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Randy Travis to launch CMT influences show

Josh Turner joins him in debut of ‘Cross Country;’ episodes pair artists
/ Source: The Associated Press

Randy Travis remembers the first time he heard an up-and-coming singer call him an “influence.”

He wasn’t all that flattered.

“This person said ’I grew up listening to your stuff,’ “ Travis recalls. “It’s such a weird thing to hear. And then I thought ’Well, wait a minute. I am headed for 50.”’

Today, the 47-year-old singer has come to like the tag of “musical elder.” He recently taped the first installment of the new Country Music Television series “CMT Cross Country” that paired him with newcomer Josh Turner.

The one-hour show, which brings together country singers who admire each others’ work, debuts Friday at 10 p.m. EDT. The network also has a long-running show call “Crossroads,” which unites country artists with those from other musical genres.

Travis and Turner were an easy fit. Both possess an earthy baritone and love of classic country. Besides their own songs, they performed Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” and the Carter family’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

A lanky 28-year-old with a five o’clock shadow, Turner says he learned a lot listening to Travis’ records.

“The melodies he’s sung for so many years. The kind of messages he’s had in his songs. He’s really influenced me in how to choose songs, and how to write songs for that matter,” he said.

The Hannah, S.C., native broke through a couple years ago with “Long Black Train,” a gospel-flavored tune he wrote that equates sin with a sleek train: “Cling to the father and his holy name. And don’t go riding on that long Black Train.”

His follow-up, this year’s “Your Man,” debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s country albums chart and yielded the hit title track. Both his albums have gone platinum, a big achievement for any artist, let alone a new one.

But despite his success he sounds a little wistful discussing Travis. He sees the 1980s as a golden era, a time when neo-traditionalists like Travis, Patty Loveless, Ricky Skaggs and George Strait were wresting country music from the “Urban Cowboy” craze and building long, durable careers in the process.

“Lately the music business has gotten crazy in my opinion,” Turner said. “It’s gotten to the point of ’Let’s see how many artists we can sign. If the first single doesn’t work, let’s go on to the next artist.’ It’s like a run-and-gun approach to a basketball game.”

Travis, of Marshville, N.C., is a picture of stability by comparison. From 1986 to 1994 he had 15 No. 1 hits, including classics like “Diggin’ up Bones” and “Forever and Ever, Amen.” He won three Grammys and launched an acting career in films and television.

When his streak slowed he veered toward gospel and hit No. 1 again with the inspirational “Three Wooden Crosses” in 2003.

With his square jaw and chiseled features, he still looks the part of honky-tonk singer, with the voice to match.

An hour before the CMT taping, he described Turner as a bridge from the ’80s traditionalists, just as they were a bridge from earlier artists like George Jones, Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn.

“I’m very happy to see people like Josh come along and keep that kind of music going,” he said. “We came from the background of hearing the same kinds of people. He’s very familiar with Haggard and Jones and Hank Williams Sr. and Jr.”

And, of course, with Travis. The first country song Turner ever sang in public was “Diggin’ Up Bones” at a church fundraiser when he was 13.

“Here I am 15 years later doing a TV show with him,” Turner said.