Interview: Randy Travis’ Musical Community Is Playing a ‘Very Powerful’ Role in His Stroke Recovery
In 2013, Randy Travis suffered a massive stroke that kept him in the hospital for months. The ordeal left him severely limited in his powers of speech and mobility, so when his hospital stay finally came to a close, he entered a rehab facility. There, Travis was surprised to learn that the facility had no music or musically oriented programs.
“None of the rehabs we went to did. Which was just astonishing to me. I couldn’t even believe it,” Travis’ wife Mary tells The Boot in an interview with the legendary country singer. “So hopefully we can make those changes [to integrate music into rehabilitation] in some way, shape or form.”
Incorporating music into the recovery process made perfect sense for Travis, whose whole life had been -- and would continue to be, despite his stroke and subsequent difficult recovery process -- about country music.
In his new book Forever and Ever, Amen: A Memoir of Music, Faith and Braving the Storms of Life, Travis details the list musical friends who visited him while he was still in the hospital: George Jones' widow, Nancy Jones, stopped by while still grieving the then-fresh loss of her husband, and brought Travis some of Jones' gospel songs. Josh Turner visited during a scary moment, when Travis' life was touch-and-go, and played the classic hymn "Without Him."
"You don't have to believe the doctors and what they've written in their charts ... Against all odds, you can keep living life." -- Mary Travis
It wasn't just musicians who supported the singer during this time, though: John Hobbs, the former owner of the Nashville Palace -- where Travis worked as a cook while making his first inroads in the Nashville music business -- was there for him, too.
Mary recalls a photo she took of Travis during those tentative early days in the hospital. "We were at Vanderbilt in the ICU still, and it was one of our first days to get to go out after about two, two and a half months," she remembers. "He still had the helmet on his head because part of his skull had been taken out during brain surgery, and he was hooked up to all these tubes and IVs. They said, 'Would y'all like to go out and get some fresh air?' I thought, 'That'd be glorious!'"
They went up to the roof of the hospital, where helicopters land. Mary snapped a photo, which made it into Travis' memoir, of Travis in his wheelchair, looking out over the Nashville skyline. Looking at that photo, Mary can't help but think about what Nashville and the music community meant to Travis during that stage of his recovery.
"Every time I see that picture, it reminds me of this wonderful man, and all the difference that he made in country music and that the fans made in him," she continues. "Recently, we've been coming back to Nashville quite often. We're around his old band, and we get to hear them play. We get to go hear music, at the Grand Ole Opry, or wherever we can find it, we'll go hear music."
As Mary explains, being around country music brings Travis back to life: "I see the spark in his eye. So we have chosen to move back to Nashville for that reason, so that we can be closer to the music, and to the heart of what made this man one of the greatest of all time." The role music has played in Travis' recover, from 2013 onward, has been "very powerful," Mary adds.
Travis still connects deeply to the music he listens to, and, hopefully one day, he will be able to sing along freely. "I love watching him when he's listening to music," says Ken Abraham, the author who worked with Travis to write Forever and Ever, Amen. "Randy's head is bobbing, his eyes, his lips. He mouths all the words to every song."
In the meantime, Mary points out that Travis listens to music just as closely -- if not more so -- than he did before his stroke. "He still has a great ear for music. It may even be more acute now," she explains. "They say when you lose one sense, the others become more acute. I'm not so sure that hasn't happened with him. He's in tune. He can hear a good song."
Travis' memoir is about his whole life, not just his stroke; still, when asked if his story has a message for others who've gone through similar health challenges, his answer is an emphatic nod.
"I think part of the message is that we're all carrying a heavy load," Abraham relates. "Randy's carrying a heavy load. Mary's carrying a heavy load. But they get up every day and enjoy every day, and have fun together. They're out there visiting artists and going to concerts. They're living life. They have not allowed a stroke to take away their joy in life, and, man, if they can do that, so can we."
Adds Mary, "There's redemption, and there's success in the struggle. You don't have to believe the doctors and what they've written in their charts. God doesn't read those, and we don't have to either. Against all odds, you can keep living life ...
"Randy has always been an inspiration us," she continues. "I don't think he'll ever quit being an inspiration to us."
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