The original concept of new documentary Randy Travis: More Life was very different than the final triumph-over-tragedy result. What began in 2011 as a 25th anniversary concert special for the living legend's platinum-selling debut album, 1986's Storms of Life, shifted drastically after his near-fatal stroke in 2013.
"Over the years, this documentary has morphed and turned into something much bigger just because of what's happened over the past 11 years in the world and in Randy Travis' life," Shane Tarleton, Warner Music Nashville's executive vice president of artist development and one of the film's executive producers, told Wide Open Country. "It went from a concert special to a full-blown, retrospective look at the music and Randy's personal life."
Footage of Randy and his wife Mary Travis' shared journey since 2013 enhances archival clips, interviews with friends and colleagues (namely producer Kyle Lehning, songwriter and A&R veteran Martha Sharp and country artist Josh Turner) and live performances in a way that frames Randy's story as a true miracle.
"You start to get a sense of that beautiful baritone that's so tragically lost but shines so bright as ever," Drew Reifenberger, the Circle Network's general manager, told Wide Open Country. "It's an amazing story, and the fact that they had the presence of mind to put it together the way they did is just really kind of divine."
The Circle Network debuted the Shaun Silva-directed and produced film on Thursday night (Feb. 10). Circle's the television home of the Grand Ole Opry and such original series as Upstream With Elizabeth Cook, which returned on Thursday with a season premiere capturing a day of fishing and candid conversations at Randy and Mary's Texas ranch.
"We're not just a performance network of music. We're storytellers," Reifenberger said. "That is our job, and we're just as much about the lifestyle and the families and the backstories and where the music came from and how it was inspired. That's what Circle does, so [More Life] is just the center of the bullseye: checking every box of what we want Circle to be for the community."
The documentary pairs well with Randy's 2019 memoir Forever and Ever, Amen, which definitively frames a seven-time Grammy award-winner's spot in country music history. Even with that crucial read fresh on many fans' minds, there's plenty to learn from More Life's masterful mix of visual and aural storytelling. Here's three noteworthy facts about Randy from the documentary.
Odds Were Heavily Against His Survival
Details shared by Mary and others punctuate the seriousness of Randy's massive stroke, which was caused by a viral infection in his heart. Even with heart surgery, Mary was told that her husband had a two percent chance of recovery. Randy ultimately survived seemingly insurmountable odds after a five and a half month stay in the hospital.
"Mary was such a great partner throughout the past five years in this because she really opened herself up and offered up complete and full disclosure," Tarleton said. "She and Randy both committed that if we're going to put this out, let's be very honest. People should know how dire this was. They both credit their faith with getting through this."
He's a Skilled Cowboy
Randy grew up around his horse-training father and learned how to quick draw a pistol at age 13. Throw in his singing talent and good looks, and you've got the skill set and genetics of a singing cowboy who wouldn't have lacked opportunities in Hollywood between the 1930s and 1950s.
"Man, the way he twirls that pistol out of his holster like a real cowboy... I know he's been in tons of films, but he's the real deal," Tarleton explained. "I truthfully didn't appreciate how multi-talented this guy was. He was very successful as an actor, and I think sometimes people can forget that. He's a true cowboy, and I use that in present tense."
The Song "More Life" Perfectly Encapsulates His Miraculous Story
"More Life," a Don Henley duet from Randy's collaborative 2011 album 25th Anniversary Celebration, became Mary's rallying cry while her husband spent nearly half a year fighting for his life in the hospital. Over a decade after its release, the musical prayer for more love and more light suits the theme and tone of the documentary bearing its name.
Randy's performance of the song for the originally-slated live performance special and sentiments he shares about making the most of each day in the documentary's closing scene reflect the hope that's guided him through a life forever changed since 2013.
"Originally, that wasn't the title of this doc," Tarleton added. "Then as we started getting into this, how could the doc be named anything but that?"
"More Life" was co-written by Mike Reid (a former Cincinnati Bengals player and the writer of Ronnie Milsap's "Stranger in My House") and Rory Bourke (Charlie Rich's "The Most Beautiful Girl").
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