The Byrd flies home – Tracy Byrd set for Julie Rogers Theatre performance on Friday

The Byrd flies home – Tracy Byrd set for Julie Rogers Theatre performance on Friday

The music of Tracy Byrd never gets old. With more than 30 hit singles, a dozen reaching country’s Top 10 and several climbing to No 1, Byrd was country when country music was actually cool.

The Southeast Texas native gave fans exactly what they wanted and needed with songs like “Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous,” “The First Step,” “The Keeper of the Stars,” “Love Lessons,” “Walking to Jerusalem,” “I’m From the Country,” “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo,” “Drinkin’ Bone” and “Watermelon Crawl,” which Byrd calls his biggest hit, fanwise. Let us not forget “All American Texan,” a song that mentions his good friend, Orange native and top iHeart media national radio talk show personality Michael Berry.

Fans can see Byrd perform all his popular songs on Friday, July 20, inside the Julie Rogers Theatre in downtown Beaumont at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the Beaumont Civic Box office or any Ticketmaster outlet.

It’s such a storied career, but Byrd once thought about trading the cowboy hat and guitar for a Nomex suit to join his dad, Jerry, at DuPont.

“Mark Chesnutt was signed to MCA Records and I was chosen to be the one to replace him at Cutter’s, and I expected it to come a little quicker,” said Byrd.

Byrd watched Chesnutt’s first single on MCA, “Too Cold at Home,” go No. 1 and also watched the early success of fellow label-mate Trisha Yearwood’s debut song, “She’s in Love With the Boy,” which reached No. 1.

Byrd signed with MCA Records and released his self-titled debut album in 1992, yet his first two singles — “That’s the Thing About a Memory” and “Someone to Give My Love To” — barely cracked the Top 30.

Byrd said, “My second single, ‘Someone to Give My Love To,’ sold well, but I thought if I don’t get a hit pretty quick, they are going to drop me from the label.”

“I told my dad, ‘Can you get me hired on at DuPont?’” said Byrd. “But he said, ‘Let’s don’t do that just yet. Let’s keep working on it.’”

Then it came. His very next single, “Holdin’ Heaven,” gave Byrd his first No. 1 song on the country music chart.

“It was big for me,” Byrd said. “That was the moment I started to relax a little bit.”

It was around 16 years of age when Byrd began singing and playing guitar. He loved his traditional country music, but would also jam to Van Halen.

Even younger, Byrd tells the story of him singing in his sleep.

“I would listen to records when I went to bed and would leave the arm back on the record player so the record would play over and over again,” said Byrd.

“One night, I was listening to Merle Haggard and my mother came in and said I was singing along with the song in my sleep. My parents knew then I was a little more into music than they originally thought.”

Byrd left the area and went off to college at Southwest Texas State in San Marcos where he would attract and woo crowds with his voice. A self-proclaimed “lazy” student, Byrd returned home and became the lead singer of the band Rimfire. The rest is history.

After releasing his first record, Byrd went on tour with Reba McEntire and played 290 shows in 1993. On off days, Mondays and Tuesdays, he would fly to Nashville to work on his second record, later titled No Ordinary Man with famed producer Jerry Crutchfield, who worked with the likes of Glen Campbell, Lou Rawls, The Gatlin Brothers, Lee Greenwood and Ernest Tubb.

“I would sit with Jerry and listen to cassette tapes that writers and publishers had sent in,” said Byrd. “I walked in one Monday and Jerry told me to sit down. He found me the song of my career.”

That song was “Keeper of the Stars,” which went on to win Song of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards.

“When on tour with Reba, I played that song and fans were tearing up and crying while I was singing,” said Byrd. “I didn’t even think of the wedding song aspect of it at that time. I told MCA Records that it had to be a single, but they thought it was too long. Jerry and I both told the label it was a smash hit. Finally, Tony Brown, who was the VP of MCA, re-cut the song for radio to give it a modern sound. I told them if it isn’t a hit, they could drop me from the label. I believed that much in the song. It almost never was. It really made us look good.”

In a matter of three months, Byrd’s second album went from 1 million sales to 2 million. No Ordinary Man was a monster album for Byrd in 1994 with four very successful charting tracks — “Watermelon Crawl,” “The Keeper of the Stars,” “Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous” and “The First Step.”

Byrd followed that up with more Gold-selling records as well as multiple Greatest Hits collections, and selling records have become somewhat of a rarity these days.

“My daughter is a huge country music fan, but she has never bought a record,” said Byrd. “It’s all about Spotify and subscription streaming services, not to mention Amazon Alexa and Google Play.”

Byrd explained that every time Spotify streams one of his songs, he is paid .0032 cents — less third of a cent. “Unless you are Drake, you can’t make much money like that,” he said.

And not every musician can be Drake.

“It takes a lot to make it in the music business,” he said. “You have to have personality, talent and the stars have to align.”

Byrd explained he has a theory about reality talent shows like The Voice and American Idol.

“They have no idea how hard it’s going to be,” said Byrd. “Once they win the show, that supposed ‘love’ for music can fade. It’s not easy, especially when you get started.”

New artists can be flown to Los Angeles at 4 a.m. to appear on a morning show, then fly to Cincinnati at noon, followed by an evening show in Iowa that night, then do it all over again the next day.

“That’s the reality of the first couple of years,” said Byrd. “Not everyone is cut out  for that.”

Though Byrd continues to write and record music just as he did years ago, the music industry has changed.

“I do everything from here and I handle all my business,” he said. “I record my new music up in Rosewood Studios in Tyler for a tenth of what it would cost in Nashville and it sounds every bit as good.”

Though Nashville remains the heart of country music, recording music there isn’t the same. Sessions are no longer done with full bands. Solo musicians record their parts and it gets dubbed with the rhythm section, and so on.

“You lose the spirit of guys playing together,” said Byrd. “It’s magical when you are in the studio with eight or nine musicians playing a song for the first time. Tracking was so much fun. Looking across the room at Paul Franklin on the steel guitar, Brent Mason with his guitar rig, Billy Joe Walker in the acoustic booth, John Jarvis, Pig Robbins on the grand piano, Michael Rose on bass, Eddie Bayers on drums — these guys were the best in the world.”

Byrd said he will continue to release albums, yet suggests there aren’t many reasons to do so for new musicians.

“If I was managing somebody, I would tell them to do four songs,” he said. “It’s sad because I was a fan before I was an artist. I was excited about getting the actual album, not only to hear the songs you heard on the radio, but the deep cuts, reading the liner notes, seeing the song writers, and seeing all who the artist thanked.”

In 2015, Byrd’s career hit another milestone by being inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame.

“It meant the world to me,” said Byrd. “It is a great honor. All my Texas music heroes are on those walls with me and in the museum. I feel blessed to play music, and recognition is not why I do it, but it is nice to receive. I never dreamed my career would be as good as it is.”

 

Chad Cooper is the Entertainment Editor for the Southeast Texas Entertainment Guide. Email cooper [at] theexaminer [dot] com

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