Back when Travis Tritt first inked a major label deal in the late '80s, he and such newcomers as Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks and Lorrie Morgan benefitted from more than being on the ground level of '90s country's commercial boom. The timing was right for them to learn valuable lessons and take in career-affirming praise from Nashville legends we've since lost.
"I got so much help in the early part of my career from some of my heroes," Tritt says. "People like Charlie Daniels, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash were extremely helpful. They did more than they had to do by letting me know that they appreciated my talent. I think they appreciated the fact that I was always talking about them as my influences and how much they had meant to me musically when I was growing up."
Tritt's new album Set in Stone, his first since 2007's The Storm, continues the cycle of younger artists mingling with and learning from childhood favorites through the veteran performer's producer and co-writer picks.
"My manager actually brought up the idea of working with Dave, and I'm a big fan of his records anyway and the way that his records sound," Tritt says. "We started talking about doing a studio album together, and he immediately put my mind at ease. Obviously being away from the studio for 12-13 years, I was a little bit apprehensive about going in and working on a new album because I know a lot of things have changed in that time... How people, you know, record music. But he immediately put my mind at ease because he said, 'Look, here's the way I do it. I go in and I cut all the tracks with a live band. I want to get as much of your vocals while we're tracking with the band as possible.' That took me back to the exact way I've always done it, even when I was first getting started in the business. So that was like getting on a bicycle you hadn't ridden in a long time. You never forget."
Early in the process, Dave connected Tritt with young, like-minded songwriters, beginning with the producer's cousin, Brent Cobb.
"That guy, we just hit it off right off the bat," Tritt said of Brent. "He started telling me, and lot of other writers I wrote with on this particular album told me the same thing... They were telling me how much my music had influenced them and meant to them when they were growing up as kids. Some of them had actually been to live shows... Brent had."
Brent's reverence for Tritt's legacy informs the title track, "Set in Stone."
"[Brent] said, 'You know man, as far as I'm concerned, you don't have anything to prove to anybody. You've had such a big career with so many hits that your legacy is pretty much set in stone. I'd love to write that, not only talking about your legacy but anybody that goes out and creates anything. Whether it's raising a family or starting a business or maintaining a family farm, whatever it may be. Something that at the end of the day they can look back on and say, 'Well, if I didn't accomplish anything else, I accomplished this and am proud of it','" Tritt explains. "I said, 'Man, we've got to write that song,' and we did. I think it just describes not only me but a lot of people that have spent a lot of years working on something that they're proud of at the end of the day."
Dillon Carmichael, a nephew of John Michael and Eddie Montgomery, came into the project ranked high on a couple of lists: 1) songwriters suggested by Dave and 2) Kentucky natives most likely to have selected "Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)" on the jukebox across multiple Waffle House visits.
"I had been a fan of Dillon's for many, many years," Tritt says. "Loved his voice and loved his songwriting, so when I got the opportunity, I jumped at that chance. We hit it off right off the bat. He's a kindred spirit, man. He loves that solid, traditional country stuff, and he and I wrote several songs together. One of them ended up on this particular album, called 'They Don't Make Em' Like That No More.'"
"I love her lyrics, but one of the things I love about her the most, I think, is her melodies and her chord changes," Tritt explains. "They're so different, and they are instantly recognizable. So we got together and were able to write several songs together. She really excels, in my opinion, at the power ballads. Those are kind of the trademark of my career anyway, and to get an opportunity to write with her and write some really strong power ballads was just a real eye-opener for me."
Along the way, Tritt allowed multiple younger talents, including rootsy singer-songwriter Adam Hood, a chance to sit under his learning tree.
"I know what that meant to me as a young artist getting started," Tritt adds. "I don't try to force my opinions on anybody or my advice on anybody if they don't ask for it. But if they do ask for it, I try to give as much help and guidance as I possibly can."
As importantly, Tritt's newest collaborators elevated the game of a Grand Ole Opry member, a four-time CMA award recipient and a two-time Grammy award winner with five No. 1 country hits ("Help Me Hold On" (1990), "Anymore" (1991), "Can I Trust You with My Heart" (1993), "Foolish Pride" (1994) and "Best of Intentions" (2000)).
Set in Stone Track Listing
1. "Stand Your Ground" (Travis Tritt, Wyatt Durrette, Channing Wilson)
2. "Set In Stone" (Travis Tritt, Brent Cobb, Adam Hood)
3. "Ghost Town Nation" (JB Strauss, Aaron Raitiere)
4. "Smoke In A Bar" (Jeremy Bussey, Derek George, Tim Montana)
5. "Leave This World" (Travis Tritt, Ashley Monroe)
6. "They Don't Make 'Em Like That No More" (Travis Tritt, Dillon Carmichael)
7. "Better Off Dead" (Travis Tritt, Adam Hood)
8. "Southern Man" (Travis Tritt, Channing Wilson, Wyatt Durrette)
9. "Open Line" (Travis Tritt, Brent Cobb)
10. "Ain't Who I Was" (Brent Cobb, Adam Hood)
11. "Way Down In Georgia" (Travis Tritt, Dennis Robbins, Troy Seals)