Stand By Your Manager
Pages 74—77 & 104
STAND BY YOUR MANAGER
By Kim Wright Wiley
IT’S 3 P>M. at the new multimillion dollar coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina. Roadies are setting up an elaborate stage, engineers are preparing for a sound check and Lib Hatcher is looking for a pay phone. The concert tonight represents a homecoming of sorts for country music star Randy Travis and Hatcher, his manager, since both Hatcher and Travis were born in nearby towns. The coliseum is only a few miles from the nightclub Hatcher was managing in 1977 when she first heard a troubled teenager named Randy Traywick step up to the microphone to audition for talent night.
Twelve years and hundreds of thousands of miles later, Travis has traveled a vast distance from the 17-year-old delinquent he once was, and Hatcher is no longer the restless 35-year-old woman who got legal custody of him from a county judge and set him on the road to a singing career. Today Randy Travis, as he is now known, is the undisputed heir to what one writer calls the “hound dog, freight-train, cheating-woman, cruel-hard-world tradition” of country music- He has won nearly every award offered by the country music industry, including the Country Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year award twice in a row. He also copped his second Grammy earlier this year. Hatcher, for her part, is the only female manager of a major country star and widely conceded to be one of the best in the business, As Martha Sharp, the Warner Brothers senior vice president who signed Travis to his first major recording contract, says simply, “Lib’s the one who got him where he is today”
For Hatcher, what it took to get Travis there was one failed marriage, endless touring from town to town and more time spent in honky-tonks than she’d care to remember. For all that, neither Travis nor Hatcher look tough enough to have lived the lives their press kit describes. He just turned 30 and could pass for ten years younger. She is 47, a Christmas-angel blond so slender that she appears delicate. Appearances deceive. While Travis wanders onstage and begins to test the various microphones with a voice de scribed by a record reviewer as “barbeque-smoked,’’ Hatcher dashes back and forth between the tour bus and the makeshift office stageside, ignoring the pink director’s chair with her name stenciled on the back. Her self- defined job is not only to take care of Travis the Man, cooking vegetables for him on the tour bus and fretting if he goes out without a coat, but also to act as sole guardian of Travis the Business, a six-division conglomerate based in Nashville.
Trying to run a publishing, booking, promotions, concession, gift-shop and real estate empire while touring five days a week would be a daunting proposition for anyone. But Hatcher complicates it further by her refusal to delegate details. “Randy’s turned his life over to me,” she says, “and I can’t turn around and hand it to someone else. We have good people working for us, but no one would take care of him like I do.”
She’s probably right. “I’ve never seen a manager willingly immerse herself in so many aspects of a singer’s business, doing things like picking out all the furnishings for the new buses herself,” says Luann Nelson, managing editor of Business North Carolina. “Now Randy has quite an entourage, and there is surely someone else who could have looked at all those upholstery samples. But I think Lib finds the delegation of even that small a detail painful.”
On a typical grueling concert day like today, Hatcher rises at seven, after four hours of sleep, and promptly calls her home office. At nine Travis and the promotion people rise and eat breakfast, then exercise at a local gym. Hatcher’s version of working out is fifteen minutes of stretching followed by a dash to the gymnasium pay phone. The rest of the day is punctuated by interviews, rehearsals, showers and ultimately the evening concert. Her day will end as it began, on the road. “I can use the bus phone when we’re near a big city,” Hatcher says, “but a lot of the time we’re out on an interstate somewhere and I have to rely on pay phones.” Once in Bristol, Virginia, the guys in the band duct-taped her into a phone booth in joking tribute to her obsession with AT&T. “I told them ‘I don’t mind,’ “Hatcher says.” ‘Tape me
in, but Lord knows, don’t tape me out.’”
Hatcher’s climb up the country ladder has invited comparisons with that of Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Parker, another impresario who spotted young talent and took his protégé far. But if Travis is a modern-day Elvis and Hatcher his Colonel, she is determined not to make the mistakes of her predecessor.
In his book Elvis and the Colonel Dirk Vellenga described how the aging Colonel, greedy for up-front cash, sold Elvis into a string of grade-B movies that ultimately damaged his reputation and destroyed his zest for the business,
Hatcher, by contrast, is acutely aware that a combination of long-range contracts and a rising career can mean that a star ends up working absurdly cheap. As a result, she refuses to book Travis more than three months in advance. Late in the summer of 1988, for example, Travis played a make-up date he had been forced to cancel in late 1987 when he came down with food poisoning. “We played at our 1987 rate of $15,000 one night,” Hatcher says, “and at our
1988 rate of $70,000 the next.”
Travis acquired the classic training of a country music songwriter while growing up in Marshville, North Carolina—robbing convenience stores, hot-wiring trucks and playing guitar. His father Harold Traywick first gave Travis his taste for entertaining by dressing him and his brothers in string ties and teaching them to harmonize. The elder Traywick is colorful even by rural Southern standards; when a Charlotte TV station recently sent a camera crew to do a five-part series on the local boy made good, Travis’ father chased them with a shotgun and tried to run down a cameraman with his horse. The senior Traywick also bears a poorly concealed grudge against Hatcher, based on his belief that he could have guided his son to stardom without any help from outsiders.
