The year was 1993.
Tracy Byrd was an unknown to the country audience. It’s hard to tell even for the big wigs in the record label offices to tell what artist will strike it big. Most times they go with their gut instinct, put a little effort behind each artist, and wait for something to stick.
Well in 1993 something stuck and it stuck well. Tracy Byrd’s first single was released in 1992 and it didn’t even come close to the top 40 on the charts. His second single didn’t make the top 40 either. For most artists this would be a death sentence – two singles with nothing to show.
Then in the middle of 1993 something special happened. Tracy’s label MCA released a third single from his debut album. Holdin’ Heaven went on to become a number one single on the country charts. For the next decade the song remained one of the biggest songs on radio. It’s the kind of song that makes you smile. The song makes you sing along. It’s a classic hit country song with plenty of emotion and passion.
The year was 1993 and Tracy Byrd had arrived.
Tracy Byrd: ’90s Country Star
Looking from the outside in from the fan’s perspective it can seem like things happen overnight for country stars. They’re unknowns one moment and the next they have the top hit in all of country music and everybody is recognizing them on the street, on TV, and in concert.
I’m sure if you asked most artists, though, they would tell you a different story about making it big. For artists like Tracy Byrd the first major radio hit comes only after a long list of failures and extreme determination to try and make some kind of career out of what they love.
The description seems to fit Tracy well. He got his start back in a little piece of country music heaven – Beaumont, Texas.
Tracy Byrd History
Down deep in the heart of Beaumont, Texas is where Tracy Byrd got his start playing country music for a living. Prior to his days there he had spent time singing for friends and family, but it seems like he really got going down in Beaumont.
For a time Tracy was in the band for future country star Mark Chesnutt. Some stories say it was Chesnutt that introduced Tracy to the guys and gals running the show at MCA Nashville.
The other story says Tracy had been impressing anyone that would listen with his country vocals and ability to attract people to him while he was on stage. A few stories about Tracy in the early days say he was actually a bit shy, but something always clicked when he was on stage.
Perhaps it was just meant to be for Tracy and no matter how much he shied away from being a star he just couldn’t deny it.
Back to the hits.
Holdin’ Heaven went number one in the summer of ’93. Things changed from there. Back in the ’90s albums were selling well. Country music was the most popular genre in America and much of the world back then. It seemed like you could sell a half million copies on one hit alone. Garth Brooks needs to be given credit for much of this. He brought people into country music that hadn’t been interested before and other artists saw greater exposure to their great country music. Tracy’s debut did, in fact, go gold and things seemed to be going well.
The fourth and final single from that first album barely cracked the top 40 though and next came the ever important sophomore album.
No Ordinary Man
In 1994, Tracy’s career was at a bit of a turning point. He could either find himself heading back to Beaumont with one huge hit single or he could find a few more hits and continue making music on the big stage for a living.
To the joy of the country world Tracy was able to pull together big time hits for his second album, No Ordinary Man. The collection produced four hit singles – all of them reaching the top five on the country charts. As a result of the successful singles and the great album cuts the album went on to sell over two million copies in the US alone.
It was at this time people really started noticing Tracy Byrd. Fans loved his brand of country music. He had a familiar vocal treatment, but his songs were unique. There were others that sounded a bit like Tracy Byrd, but that was the interesting part. People were comparing the others to Tracy and not the other way around.
Tracy was his own artist.
In the summer of 1994 Tracy had what is perhaps his most recognized song – Watermelon Crawl. On the surface the song is a bit odd. It’s about a rural festival where the town’s folk come together to have a good time. The song was named after a dance the folks do at the festival of the same name. There is even a little tip of the hat to not drinking and driving.
The catchy melody had people singing along back then and country fans are still singing along today. It’s hard to believe the song only reached number four on the charts because it seems like it would have been a huge number one smash.
For the next decade or so Tracy’s career went into a bit of cruise control mode. He churned out hit after hit and his albums continued selling well by most standards. Most labels won’t scoff at the idea of a surefire gold album with each release.
In 2002, Tracy did something kind of unique. That year he had his second number one single with Ten Rounds With Jose Cuervo. The song was a fun little track about drinking too much of the famous tequila at the bar.
For Tracy it had been nine years since his first hit single had reached the top spot on the charts. And with thirteen top ten singles in his overall career it’s crazy to even think only two of them actually reached the top spot. Tracy’s music is played so much on radio still todays it seems like nearly all of them were good enough to reach the top spot.
As often happens with country artists, Tracy’s career took a slow exit around 2004. Tracy’s last hit was Drinkin’ Bone, which entered the top ten in 2003.
Shortly after the last hit it seemed like MCA and Tracy decided the emotion and the passion for his music wasn’t there anymore. In my opinion some of these labels feel they have to always have the next biggest star on their hands. They seem to lose focus with the established artists and before anyone realizes what’s going on the established artists is gone from the label.
After about a dozen years as a country star Tracy was gone from the big limelight. He ventured into his own label and continued releasing a bit of new music while staying on the touring circuit.
It actually seems like Tracy enjoys life slowed down a bit. He’s busy with some cooking interests. He loves fishing and hunting and appears on those kind of television shows from time to time as the celebrity. He actually comes off as quite the expert in the outdoors.
Last spring Tracy took some time away from it all. Hopefully he’ll come back to play some shows in the future, but even if he doesn’t I think fans should be alright with it.
Looking back on his career I’m sure Tracy is happy with the way things went.
I know from a fan’s perspective things were great. We got all those great songs and we’ll have them forever. And that’s the real special part of what these country stars provide.
Back in the early part of 1993 you would probably have been hard pressed to find anybody that really thought Tracy Byrd would become a huge country star. Those perceptions all changed later that year when his huge hit Holdin’ Heaven reached the top spot on the charts.
Tracy became a superstar and for a dozen years he stayed in the starlight of country music. Things faded after that, but for all that time Tracy Byrd was a country star. He was there to help define the sound of country music in the ’90s.
It was a special time for country music and it was artists like Tracy Byrd and their songs that made it so wonderful.
I’m just a simple guy, but for whatever it’s worth I’ll say it…