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t byrd
Tracy Byrd

 

When Tracy Byrd records an album, you know it's going to be country. On his new RCA release, Ten Rounds, however, Byrd accomplishes the feat of remaining true to his country roots while directing his artistry into new proportions.

In describing the album, Byrd says, "It's about my newfound love of life and career -- and taking advantage of every minute of every day. It's about having fun, loving your loved ones and paying attention to the true meaning of life."

Ten Rounds, Byrd's eighth album, follows It's About Time, his first RCA project that signaled a new wave of creativity. At this point in his career, Tracy's approach to the studio has changed from the time he recorded his self-titled debut album in 1993. "Just because of the experience, I've got a lot more confidence now," he says. "But that earlier lack of experience now is replaced with trying to find the perfect songs that are going to work for me."

Ten Rounds is a collection of songs that are perfectly suited to the distinctive baritone voice that already claims such hits as "Holdin' Heaven," "The Keeper of the Stars," "Watermelon Crawl" and "I'm From the Country." In approaching the new album, Tracy says simply, "I wanted to do something different. I don't think we made any drastic changes, but we've got a little more rockin' stuff on there and some more great ballads. I went in with the frame of mind of trying to give people a little bit of Tracy Byrd that people may have never heard before."

One of those new directions is the rough-and-tumble edge he puts on the album's first single, "Good Way to Get on My Bad Side," a duet with longtime friend Mark Chesnutt. Byrd and Chesnutt met years ago in their hometown of Beaumont, Texas, but their friendship grew even more after Mark became the lead singer for the house band at the local nightclub, Cutter's. When Mark got his record deal in the early '80s, Byrd took his place with the band, eventually bringing over his own band after Mark Chesnutt began touring. Byrd says, "I did that for a year. When Mark would come home, I'd open the shows for him and then we'd sing together during his set. Back then we were singing together an hour every night, just whatever songs came to mind."

Although they always wanted to record a duet, Byrd says, "Nobody else really pushed the idea, and we were busy with our solo careers, so it just never happened. When we decided to put a duet on this album, I figured it would take us a couple of months to find the right song. Two days after I first talked to him about the duet, we got this song. After I heard the song, I overnighted a copy to Mark. He got it at 10 o'clock in the morning. At about 10:05, my phone rang and he said, 'When are we gonna cut a record?'" Byrd is the first to admit that "Good Way to Get on My Bad Side" isn't a typical country duet, but he notes, "That's the beauty of it. It's not what people would expect for us, but this song just seemed to fit. It said the things we would want to say.”

Just as he did on It's About Time, Byrd co-produced Ten Rounds with Billy Joe Walker Jr. "He's been my friend since when he was playing guitar on my records," Byrd explains. "I've always respected him as a musician and always thought he was a really cool, quirky guy. And he's from Texas. He's got a great country background, but he's got a great rock and pop background, too, because he's played on so many different records. He worked in L.A. for about 10 years, but he's just a good ole boy. We don't push ideas on each other. If I like something and he doesn't think it's the best idea, he says so. We never take it personally. We're just trying to make the best record we can."

Co-producing his own albums has made a vast difference in Byrd's approach to recording. "I've gotten more relaxed," he says. "I used to look at it more like a work environment a stressful situation. I think sometimes that limited me. When I go in now, I just try to have a good time with the musicians and try to lay down some tracks that sound live." When the pressure vanishes, creativity kicks in. "It's not just me, but it's that way for everybody who's playing on the record," he says. "Those musicians will tell stories about being in the studio with a real stressed-out artist. I think they appreciate it when you're just shooting the bull and having a good time. They know when to get down to business, but I think the atmosphere loosens everybody up. Because of that, everybody plays better."

When it comes to choosing songs, Byrd admits that he can be a tough judge. He says, "They have to be songs that appeal to me. I don't like any weak spot in a song. Even if there's a great chorus, I may have passed on some hit songs just because the second verse let me down." Explaining how he keeps his artistic spark, Byrd says, "My inspiration in the past came from my heroes Merle Haggard and Ray Price and George Jones. These days, my inspiration comes from my family more than anything else. They're kind of my reason for being here, so that alone inspires me every day and keeps me focused."

Tracy Byrd's inspiration also comes from his fans, better known as the "Byrd Watchers." He notes, "They've been there since the beginning. We've got some of them who have put pictures of me on the hood and sides of their cars. We've got some that keep up with the miles they put on their cars as they follow us to concert dates. Through the years, those fans have come to mean even more to me because they're still here. They really do care about the music and what happens to me. When you have time to step back and look at the big picture, it's pretty incredible. Without them, I'd have been gone a long time ago." It's hard to believe that a man who will perform around 100 concerts this year has cut back on his touring schedule. "A hundred dates – that keeps us all sane," he says. "It gives us time at home with our family while we're still able to keep everybody paid and the buses running. When you get into 130 dates or so, it gets hectic." He adds, laughing, "We don't want it to ever feel like this is a job." One of the big events each spring in Beaumont is Byrd's Homecoming Weekend, three days featuring a golf tournament, his "Big Bass Tournament" and a concert that always features Byrd and some of his friends. Over the years, the event has raised thousands upon thousands of dollars for a variety of charities, including the Children's Miracle Network. His most recent event raised $130,000. "I love southeast Texas," he says. "Once you're a Texan, you're always a Texan and I've never wanted to live anyplace else. I just feel an obligation to the community because I've been given a career I truly enjoy. To love your work is a precious thing, so I feel that I should give something back by raising money for those who are less fortunate than I am." Tracy jokes, "Of course, we're talking about a weekend of music, golf and fishing, so it's pretty easy for me to get motivated for that."

With the release of Ten Rounds, Byrd says, "I'm enjoying myself and I'm enjoying my career more than ever. I guess because I'm so relaxed right now, I look forward to every day of it. Things are going to fall the way they fall. All you can do is just make the best records you can, put your heart and soul into it, and just enjoy it."