Country singer and songwriter Tracy Lawrence didn’t wait until the debut of his first album, Sticks and Stones, to make headlines; in May of 1991, the then-23-year-old Lawrence was shot four times during a robbery attempt in the parking lot outside a friend’s hotel in Nashville. Both he and a girlfriend from his hometown of Foreman, Arkansas, were held at gunpoint by three men who robbed the couple of their money and the keys to the young woman’s car. When the robbers attempted to take the couple to the girl’s hotel room, Lawrence decided to fight back. “In my mind, the only reason for taking us to a hotel room was to rape her,” he later told Dolly Carlisle of People. “They didn’t try to hide their faces. They would not have let us live. I decided that if I was going to die, I was going to die fighting.” The thieves fled the scene after firing several shots; they were never caught.
Lawrence’s bravery cost him four bullet wounds; he was hit in the left hand, the upper right arm, the left hip, and the left knee. The last shot would require surgery and extensive rehabilitation at a Nashville hospital before the singer would be able to walk again. Although doctors had estimated it would be over a year before Lawrence’s recovery was complete, they had not counted on the singer’s determination to get on with his career—friends were amazed when he was up and about on crutches a week after the shooting.
Lawrence had spent his first two years after graduating from high school studying mass communications and business at Southern Arkansas University. But he left college in 1988 to pursue his dream of a career as a musician. He moved to Louisiana to perform as a singer with a country band that played gigs throughout the South but left for Nashville in the fall of 1990, when he decided that the band’s booking schedule was leading him nowhere. “Seems like I was always searching for something, but I was always looking for it outside myself,” Lawrence told Bob Millard in Country Music. “When I finally came to the realization that the only way to be happy is to be happy with yourself, things started changing for me.”
When Lawrence arrived in Music City U.S.A., he was full of self-confidence in the musical talent he had developed over several years as a performer. Although he immediately got a job as an ironworker to keep a roof over his head, within two weeks he had abandoned it in favor of giving a musical career his best shot. At first, Lawrence lived off prize money he won at local singing contests, but these soon gave way to a regular spot on Live at Libby’s, a radio show broadcast from nearby Daysville, Kentucky, for which he was paid $25.00 a night. In less than a year, Lawrence’s vocal ability had landed him a recording contract with Atlantic Records.
Born January 27, 1968, in Atlanta, TX; son of Dwayne (stepfather; a banker) and JoAnn Dickens; married Francis Wetherford, 1993. Education: Attended Southern Arkansas University, 1986-88.
Sang with Louisiana-based country band, performing throughout the South, 1988-90; worked briefly as ironworker, Nashville, 1990; performed regularly on radio show Live at Libby’s, Daysville, KT, c. 1990; signed with Atlantic Records, and released debut album, Sticks and Stones, 1991.
Awards: Named best new male country artist by Billboard, 1991; named top new male vocalist, Academy of Country Music, 1993.
Addresses: Record company —Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
His recovery from the shooting incident delayed the release of Lawrence’s first Atlantic album, Sticks and Stones, until October of 1991. But the wait did not seem to affect the album’s impact on the country countdown: the title song “just lit up the country hit charts,” according to Jack Hurt of the Chicago Tribune, as it earned the distinction of having the highest rate of airplay of any new country artist’s first single during its initial week of release. The album’s three singles, which also included “Today’s Lonely Fool” and “Runnin’ Behind,” hit the Number One spot in quick succession.
The year following the release of his first album found Lawrence spending a great deal of time on the road, working almost 300 concert dates as the opening act for such country superstars as Vince Gill, George Jones, and Shenandoah. Lawrence found this experience invaluable. “When you work with so many great acts, you stop trying to play like a bar band,” he noted in an Atlantic Records press release. “You start trying to be an entertainer, and you try to motivate yourself to do the best show you can.”
Early on, it became clear that Lawrence’s vocal influences were his favorite singers, George Jones and Keith Whitley. But with his second album, 1993’s Alibis, his vocal range matured, as did his own unique style. “As an artist, I feel like I went through a lot of growth in the past year and I feel like I was able to express that on this second album,” Lawrence told Jennifer Fusco-Giacobbe in Country Song Roundup. “I think its the fresh new sound that has just a little bit of a young edge to it,” he added, describing his own honky tonk brand of “young country.” But the long-standing traditions of country music still rang true in Lawrence’s work. Geoffrey Himes reviewed the album for Country Music, noting, “Alibis is crammed full of hooks built around puns so corny they make you wince before you grin.... It wouldn’t be nearly as effective... if Lawrence didn’t deliver the authentic tears-in-the-beer ballad vocal.” Himes summed Alibis up in a few words: “You might say it’s corny; you might say its genius. I say it’s both.” His opinion was reflected by the listening public, who boosted sales of the album to gold status three weeks after its release. By the summer of 1993, Alibis had gone platinum, selling one million copies.
Lawrence co-wrote several of Alibi’s tracks, including “It only Takes One Bar (To Make a Prison)” and the hit single “Can’t Break It to My Heart.” He has also used his talent as a songwriter to aid in causes to benefit people less fortunate than himself. When Hurricane Andrew devastated parts of Florida and Louisiana in 1992, leaving thousands of people homeless, Lawrence and several friends composed the song “Give the Fans a Hand.” Proceeds from a videotaped performance of the tune by Lawrence and several other musicians went to assist hurricane victims in both states.
Unlike some of his fellow country artists, among them Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire, Lawrence doesn’t think he’ll be crossing over to the pop charts any time soon. “I could cut a rock n’ roll song and it’d still be country,” he noted in his Atlantic press release. “I’ve played country too much to be anything else.” And Lawrence is confident that his burst onto the country charts was due more to those country roots than to the advance publicity he received from the shooting incident back in 1991. “I knew what I wanted when I first got to town,” he stated. “I knew what I wanted and worked very hard to get to where I am at right now. I want to be remembered for why I came here, not for some fluke accident.”
The honor of receiving the 1993 Academy of Country Music award for top new male vocalist, as well as his continued popularity among country music listeners, seems to prove that Tracy Lawrence is on the right track. Regarding his future plans, he told Fusco-Giacobbe, “I’ve worked all my life to achieve what I’m working on now, and I’ve got a good shot at pursuing my dreams and I want to give it everything I’ve got.”
Sticks and Stones (includes “Sticks and Stones,” “Today’s Lonely Fool,” and “Runnin’ Behind”), Atlantic, 1991.
(With Kenny Beard and Hank Cochran) “Give the Fans a Hand,” 1992.
Alibis (includes “Can’t Break It to My Heart” and “It Only Takes One Bar [To Make a Prison]”), Atlantic, 1993.
Chicago Tribune, November 1, 1991.
Country Music, July/August 1992; May/June 1993.
Country Song Roundup, September 1993.
Music City News (Nashville, TN), June 1993.
Newsweek, April 19, 1993.
People, February 3, 1992.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Atlantic Records press materials, 1993.
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