A versatile performer from suburban Atlanta, Travis Tritt has secured major industry awards and sold millions of records, thus solidifying his stature within the Peach State’s pantheon of noteworthy contributors to country music.
James Travis Tritt was born on February 9, 1963, in Marietta to Gwen and James Tritt. He first sang in his church’s children’s choir. By age eight, he was a self-taught guitarist, and just five years later, he wrote his first song. He was married and divorced twice at a young age. In 1997 he married Theresa Nelson, and the couple had three children, Tyler, Tristan, and Tarian.
Upon graduating from high school, Tritt worked a day job while moonlighting as a solo act in bars and nightclubs in the Atlanta area. Danny Davenport, a talent scout for Warner Brothers Records, discovered the aspiring country star at a club. This led to the recording of a demo that Davenport pitched to artist and repertoire executives at the label. Shortly thereafter, Tritt found himself in Nashville, Tennessee, pursuing the singing career of which he had always dreamed. He would later aptly state, “I’m an overnight success that took eight-and-a-half years to happen.”
As a young, developing artist, he was influenced by singer-songwriters John Denver, Ray Charles, and James Taylor, but he was also drawn to the music of the Allman Brothers Band, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Tritt’s first radio single, “Country Club,” was a top ten hit in 1989. The album by the same name, released in 1990, sold more than a million units. Featuring such songs as the chart-topping single “Help Me Hold On” and “I’m Gonna Be Somebody,” a top three hit, this freshman project would adequately attest to Tritt’s ability to successfully incorporate rhythm and blues and southern rock with mainstream country to produce a palatable, marketable product.
It’s All about to Change, Tritt’s second record, also attained platinum sales. This 1991 release features Tritt and one of country music’s most revered guitarists, Marty Stuart, in a duet performance of “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’,” an eventual number two song. Another big hit from this project was “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares).” The commercial success of It’s All about to Change garnered Tritt the Horizon Award, the Country Music Association’s coveted honor for new artists.
Another platinum-selling project, T-R-O-U-B-L-E, and a Christmas album (which would land among the top seventy-five pop records) soon followed in 1992. That same year Tritt became the youngest member of Nashville’s famed Grand Ole Opry, joining the ranks of such esteemed performers as Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner, and Bill Anderson. The next year Tritt and Stuart received a prestigious Grammy award for Best Country Vocal Collaboration.
Tritt would realize yet another dream with his 1994 album Ten Feet Tall and Bullet Proof (a title also given his autobiography, which he wrote with Michael Bane and published in 1994). On this project, he recorded “Outlaws Like Us” with his idols, Hank Williams Jr. and Waylon Jennings. Marty Stuart’s masterful guitar accompaniment further enhanced the track, which critics declared was destined to become a classic. In his book They Heard Georgia Singing, U.S. senator and former Georgia governor Zell Miller wrote that the Ten Feet Tall record demonstrated Tritt’s “uncanny and unerring ability to walk the narrow path between his country heritage and his rock leanings to the acclaim of the devotees of both.” In 1999 Tritt was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
With a new millennium, Tritt released his Columbia Records debut, Down the Road I Go, a stellar album featuring “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive,” “Love of a Woman,” and the number one single, “Best of Intentions,” a song Billboard magazine described in an October 2000 review as “the most heartfelt ballad Tritt has ever written.”
Other Tritt albums on Columbia’s SonyNashville label have delivered a consistent output of hits, including “Strong Enough to Be Your Man” and the opinionated “Country Ain’t Country.” Laced with smoldering guitar riffs, “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde” is a humorous, fictitious, first-person account of events that transpire when a hitchhiking female outlaw is picked up while en route to Richmond, Virginia.
Tritt has duetted with many notable recording artists besides Stuart, Jennings, and Williams, including David Lee Roth, Charlie Daniels, Charlie Pride, George Jones, and rhythm and blues diva Patti LaBelle (with whom he sang “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby”). He even joined a political opposite, rocker John Mellencamp, to record “What Say You,” a response to the intense political divide that prevailed during the 2004 election season.
While performing country music has been his lifelong passion, Tritt has enjoyed a multifaceted career, one in which his artistic abilities and entertainment industry connections have prompted roles in film and on television. He appeared with fellow country singers Kenny Rogers and Naomi Judd in the television western Rio Diablo (1993) and with Kiefer Sutherland and Woody Harrelson in the feature film The Cowboy Way (1994), for which he also wrote the theme song. Television shows featuring Tritt have included CBS’s Yes, Dear; Diagnosis Murder; Touched by an Angel; and Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, as well as Arliss and Tales from the Crypt on HBO.
Tritt has enjoyed longevity in a competitive field that produces many one-hit wonders and short-lived careers. Appealing to a broad fan base, he remains unfettered by genre and has become one of the most celebrated country music performers in Georgia history.