Tracy Lawrence: Making a Living Making Music

Tracy Lawrence performs with his band at CMA Fest 2018.

June 8, 2018


It’s been 26 years since Tracy Lawrence’s very first single, “Sticks and Stones,” went to number one. That year (1992), Fan Fair, as it was called back then, was held at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, in accommodations decidedly less posh than the new Music City Center, which is ground zero for CMA Fest activities these days. But Tracy Lawrence’s first appearance at “Fan Fair” was back in that same year of ’92. It was his first, although it really should have been his second.

Lawrence recollects how, barely a couple of years prior, he had made his last appearance with the band Phoenix, a circuit-riding act that had enjoyed some minor success playing small venues in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. It was at a little club in Louisiana, and Lawrence had announced his intention to set out for Nashville to try to break into the country music big time. A collection of $700 was taken up for him that night, and with that cash, an old beat up Toyota, and not much else, he made his way to Music City.

By May of ’91 he was already on the cusp of realizing his dreams. But on the same night that he had just finished laying down the backing vocals for his very first album, he was assaulted and shot in the parking lot of a restaurant on Nashville’s Music Row. He spent a month laid up in the hospital recovering – and that is why Tracy Lawrence missed what should have been his first Fan Fair.

Desperate not to miss his window of opportunity, Lawrence pushed himself harder than ever as soon as he had recovered from the shooting. He describes himself as a “lifer”: he had come to Nashville, in his mind, for good. He was determined to give it everything he had to secure his place as a celebrated singer/songwriter, and if that didn’t pan out, he says that he would have hammered out a career in some aspect of the country music scene or other – maybe in radio – but he was in it for the long haul one way or the other.

As noted above, that resolve to keep pushing paid off quickly in the biggest way possible. But it came with a price. Tracy acknowledges that because of the pressure he put on himself in the aftermath of the mugging, he didn’t take to the time to deal with some issues that his brush with death had brought to the surface, and not doing so contributed to some mistakes and bad decisions that were to follow.

Having attained success after pushing so hard, he celebrated it by living hard. Radio broadcaster Storme Warren recalls how, at one fan event out on the west coast during the early 90s, Tracy made his entrance in a limo that came skidding into the gravel lot, with the young star standing up out of the open sun roof, a beer in each hand and screaming at the top of his lungs.

Lawrence definitely “had a big time,” in those days, he confesses, but he also feels fortunate to have lived through it all. And he acknowledges many of his decisions and actions from that era weren’t the best or the brightest, but he’s in a better place now.

When asked if he would change anything about his past if he could, he responds “Even the bad stuff – even falling down, and the dumb mistakes, and the really stupid stuff that you do to yourself in life – they shape and mold you, if you learn from them and you come out on the other side.” These days, he tends to focus on “just enjoying the things that God has put before me, and being thankful for what I have, and just trying to have a good time in life.” He continues, “There’s so much bad stuff going on in the world, man — all I do is make music. I ain’t got nothin’ to worry about! I make music for a living!”

Among numerous worthy pursuits that keep him occupied these days, he has a growing charity work that gives him particular satisfaction: the annual “Mission Possible” Turkey Fry, which benefits the homeless at the Nashville Rescue Mission.

As far as what the future holds, while he acknowledges that his radio career is probably over, he is enthusiastic to be exploring other avenues for connecting with his fans, especially live performance. “Live is where it’s at,” he beams. “I love playing live shows, and I’m going to keep working as long as I can.”

His latest project, “Good Ole Days” is a retrospective album featuring re-recordings of some of his biggest hits, and accompanied by many musical friends making guest appearances, including Jason Aldean, Big & Rich, Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, and Kellie Pickler. As part of the same project, Lawrence personally culled through mounds of photos and memorabilia to produce the accompanying scrapbook-like retrospective. Check it all out HERE.


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