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Forever and Ever, Amen: A Memoir of Music, Faith, and Braving the Storms of Life

By Randy Travis with Ken Abraham

Nelson Books, 304 pages, $26.99

Reviewed by Robert Loy, May 2019

At Randy Travis's Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Garth Brooks said, ""Name me any artist from any genre in the history of all music that took a format, turned it 180 degrees back to where it came from and made it bigger than it has ever been before."

And that is not an exaggeration.

Travis's first album "Storms of Life" arrived like a bomb in 1986, shaking up country radio that was then dominated by pop sounds from people like Marie Osmond, Dan Seals and Billie Joe Royal. Nobody else sounded like Randy Travis, and he did not need to wear a cowboy hat to let you know he was country. When one heard that deep baritone of his, there was no doubt.

"Storms of Life" - the first country record to go Platinum in its first year of release, by the way - changed everything and ushered in the neo-traditional country music movement, paving the way the way for artists like Alan Jackson, Clint Black and Garth Brooks.

An eighth grade dropout with an abusive alcoholic father, Travis seemed headed to jail rather than the top of the charts. And that's probably where he would have ended up if not for Lib Hatcher, the manager and later wife whose machinations would have made Svengali blush. She campaigned tirelessly to get Travis' music heard - at least until his record sales started to slip, and she dropped him for an up and coming Irish tenor - but she also stole millions and controlled almost every aspect of Travis' life, from what he ate to who he socialized with.

So many of his songs are classics but the stories behind their creation are fascinating. As are his fall from grace, all the tabloid stuff like wrecked cars and nude arrests and his health struggles to recover from heart disease and a devastating stroke.

Since he has not recovered completely and has difficulty speaking and writing it goes without saying he had help penning his autobiography, and occasionally the prose reads a little flowery for a man known for simple, homespun similes like those found in "Deeper Than the Holler." But plenty of his personality shines through nonetheless.

This is not one of those memoirs meant to settle old scores. Travis has very little of a vindictive bent to say about anybody, even Lib Hatcher. And there is not much in the way of celebrity gossip either. George Jones was a friend and mentor, but the biggest Possum secret revealed is that Jones liked to wrap up his concerts by 8 p.m. so he could catch reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show."

What you will find are details about his less well-remembered acting career. A lot of his roles and projects and parts are admittedly better forgotten, such as the near-incoherent Mickey Rooney penned mess, "Outlaws: The Legend of O.B. Taggart," but he could hold his own amongst Hollywood heavyweights like Ernest Borgnine, Matt Damon, Rob Lowe and Cloris Leachman.

The Randy Travis story is far from over as he continues to make progress in his goal of some day being healthy enough to resume his singing career. This is a man given a two-per cent chance of survival at one point so don't count him out.