Tracy Lawrence Talks ’90s Country Nostalgia, Guitar Hooks & His 30-Year Anniversary Albums

“That class of ’89 is the reason that I came to Nashville,” country star Tracy Lawrence tells Nick Hoffman on I Miss…90s Country Radio on Apple Music Country. He cites Garth Brooks, Mark Chesnutt, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Clint Black, and Travis Tritt as those who collectively began redefining the Nashville sound. “And when that body of music came out in ’89, I realized that things were changing. And I knew that if I was going to go, I had to go right then.” At the time, the artist who grew up on the sounds of George Strait, Merle Haggard, and Randy Travis, and Hank Williams Jr., and Waylon Jennings, had been playing gigs and managed to scrounge up $700. He drove his beat-up Toyota home to Arkansas before heading to Tennessee.

“My dad said, ‘God, I’m ready for you to go to Nashville. Get this out of your system. Come back, I’ll get you on at the mill,'” Lawrence laughs. Music Row was comparable to the “Wild West” as label competition was fierce, and artists were getting swept up at a whirlwind rate. The 22-year-old Arkansas native was one of the lucky ones swept up during that time. Within seven months, he signed a deal with Atlantic Records and got to work on his debut album Sticks and Stones. Over the course of two years, Lawrence was a country star. He compares the phenomenon to “being shot out of a cannon.”

“Everything changed. And not only did it change for me, it changed for my whole family,” he continues. “It changed for my mom, my dad, my brothers, my sisters, everybody.” He adds, “And for the next 10 years, it was wide open.”

After a road tour, he headed back into the studio for a strong follow-up with his sophomore album, Alibis. At the moment, music videos were becoming a craze-worthy component of the industry, and the breakthrough artist took advantage of the opportunity for his second project. He says the videos were “where [he] really connected with the audience.” Most notably, his “If The Good Die Young” video, filmed at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the very first one they recorded. “And we leaped into the next one, that was the one that started all of it,” Lawrence said. “It was a huge piece of my career. It was massive.”

With the visual aid, Lawrence was able to surmount the “make-or-break” stakes of the second album, as Alibis, released in 1993, became the best-selling of fifteen studio albums. Since then, Lawrence has sold 13 million albums throughout his career and landed 18 number one songs.

The vetted artist credits the behind-the-scenes musicians who played across several sessions a day, defining the neo-traditional sound with era-specific guitar hooks. “The players mean everything,” Lawrence says, agreeing with Hoffman. “Having the right player that brings the right mental focus and the right skill set in, they mean everything. They can make or break a hit song. You can have the greatest song in the world, but if you put the wrong team together it’s not going to do crap”

Hoffman and Lawrence agree one of the most notable key players of the time—up through present—is Brent Mason. As exhibited in the rollicking introduction of Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee,” Mason’s Telecaster made enviable contributions to the current country sound.

“I won’t do a session without Brent to this day,” says Lawrence. “He’s a key figure. What makes Brent so special? Brent understands a song. He can play rock and roll, he can play jazz, he can chicken pick. I mean, he’s very well versed. He can play anything. He just does it.”

To celebrates 30 years since his 1991 debut, Lawrence is offering his fans a collection that began on April 23 with Volume 1: Stairway to Heaven Highway to Hell—the first release of the three-album collection titled Hindsight 2020. Volume 2 and 3 of Hindsight 2020 will be released throughout 2021. Each will have 10 songs, featuring new music and others including his well-known hits.

On the new episode of I Miss…90s Country Radio with Nick Hoffman on Apple Music Country, Hoffman shares more of his conversation with Tracy Lawrence, dives into some of the era’s most identifiable guitar hooks, and plays more of his 90’s favorites with additional commentary from Derek Wells and Rhett Akins. Listen here.

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