A neighbor is of the opinion that Traywick, who made quite a bit of money as a building contractor, spoiled his kids: “His daddy gave Randy everything he wanted. . . all kinds of motorcycles and machines and anything that could go fast and make a lot of noise. I guess the boy never saw much reason to buckle down in school.” As a result, Travis dropped out in ninth grade and zestfully entered into small-town crime. When Hatcher first heard him sing, he had been in front of juvenile court so many times that, in Travis’ words, “The judge told me next time I came to bring my toothbrush.”
Marshville has long since forgiven Travis for such boyish scrapes. The U-Save he held up now bears a plaque commemorating the event and a sign on the outskirts of town says, “Welcome to the Home of Randy Travis.”
Lib Hatcher also came up the hard way. But unlike young Travis, she had drive and a nearly unlimited capacity for hard work. By the age of 13, she would work the breakfast shift at the Kernersville, North Carolina, restaurant her mother managed and then go to school. As an adult she rose from waitress to manager of the Driftwood Steak House in Charlotte, where owner Tony Pappas recalls “she never did anything halfway.” This may be the key to Hatcher’s being. As an adult, for example, when she took up ceramics to relax, she soon had a full-time business supplying thirteen retail stores.
In THE late ‘60s Lib married Frank Hatcher, an underground gas-line installer. Marriage offered her the chance for a comfortable middle class existence, but, says Hatcher, “I can’t leave life simple.” In 1976, she turned her attention to her childhood love, country music, and became president of a fan club for John Harper, a Charlotte disk jockey. She was so committed to this unpaid job that Harper’s station, WSOC, offered her a job selling radio time. One place from which she solicited ads was a nightclub named Country City USA. She thought the place had “potential” and bought a partial interest in it. In 1977, she poured $20,000 of her savings and profits from her ceramics business into the venture and became full owner.
Hatcher had big plans for the somewhat seedy club and began redecorating, serving free hors d’oeuvre and sponsoring amateur talent nights. On a particularly fateful night Randy Traywick took the mike and his voice, she says, froze her in her tracks. He went on to win the talent contest finals and, warmed by Hatcher’s interest in him, confided that he was in trouble with the law, trouble so bad he might end up in prison. Alarmed, recalls Hatcher, “I went down to the Union County Courthouse and asked the judge for custody of Randy.” Both the judge and Travis’ parents agreed to the arrangement. A risky venture? Almost certainly but, Hatcher says, “I never think about risks.” She had not only become convinced that Travis had “a sweet nature, but I knew this voice was the kind that comes along once in twenty years.”
Her husband wasn’t so sure, especially when Hatcher took the teenager in to live with them and began introducing the boy around Charlotte as a future star. “She was the first one to show confidence in me,” Travis says- He was so flattered that when Hatcher offered him a 7-year contract, he volunteered to sign for a lifetime— or at least 25 years. “I told him seven would be long enough,” she says.
Travis soon became a regular performer and big draw at Country City USA. But he still lacked Hatcher’s vision—he played pool in the back until the minute his set was announced and continued to have problems with alcohol and drugs. In 1978 Hatcher spent an additional $10,000 of her own money for Travis to record two singles in Louisiana. Meanwhile, Frank Hatcher was becoming less enchanted with her new project by the minute. “One night [in 1980], before leaving on a business trip, he gave me an
ultimatum,” Hatcher says. “He told me, ‘When I get home I want the club sold and Randy back in Marshville’” Being her usual decisive self, Hatcher and Travis began packing for Nashville. “I never spoke to the man again.”
Why would she chance it? Hatcher attributes her willingness to leave her settled life to a sense of destiny—an explanation that seems a hit implausible, until you consider how many entrepreneurs have bet on the same horse. “When Lib uses a term like ‘destiny,’ she’s using it in hindsight,” maintains editor Nelson. “I don’t think she’s aware of how hard she worked to make it happen.”
Deciding that she needed a foothold in Nashville to better promote Randy, Hatcher bought a home there and she and Travis began commuting between Nashville and Charlotte. They spent weekends with Travis singing at the club and weekdays knocking on the doors of the recording companies on Nashville’s Music Row, In 1983, worn down from the travel, Hatcher sold Country City USA and put all her efforts into managing the Nashville Palace, a club directly across the street from the Grand Ole Opry. Travis had two jackets hanging in the kitchen, the one he sang in and the one he cooked in.
Nashville is reputed to be slow in accepting newcomers into the close-knit ranks of country music, but within a year of his first appearance there Travis was a member of the Grand Ole Opry. “Randy came on the scene at the perfect time,” says Sharp, who signed him for Warner Brothers in 1985. “We were looking for somebody young, attractive and really, really country. Warner Brothers wanted to buck the general trend of the early ‘80s’ which was more pop-influenced, watered-down country. You’ve got to understand that this was in the wake of the Urban Cowboy craze and even Sammy Davis, Jr. was cutting country songs.”
