When it comes to living legends in country music, there aren’t many better than Randy Travis.
Though he hasn’t been able to perform in recent years after suffering a stroke in 2013, Randy has remained active in the country music community, making appearances to support up-and-coming artists as well as honor the legends.
Just recently, Randy showed up to pay tribute to the legendary George Jones during the Still Playin’ Possum tribute concert, joining Justin Moore and Joe Nichols onstage as they performed “A Few Ole Country Boys,” Randy’s 1990 duet with Jones.
And last week, Randy was in Texas to support some of country’s best up-and-comers at a show ahead of the ACM Awards showcasing the Grand Ole Opry’s 2023 Opry NextStage class.
One NextStage artist who got to spend some time with the legend was ERNEST, who posted a photo of the two to his Instagram after the show:
The opportunity to spend time with Randy Travis was a special one for ERNEST, who told Whiskey Riff during an exclusive interview that despite that fact that ERNEST got his start as more of a country rap and hip hop artist, he still grew up listening and drawing influence from Randy Travis:
“Randy Travis has always been around and coming out of the radio and different CDs growing up.
‘Deeper Than the Holler’ and ‘Honky Tonk Moon’ are a couple of my favorite songs. And just his voice…
He has a very addictive voice. Randy Travis’ voice is very addicting, and it’s memorable and you know it as soon as you hear it. That’s something that not every artist has. The great ones do, and he’s a great one…
If there was a created player for all the attributes you need to be a country singer, I feel like Randy Travis is 99s across the board.”
And while ERNEST admits that he’s a “little bit of a hybrid,” the influence of guys like Randy Travis is obvious in his fiddle-and-steel soaked songs like “Flower Shops” and “If You Were Whiskey,” and even in his authentic songwriting on songs like his latest release “Takes After You.”
So for ERNEST, the opportunity to talk to Randy before his show was one that he couldn’t pass up:
“I’ve always looked up to him. One of the coolest parts of my job, and I think other artists would agree, is your heroes not only become accessible, but you have an unspoken bond because of what we’re doing.
It removes the barrier of, ‘Oh my God, I’m a fan talking to Randy Travis’ to, with honor and respect, carrying a torch that they carried before us…
The nerves don’t go away. You’re still like, ‘Oh my God.’ But y’all are in the same world and you’re doing the same thing and there’s a mutual respect. It’s hard to explain that feeling but it’s great because it takes away a lot of the small talk.
You can still get into small talk but at the end of the day you’re looking at each other like, ‘Hey, we inspire each other,’ which is awesome.”
And knowing that his heroes like Randy Travis are sitting out in the audience is something that ERNEST says fires him up on stage:
“It’s just special. It fires me up. I don’t know if it makes me nervous but it’s just like, I’m singing for that person. I want to make them proud.
Especially Randy, because Randy can’t physically do the things he’s done, so for him specifically, I want to put on for him and make him proud. And I know that he wishes he could, but I know that he truly, thoroughly enjoys watching people up on stage having a good time.”
And ERNEST even has a personal connection to the legend: His wife Delany’s father is Robb Royer, who was not only a founding member of the 1970s rock group Bread, but he’s also a songwriter who’s written songs like John Michael Montgomery’s “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident),” as well as hits for Mary Chapin Carpenter, Restless Heart, and many more.
And he also wrote a song that was recorded by Randy Travis, “Raise Him Up” from his 2002 album Rise and Shine.
ERNEST talked about him and his wife getting to speak with Randy Travis for the first time back in 2021 about the song that her dad wrote:
“I introduced them and connected those dots for him and he couldn’t believe it. Obviously he remembered that, that was an impactful song for him too.
So now we kind of already had that rapport when I’ve seen him the next couple times. It feels like old friends.”
It’s a friendship that Ernest hopes he can grow and keep up (obviously, who wouldn’t want to be friends with Randy Travis?).
“If it’s a bromance, I would love to be in a bromance with Randy Travis.
He’s such a cool dude. He’s got swagger for days.”
I personally love seeing newer artists who have so much respect for the legends of the genre – and from talking to ERNEST, it’s clear that he has nothing but respect for a legend like Randy Travis.