Cover Story: How Tracy Lawrence Is Beating Tough Times (1996)
Originally published in the Jan. 23, 1996 issue of Country Weekly featuring Tracy on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.
Tracy Lawrence is feeling stressed out. The rigors of the road have worn him down, and he arrives home bone-weary and bleary-eyed. He strolls out to a pasture near his house, parts the weeds growing around a battered, broken-down 1980 Toyota Corolla and climbs in.
Closing his eyes, Tracy soaks up the silence inside the faded baby blue clunker, enjoying the solitude. As he holds the wheel and reminisces about the good times he spent in that old heap before he found fame, Tracy can feel the tension melting away.
“I spend a lot of time on the road. A lot of time in the studio. Whenever it all turns into a swirl and I have to get away from everything, I sit in the car to sort things out,” the platinum selling star confided to Country Weekly in an exclusive interview.
“It gets me away from the cellular phones and everything. I think about the crazy things I used to do in that car,” Tracy said with a chuckle. “It frees my mind and helps me get my thoughts in perspective.” In 1990, when Tracy was a struggling unknown, he arrived in Nashville in that same Corolla. “It was 10 years old then and had 250,000 miles on it. No insurance. No registration. Expired tags. Parts of it were held together with wire. I didn’t have the money to get new tags, so whenever I saw a cop coming I’d turn real quick into a convenience store. I must have pulled into every convenience store in Nashville!” When the engine died and the car sputtered to its final stop, Tracy had it towed to the pasture next to his home in Mount Juliet, Tenn. Ever since, it’s been his haven against the storms of life. Once labeled “The Bad Boy of Country,” Tracy has been dogged by trouble since he was a rebellious teen. Born in Atlanta, Texas, and raised in Foreman, Ark., Tracy admits he gave his parents hell.
“I was mean as a snake—ornery, high-strung and hotheaded,” he confessed. “I was hell-bent on doing things my way. I bucked my stepfather. He thought I was risking too much chasing this crazy music dream. He wanted me to have the security of a college degree. “But I was so rebellious. I pulled away from him. Looking back, I now have great respect for him. It’s got to be difficult for a man to raise three children who aren’t his.” Tracy’s single-minded, blinders-on pursuit of a music career also caused more trouble later on, in his marriage. In September 1993 he married Frances Weatherford, a former rodeo rider. In late 1994, Frances was seriously injured by flying glass and had a miscarriage when a gas fireplace exploded. In November, the couple split up and Tracy filed for divorce.
“The passion I have for music has been the downfall of most of my relationships,” Tracy admitted. “I like being in the bars, playing my music, being onstage. When the career is No. 1 and the relationship is No. 2, it makes things tough.” Tracy’s life has always been scarred by one calamity after another. In 1991, only hours after completing the recording of his debut album, Sticks and Stones, Tracy was shot four times as he heroically defended a woman friend against three muggers.
When it became obvious the thugs were going to rape his companion and kill them both, Tracy grabbed at one of the weapons. All three muggers fired at him and Tracy took four bullets in the hand, arm, hip and knee.
“I decided I’d rather go down fighting,” Tracy said. “The bullet that’s still in my hip missed a main artery by a tenth of a millimeter. If it had severed, I would have bled to death in three minutes. I’m lucky to be alive. I had nightmares about it for a long time.” Ironically, after that narrow escape, Tracy’s career skyrocketed. Sticks and Stones produced three No. 1 hits and went platinum. Then his second and third albums, Alibis and I See It Now, also went platinum, each one chalking up more than a million in sales. In addition, Alibis spawned four more chart-topping hits. But it didn’t take long for trouble to track down Tracy again. Tracy says he discovered his money was being mishandled. “As long as I had a bus, a band and a place to sing, I was happy. I expected the money I was making to be tucked away for me, not put in the pockets of people I loved and trusted.
“When I found out, it destroyed me. I’d never been taken advantage of and hurt like that in my life. It broke me in half. I sat in a chair shaking for four days. I couldn’t go back on the road for weeks. It took me a year before I could go out without hurting inside.” In April 1993, Tracy had a run-in with some teenagers on an interstate highway. He reportedly fired his gun in the air. Tracy was initially charged, but all charges were later dismissed. “It was just one of those nights that got out of control,” Tracy said. “I let my anger get the best of me and it clouded my judgment.” Despite all the setbacks, Tracy’s career—highlighted by such hits as “Sticks and Stones,” “If the World Had a Front Porch,” “Can’t Break It to My Heart” and “I See It Now”—is in high gear. His new album, Time Marches On, is due for release Jan. 23. And Tracy has high hopes for his new single, “If You Loved Me.”
“It’s one of the strongest singles I’ve ever had,” Tracy said, just before an appearance at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater last month. “It’s a typical Tracy Lawrence ballad about love gone wrong.” Looking back at his stormy life, Tracy says the hard times have made him stronger. “Nine times out of 10, any tough thing I’ve had to go through prepares me for something else,” he said. “You can learn from most things that happen to you, if you put them in the right perspective and make a positive out of them. “The struggles I’ve had show me I’m capable of overcoming adversity. I make a lot of mistakes, just like everybody else, but I refuse to give up. I’m striving to be a better person, and I want to achieve Entertainer of the Year. Part of overcoming tough times is having a vision of what you want to achieve.” Tracy smiled as he described one of his goals: restoring the old 1980 Corolla that’s been growing rust in the pasture. “My first project will be to hit the salvage yards and find replacement parts for that old car. When it’s re-done, I’ll still sit in it to get away from the world and sort things out. That’s why I keep the car.”