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Between takes on the Miami set of his new video, Travis Tritt pulled out his cellphone to check in with his record producer, Billy Joe Walker, in Nashville. "You know, Billy Joe, some days it's just hard to be me," said the star. The producer bit: "Really? What's wrong?"
"I'm down here standing in the beautiful sand of South Beach looking out over the Atlantic Ocean," groaned Travis. "It's just terrible."
Billy Joe caught on. "Noooo, don't tell me that. I'm stuck here in a dark studio."
"You know what's worse?" teased Travis. "I'm surrounded by all these young women in bikinis ... and they're absolutely gorgeous!"
Travis could practically hear his producer grimace.
"You know, something like that just doesn't happen every day," laughs the singer as he recalls the conversation. "When it does, you have to take advantage of it. I had to rub it in a little bit and make him jealous."
Fortunately for Travis, "The Girl's Gone Wild" called for an Elvis-movie, beach-blanket-babylon setting. "It was just a ton of fun," he says. "We had a really good time with it. We picked the perfect day to do the shoot - the weather and everything else was as good as it could be."
Travis began envisioning the video as soon as he heard the song. "The Girl's Gone Wild" is a high-energy romp about young women heading to Florida on spring vacation carrying their flip flops and lip gloss, bikini tops and cut-offs, ready to let the games begin!
"The first time I heard it, I fell in love with it," says Travis about the tune. "More importantly, I played it for my wife. Every summer, she and several of her girlfriends take a trip to Florida and go to the beach for a week. She immediately fell in love with the song too, because it described what they do when they go on those trips. That's when I knew for sure that I wanted to record it."
Travis realized the tune connected with a popular summer activity. "Almost every woman I know, from their teens on into their 50s, take girl trips to the beach," he says. "It just seemed like a song that would appeal to a mass audience."
But Travis wants to make sure people get the title right. "It's 'The Girl's Gone Wild,' " he points out. "It's singular - you need an apostrophe in 'Girl's' - and it's important to have a 'the' in front." No, Travis hasn't suddenly been bitten by the grammar bug. He just doesn't want the song confused with the infamously successful DVD series Girls Gone Wild, shot during spring breaks, Mardi Gras and other party-time events - at which the girls go really wild. "We didn't want any confusion between the two," says Travis.
But the singer can relate to the desire to hit the beach to blow off steam. "When I was a student, the spring meant it was my last ditch opportunity to bring my grade point up to something decent, after having screwed around for most of the year," he says. "You get down to the final weeks of the semester, you realize that you have to bear down. That's a real stressful situation.
"When you get an opportunity to break free and let loose, you're going to take it," he explains. "That's what spring break is all about. That's why it's so uninhibited. That's why so many people have so much fun with it. You get away to someplace sunny and let your hair down. It's a way to break up the monotony of an extremely difficult situation."
As for Travis, a Georgia native, he made his first spring-break run his senior year in high school. "I lied to my parents and told them I was going fishing with some friends," he says. "We ended up south of Mobile in Gulf Shores, Alabama. And we had a great time. I still remember it very well. It was the kind of experience that sticks with you for the rest of your life."
To translate the song to video naturally suggested a few specific things - beautiful girls, a beach and a party. "The original idea was just to have a stage set up on the beach and a lot of women in the crowd living it up," says Travis. "But I have to credit the director, Michael Salomon, who came with the idea of following a group of girls and all the little mishaps they run into on their trip. It's really funny."
As his fans know, Travis enjoys making videos that expand upon the song's storyline. "I love videos that people watch and say, 'You know, just listening to the song, I would've never thought of what they did in the video,' " he says. "I like the video to add to the story instead of just sticking to it. If you can make somebody laugh, or stir an emotion, it's more memorable.
"Those are the videos that stick out. I guarantee you, people are going to laugh when they see this one. And, of course, we get to rock out and everyone has a good time."
For Travis, who started his recording career 15 years ago, rocking out has always been a part of his music. So he's proud to see Southern rock and redneck pride coming back into vogue in country music.
"The sound is definitely coming back," says Travis. "I think there's always been a tremendous hunger for it. It's always been popular, it's just that the music industry moves away from it. But it's never gone away."
Travis always has included a generous slab of Southern rock on his albums. But it hasn't always been easy to convince record companies that it was important to his sound.
"I've taken a lot of criticism for it from people who tried to say that form of music is dead or that it doesn't belong in the country music mainstream - yada yada yada," he says. "But the fact of the matter is that it has never died, it's still extremely popular. If you don't believe it, I dare anybody to throw out a Skynyrd tune into the middle of a set and see what happens in the audience."
The rock 'n' roll element of "The Girl's Gone Wild" also attracted him to the song. "It has that up-tempo drive that I've been known for in my career, along the lines of 'T-R-O-U-B-L-E' and 'Put Some Drive in Your Country,' " he notes. "It fits me."
"The Girl's Gone Wild" is the first single from Travis' new album, due later this year - and the singer believes it's the perfect introduction to what fans can expect.
"It's a real fun, uptempo album for me," says Travis. "There are some straight-ahead ballads on there, but not many. For the most part this is a Southern rock, up-tempo, summertime album. I've done music like that throughout my career, but I don't know that I've ever had such a concentration of it on one album. So the single sets the tone of it very well. I'm excited for people to get to hear it."
Meanwhile, he's back on the road after taking the winter off to recuperate from minor shoulder surgery. A doctor discovered bone spurs that had torn a rotator cuff last summer and recommended immediate surgery. But Travis wanted to finish his tour, so he put it off until November.
"It was very successful," he says. "I've been doing all the workouts and exercise to get back in shape. I've had the opportunity to get back in the gym more than I had been, so I'm in better shape all around. I feel better, and I look better."
No wonder he's ready to party. "I have a real good feeling about this year," beams Travis. "We've got a good album, a full concert schedule and I couldn't feel better. We're going to make some noise this year."
-- Story by Michael McCall