Although never a top-tier superstar like fellow hatwearing country singers Garth Brooks or Alan Jackson, Texan Tracy Byrd built a following big enough for eight top-ten singles on Billboard’s country charts in the 1990s. He recorded the novelty song “Watermelon Crawl,” complete with instructional line-dancing lyrics, around the same time Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” made line-dancing novelty songs extremely profitable. Byrd is savvy enough to use bubblegum appeal to sneak into fans’ record collections. Sniping at his own bubblegum appeal, Byrd said in Texas Monthly. “I really mark that as an all-time low in country music, when they come out with a Teen Beat country music magazine. And I’m in it.” But he uses that appeal to draw attention to his heroes—notably western-swing legends Bob Wills and Merle Haggard—by covering old country hits like Johnny Paycheck’s “Someone to Give My Love To.” Paycheck returned the compliment in 1997, a half-decade after Byrd sang his song. “He has a real good country heart in him,” the singer of “Take This Job and Shove It” and many other hits told Texas Monthly. “There’s so many of these people who don’t know what they’re singing nowadays.”
Byrd was born in Vidor, Texas, a small town 15 miles from Beaumont. His father, Jerry, worked at a chemical plant, and his mother, Brenda, was an elementary school teacher’s aide. They were record collectors, putting Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, and Ray Price 78s in regular rotation as Byrd grew up. When Tracy was six months old, they brought him to the Grand Ole Opry, the hallowed country-music showcase at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. “It started pouring down rain and there was a long line waiting to get into the Opry,” Byrd recalled in liner notes to his 1999 greatest hits album Keepers. “They were way back in the line and Mama was having to cover me up with a sweater. One of the security guards saw them and escorted them to the front of the line. And that’s how they got into the Opry, because of having me in their arms.”
Like future 1990s country superstars Garth Brooks and Clint Black, the young-adult Byrd expanded his range to the Eagles, the pioneering 1970s band that linked the twangy harmonies of country music with the upbeat spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. He also became enamored of fellow Texan George Strait, attending many of the hitmaking singer’s concerts. Accounts vary as to when Byrd sang in public for the first time. In a St. Louis Post-Dispatch interview, he said a friend coaxed him into a mall recording studio while he was a 21-year-old student at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. According to this legend, Byrd cut Hank Williams, Sr.’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart”; a saleswoman overheard and helped land him a slot on an amateur talent show. However, Robert Oermann’s notes in the Keepers CD collection refer to Byrd’s 19-year-old singing debut at the Charlie Pruitt Country Music Show in Beaumont.
Born on December 18, 1966, in Vidor, TX; son of Jerry and Brenda Byrd.
Signed with MCA Records, 1991; released Tracy Byrd, 1993; released three more albums and a greatest hits collection, 1994-99; signed with RCA Records, released It’s About Time, 1999; released Ten Rounds, 2001.
Awards: Country Music Television’s Rising Video Star of the Year, 1994; Academy of Country Music, Song of the Year for “The Keeper of the Stars,” 1996.
Addresses: Record company —RCA Records, 1400 18th Ave. South, Nashville, TN 37212.Management-Carter & Company, P.O. Box 128195, Nashville, TN 37212. Website —Tracy Byrd Official Website: http://www.tbyrd.com.
Either way, after befriending established singer Mark Chesnutt, also a Beaumont native, Byrd wound up singing at honky-tonks throughout East Texas. When Chesnutt began a national tour in 1990, Byrd inherited his friend’s regular gig at Cutter’s Nightclub, a prominent Beaumont dancehall. The young singer leaned heavily on Strait’s material, supplementing it with that of western-swing and traditional-country icons such as Wills and Marty Bobbins. “There’s a line connecting Wills and Haggard and Strait,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “That’s the line I’d like to be in.” Byrd packed Cutter’s for two years.
Before long, music-industry types such as Vidor concert promoter Joe Carter and Ken Ritter, bluesman Johnny Winter’s former manager, began showing up at Byrd’s shows. With aggressive management, Byrd landed a 1991 showcase before prominent Nashville record label executives. MCA, where Strait and Chesnutt had already signed record deals, became Byrd’s home for the next eight years. He laid down his debut album quickly, but label president Tony Brown opted to hold it a year, adding three new singles—including Paycheck’s old hit “Someone to Give My Love To.” The song hit the top 30 in early 1993; “Holdin5 Heaven” followed, moving all the way up the charts to number one, and Byrd’s self-titled debut went gold.No Ordinary Man, which went on to sell more than two million copies, followed a year later.
It was a good time to be a young Texas singer with a dimpled chin who looked good in a black cowboy hat. Beginning with Brooks’s rise to pop superstardom in 1991, much of the decade in pop music belonged to mainstream country—Nashville reeled out male celebrities seemingly at will, first with Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam, then Brooks, Black, Jackson, Billy Ray Cyrus, John Michael Montgomery, and Tim McGraw. Byrd never quite hit that upper echelon, but his man’sman voice and willingness to record both ballads and fast-paced novelty songs such as “Watermelon Crawl” and “Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous” gave him a lasting career. By 2002 five of his albums had sold almost five million copies.
For a while during the 1990s, it seemed like country stars’ careers could last as long as those of rock stars. But when Shania Twain seized the baton from the men in hats, and Brooks attempted an image change and flamed out, Byrd’s career dipped below the platinumselling mainline. He switched labels from MCA to RCA in the late 1990s, releasing two more CDs, includin Ten Rounds —featuring “Good Way to Get on My Bad Side,” a duet with his old friend Chesnutt. Byrd used the lyrics about a “sissy in the cowboy hat” to poke fun at rock stars who show up where they don’t belong. Identifying himself as a country singer, not a pop singer, Byrd used the occasion to rip on the heavymetal singer Bret Michaels. “That line may actually have come from when Michaels came to Nashville the year before last and put on a cowboy hat and boots, looking for a country deal,” Byrd told the Bradenton Herald. “That was like the last straw, you know? Go back home and do what you do, you know? I’m not coming over there, so don’t come over here.”
Byrd signed with RCA Records in 1999, releasing It’s About Time that year and Ten Rounds in 2001. Of the move to RCA, Byrd told Billboard, “We had gone to novelty songs too many times…. For a career to mature, your music has got to mature.”
Tracy Byrd, MCA, 1993.
No Ordinary Man, MCA, 1994.
Love Lessons, MCA, 1995.
I’m from the Country, MCA, 1998.
It’s About Time, RCA, 1999.
Keepers/Greatest Hits, MCA, 1999.
Ten Rounds, RCA, 2001.
Mansfield, Brian, and Gary Graff, editors, MusicHound Country: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1997.
Billboard, September 21, 1996, p. 32; April 11, 1998, p. 57; November 20, 1999, p. 35.
Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, FL), February 8, 2002, p. K35.
Daily News Record (Harrisonburg, VA), January 5, 1994, p. S6.
Houston Chronicle, May 7, 1993, p. 1.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 28, 1994, p. 7.
Texas Monthly, October 1997, p. 86.
Recording Industry Association of America, http://www.riaa.com (July 11, 2002).
Tracy Byrd Official Website, http://www.tbyrd.com (July 11, 2002).
Additional information was obtained from Robert K. Oermann’s liner notes in Keepers/Greatest Hits, MCA, 1999.
"Byrd, Tracy." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/byrd-tracy
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