With her customary directness, Hatcher suggests another reason Travis has made it in Nashville: “When somebody sells as many records as Randy, he’s got to be accepted.” Storms of Life, his debut album in 1985, sold more than 2 million copies, thus going double-platinum, which is rare for any artist and phenomenal for country. “When the second album, Always and Forever, came out we frankly didn’t think it would do as well,” Sharp admits, “but that one sold 3 million and won every award going.” With the third album, Old 8 x 10, looking to outstrip both of them, and a Christmas album due for release next fall, Sharp now says, “When it comes to Randy, Warner Brothers doesn’t make any more predictions.”
You don’t sell 6 million albums in three years by appealing only to rednecks. And indeed, Travis hit at a time when country music was going upscale. A study released by the Country Music Association in late 1988 found that 40 percent of all country music radio listeners are in the upper income bracket. But unlike other country stars such as Dolly Parton, who softened her sound in search of crossover pop audiences, Travis has brought pop listeners into the country fold. His lyrics about beer, broken hearts and Fords, as well as his uncompromising, gravelly voice, are in sharp contrast to his country gentleman politeness.
It was Hatcher, of course, who first saw the possibilities in this shy but wild image. Travis’ moody, broody face and perpetual semipout led people to compare him to movie bad boy James Dean. The camera also loved him. For his first album cover, Travis posed outside a white-frame country store in Flynn’s Lick, Tennessee. But by the time the second album came out, his press team was acutely aware of Travis’ appeal to female buyers and switched to a close-up shot of his face. That face also started appearing in upscale magazines and on television, including a three-segment
series on Entertainment Tonight.
For Hatcher, managing Travis personally has been easy. But managing his growing business empire is a different story. When Travis began writing songs in 1981, she opened a publishing company, the first of the spin-off businesses. In 1986, she formed the Lib Hatcher Agency to handle Travis’ bookings, and started Special Moments Promotions to arrange his tours. This spring they opened a gift shop on Music Row that stocks everything from T shirts to Randy Travis coloring books.
Since they now promote and arrange his concerts as well, 90 percent of the gate goes into their pockets and the other 10 percent goes into a company they jointly own. As his manager, Hatcher’s take is 25 percent. But her final cut is much higher, since they own all the spin-off companies 50—50. “She deserves anything she gets,” Travis says. “If she hadn’t formed all the companies and been willing to run them, that percentage would all have been going to someone else.”
With their finances inexorably interwoven, there is little chance that the partnership will break up anytime soon. “Randy automatically assumes we’ll be partners in whatever I come up with,” she concedes, smiling. “I recently found some land I thought I’d just buy and hold as an investment, and Randy asked, ‘What time are we going to the lawyer?’ It had never even occurred to him it wouldn’t be 50—50, so I said OK.” Such a commingling of fortunes might bother many women, especially when confronted with various scenarios that could complicate the picture—he might marry, she might, there may come a point when she wishes to retire. But Hatcher refuses to worry. “I’d never take anything from Randy and he’d never take anything from me.”
Which brings up the question of their relationship. Speculations about the true nature of their private life have haunted Travis and Hatcher from the start, with rumors ranging from just good friends to marriage. They have lived under the same roof for twelve years, currently sharing an apartment behind their studio in Nashville. When asked if the relationship is personal, Travis says, “no,” and she says, “No, but we’re extremely close.” “Some of the speculation has undoubtedly come
from the fact that she’s so dedicated,” says Martha Sharp. “She’s focused to the point that if it doesn’t have anything to do with Randy Travis, Lib doesn’t want to talk about it, and some people don’t understand that.” When pressed on the point, Hatcher hints at a relationship that runs deeper than true love: “He trusts me with his money.” Forever and ever, amen.
Hatcher used to be upset by tabloid stories asking why virile young Travis lives with a woman old enough to be his mother. She now says, “I take such trash in stride. The only article that ever really infuriated me,” she adds, drawing herself up to her full five feet, “is one which described me as ‘clinging to my meal ticket.’ Now, first of all, I’ve never clung to anything in my life and second, Randy’s not my meal ticket. We worked together for nine years before I saw a penny out of it.”
Lately Hatcher has been asking herself if Travis has won too many awards and gotten so hot that he’s bound to cool down. And she says she plans to cut down on touring this year—Travis averages 160 concerts a year—although that’s what she said last year. Travis has had some problems with strained vocal chords, but, “He’ll last, because he’s good at putting up flags,” says Janice Azrak, vice president of press and artist development for Warner Brothers, who has toured with Hatcher and Travis on several occasions. “He’ll work like a demon for a while, and then say ‘I’ve had enough, I’m going away for a while.’” Hatcher, of course, has never learned such moderation. “Anything I ever tried to do,” she says, “I made it my life.”
It’s well after midnight, and the coliseum concert is over. The band and the crew are back in the tour buses heading west
across the Appalachians, and the reigning megastar and sex symbol of country music is bedded down with popcorn and videotapes of the old Andy Griffith Show, which he loves. But a manager’s work is never done. Lib Hatcher is sitting up front beside the bus driver, peering intently down the rain-washed interstate, searching for her last phone booth of the night.
Kim Wright Wiley is a contributing editor of