mexico and the music business that pulled together with us. Paul Rodriguez, the comedian, volunteered to be the show’s host, Ali McGraw the actress who lives in Tesuque, participated as did Michael Martin Murphey, who sings Western, and has places in Taos and Red River; Gary Morris, who sang country songs and tunes from Broadway; and Melissa Etheridge, another great singer. Georgia Maryol, who owns Tomasita’s in Santa Fe, catered the food for free, all kinds of artists donated their work for a silent auction, and some of our friends in country music gave items to be bid on. Just on the auction, we raised over $100,000.
RM: You’re headlining another charity benefit for northern New Mexico on June 16 when you perform at the Buckaroo Ball, which is at the Eaves Ranch near Cerrillos.
RT: Yeah. I know a lot of the people involved so I feel at home there. I shot a film on the Western movie set at Eaves Ranch once a few years ago.
RM: I understand you work out a lot when you’re in Santa Fe, as well as when you’re on the road.
RT: You better work out if you eat like I do when I’m in Santa Fe. I have trained with power lifters, body builders, martial artists, nutritionists, chiropractors and rolfers. I don’t know why, but all of that is like a hobby for me. I’ve been injured a lot over the years, because of all the exercise I’ve done. I’ve studied American and Korean karate, jujitsu, boxing, power lifting and ridden bucking horses.
I really work at staying in shape. I’m in in the gym six days a week doing various routines. I do some martial arts, still, and Pilate’s training.
RM: Do you ski, hike, or mountain-bike? Do you engage in other outdoor activities?
RT: I’ve never played a sport in my life, to speak of. I played one year of Little League baseball in grade school. That was it. I used to play a little basketball with my friends, but you will never see a worse shooter in your life. It’s pathetic; I can’t hit even under the basket. The sports I’ve liked have been boxing, horseback riding. I’m a cowboy. In fact my dad has a picture of me on the back of a horse when I was only three or four months old.
RM: You do gun-twirling, too, right?
RT: I’ve practiced quick-draw, have done tricks and spins with pistols since I was 13. I leamed from watching old Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns and things like that. I just taught myself to do what they did. I started hunting with my Uncle Ralph, who was a real fanatic about fishing and hunting. I learned a lot from him, and he was very big on gun safety. That was his life, outside of his family and job. I’ve always loved the old single-action revolvers and I’ve collected them for over 20 years.
About once a year we go to Wisconsin and do some fishing for a few days. I like to fish for small and largemouth bass as well as pike, crappie and muskie. My shooting now is limited to target practice. If I had time to shoot it clean it and eat it I would do hunting like I used to do in the old days. I like to hunt quail, dove, rabbit and squirrel, but I don’t have time to wait on something to shoot any more. So I go down and target-practice. I had an indoor shooting arena in my Nashville house. I can shoot any kind of caliber but I usually use .38, .22 and .357 magnum guns. I still do the quick-draw, with live ammunition as well as wax bullets.
RM: What’s the future hold for Randy Travis?
RT: Honestly, I have no idea. I don’t care to travel that much any more, and I’ve been doing it a long time. We did our own tours for five years overseas and then five years of USO tours; every place the USO would allow us to play. Basically, I like being at home. I like doing manual labor: carpentry, barn work, shoveling the stable, whatever. I like being outside and love riding or training horses. I like to break ’em and teach ’em tricks, like my daddy taught me to do. So I want to spend more time at home. However, I do love working in front of a live audience. There is nothing like it in the world. There is a feeling of acceptance that you get singing in front of a live audience, when you hear their response, that is just incredible. With certain songs you touch people so deeply. I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, so I just can’t see myself not doing that.
RM: Maybe you’ll get to do more shows in New Mexico and won‘t have to travel so far?
RT: I hope so. I do love acting as well and I feel like I’m getting better at that with each role. It’s also a sit-down job, as opposed to waking up in a different town every day. We have a script now that may be done in Santa Fe. Man that would be neat, to be able to work on a Western and go home at night every night.
I truly love being here; what a great place.
– Richard Mahler is a freelance writer based in Santa Fe. His column, “Un Poco de Todo,” appears biweekly in the Albuquerque Journal.
This article appeared on page 20 of HighCountry 2001.