At the moment, Travis Tritt is just another guy on a motorcycle. His long brown ponytail is covered by a Darth Vader-style helmet, and he’s wearing jeans, Converse sneakers, and a gray shirt with a Bugs Bunny emblem. Slowly he drives a shining black-and-white vintage Harley-Davidson through the electronic gate flanked by lion statues (each emblazoned with a T), past the beds of purple and yellow pansies, and out beyond the 75 acres of his almost-hidden estate near Marietta, Ga.
Once on the country two-lane, Tritt, 31, guns the engine and takes off. The view from the backseat is a rush of green farmland, working-class homes, and the occasional pickup truck. “While I’m riding, I can’t think of anything else,” he says. “I get this heightened sense of awareness. It’s just me, the bike, and the road.”
Not that Tritt will find too many of these relaxing getaways any time soon. This year he may be the busiest man in country music. The ride began last December, when he managed, not without some difficulty, to reunite the Eagles for the video of his remake of “Take It Easy.” In January, 41 million viewers saw him perform at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. In February he began hosting the weekly VH-1 Country Countdown With Travis Tritt. In April he kicked off a nine-month tour to promote his fifth album, Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof — which, by no coincidence, is also the title of his newly published autobiography.
If that’s not enough Tritt for any human, here’s some more. He sang a duet with Patti LaBelle on the Rhythm, Country & Blues duets album; next up, he’s contributing a song to a George Harrison tribute album. On June 3, Tritt made his feature-film debut, playing a bronco rider alongside Kiefer Sutherland and Woody Harrelson in The Cowboy Way. And, oh, yes, he penned and recorded the movie’s theme song.
This synchronicity of events is no accident. Tritt and his manager, Ken Kragen (known for guiding the careers of Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie, and Trisha Yearwood), have orchestrated this in-the-public’s-face strategy with just one thought in mind: As Tritt says, “We’re trying to move to the next plateau.” Always one to talk up his career moves and ponder others’ mistakes, Tritt will sadly recite the names of musicians he loves whose new songs are no longer played on the radio, like George Jones and Waylon Jennings. And the relative lack of commercial success of Tritt’s last album, 1992’s T-R-O-U-B-L-E, made him determined to work harder and plan more.
“He has the most realistic take on the music business I’ve ever seen,” says Michael Bane, coauthor of Tritt’s autobiography. “He understood he had a job, and there were things he had to do to be a success.”
“I’m trying to attack my career in a way that’s extremely aggressive,” says Tritt. “You have to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. That’s the key to longevity in this business. These days, if you don’t have a guitar in one hand and a briefcase in the other, you’re a fool.”
But there are problems with Tritt’s big-time career plans: his stubbornness and cards-on-the-table style. “I refuse to be muzzled,” he says. “I was brought up in a family where above everything else, you tell the truth. If you don’t want to know how things are, don’t ask me.” As a result, he’s done things Nashville acts aren’t supposed to do — such as criticizing fellow country performers’ material and acting like a rock star on stage. The question is, will it help or hurt him? “Travis,” says good friend and fellow country singer Marty Stuart, “will go out on a limb to where it cracks.”