Randy Travis' "Fool's Love Affair" isn't a deep cut or rarity from his time with Warner Bros. As it turns out, it dates back to the early 1980s, when Travis had yet to ink a major label deal and his live show was associated with the Nashville Palace, not the Opry House across the street.
Charlie Monk, a longtime music publisher and a current host on SiriusXM channel Willie's Roadhouse, co-wrote "Fool's Love Affair" around 1982 with Keith Stegall ("Don't Rock the Jukebox") and Milton Brown ("Bar Room Buddies"). To shop their classic country cheating song to the likes of George Jones and Merle Haggard, the songwriters needed a demo recording to sell an artist's team on the lyrics: "It's just pretending / But the guilt's always there / It's just a once a week / Fool's love affair."
Enter Travis, then known professionally as Randy Ray. Most of Music Row had already shunned him for being "too country" at a time when polished pop hits were the norm, so he jumped at the chance to demo a new track for a quick paycheck.
"We had not used him singing any demos for us at that point in time," Monk says. "I think we just asked him. He was like us, trying to make a buck, so I hope we paid him. He came and did the demo, and he did a great job with it."
"Fool's Love Affair" didn't suit the country music climate, either. It sat unnoticed until Monk began playing his grainy cassette copy on his satellite radio show. Interest in the song from listeners led Monk to reach out to Travis' producer since debut album Storms of Life, Kyle Lehning, about the chances of a proper release.
Lehning told Monk that the original multi-track was needed to ditch the hissy cassette noise on Monk's copy, launching a multi-year search for something that, as far as anyone knew, might've been destroyed or damaged.
Long story short, Monk found the multi-track, and Lehning added electric guitar, steel guitar and fiddle to a rough cut that needed surprisingly few improvements.
"There were already background vocals on it, which was unusual for demos at that time, and Randy had an excellent vocal on the tape already," Lehning says. "It really wasn't difficult to spruce it up."
Travis' vocals needing little to no tweaking to make a song as good as possible has been an average, normal thing for Lehning over the past 35 years.
"His voice is the real instrument, and it's a storytelling voice," Lehning says. "Something about the way he sang and the way he phrased reminded me of people like Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra. There were characters about the quality of his singing that were, first of all, well beyond his years. His sense of phrase and just the way he could lay into a song and the way a song worked in his voice was really special. It made the job very easy. It wasn't like pulling teeth or anything. If the song was a true as his voice was, it just resonated in the right kind of way."
Travis' wife Mary thinks it's no accident that Monk's decision to play a rough demo that predated "On the Other Hand" by a year or two set off a chain of events that eventually turned a forgotten song into a new single.
"It's a God-wink," Mary Travis says as her husband nods in agreement. "It's something that's supposed to happen because there was too many times that it could have fell through the cracks and could have never come to fruition. Persistence on Charlie's part and Kyle's talent and Randy's vocals that were so great. Kyle used to say that Randy's vocals are so easy to work with because when he demos something, it's better than some people's finished product."
Before COVID-19 halted live music for the foreseeable future, it wasn't unusual to spot Randy and Mary Travis enjoying current stars at the Opry House and other Nashville hot spots. Needless to say, an unearthed song likely thrills headliners from Travis' recent concert experiences as much as it offers old souls a respite from ignoring new music.
"To go out and hear some of the young talent, he still has an appreciation for it even though he's traditional country and he stuck to those roots and he was very deliberate about what he sang," Mary says. "It tickles me to death and brings a tear to my eye so often when I see those youngsters that have so much adoration and respect for him though they may not sing the same kind of country that he did. There are so many of them that say he was my inspiration, he was the reason I sing country music or wanted to come to Nashville. He left some big footprints."
Monk, Lehning and the Travis family shared these and other stories during a July 28 Zoom call for the press, which was attended by Wide Open Country.
Lehning saved the best anecdote for last. Although Lehning worked on outlaw country albums at the Glaser Brothers' studio and played piano on the road with Waylon Jennings, it didn't take Travis long to load his new producer's mental jukebox with even more traditional country reference points.
"We're sitting there in (the office of Warner Bros. Vice President Martha Sharp) and Martha played a song. Randy said, 'You know, that's kind of a Lefty kind of thing.' I said, 'Lefty who?'," Lehning says. "He looked at me like, 'Who is this guy?' This is the absolute true part of the story. He was wearing a sport coat, and he pulls the part of the sports coat (with the inside pocket) out and pulls out a cassette of Lefty Frizzell's greatest hits. He handed it to me and he said, 'I think you'd better listen to this.' I've always been grateful that I didn't get fired and he handed me the cassette. I did listen to it, and I went to school."