Randy Travis Part II—Life, Laughter, Importance of Music in Therapy.

Continued from the Randy Travis Issue

Chet Cooper: Is there a movie in the works about your life, Randy?

Mary Travis: There’s been noise. They have a two-hour documentary. One hour of it was shot prior to the stroke, the second hour was shot after the stroke. We got the hour done before the stroke, of course not knowing you were going to have one—thank goodness we have that—and we decided after the stroke to say, “This was then, and this is now.” It’s supposed to be coming out in the very near future. It’s finished, it’s completed, and from that, they’re already talking to people about doing a movie of his life and his music.

Randy and Mary Travis

Cooper: That would be great. You’re controlling the documentary, then? You had your own filming going on before and after?

Mary: It was done by a guy named Shaun Silva, who’s the director. He’s out of Nashville. Warner had it done and yes, we were present for it. We didn’t do it, but we were there for it. We know what it is. It’s not a trash documentary. It’s not somebody who just put one together to trash an artist. It was great, very true to life.

Cooper: Are you living in Texas now?

Mary: We are in Tioga, Texas. It’s north of Dallas, about an hour and a half. That’s part of the reason we have internet issues.

Cooper: Tioga? That’s Native American for “bad Wi-Fi.”

(laughter)

Mary: (laughs) It is Native American for a fork in the river, so maybe it’s just a fork in the Wi-Fi!

Cooper: (laughs) But you’re normally in Nashville?

Mary: We’re in and out of Nashville a lot. In the last two months we’ve been there on four different trips. But this is home base.

Cooper: Has it always been home base?

Mary: For the last 11 years.

Cooper: That’s a good amount of time for a home base. I was going to talk to you about the aphasia. I saw the video that you had conducted from a group with aphasia.

Mary: That was more recent than when we did the Houston aphasia one. We were back in Marshall, North Carolina, his home town, in September. Every year they have a Randy Music Festival in his home town with about 2,400 people.

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Cooper: Did I see a childhood story about a stick and Randy’s mouth? As kids he fell and a stick hit his throat?

Mary: That was with sister Rose in September. That was the first time I heard the story. There were six siblings. Rose was younger than Randy. And I’d never heard the story either, but she and Ricky were there; Ricky was the brother who was one year older than Randy. Rose had a stick that Randy wanted, so he was chasing her. She threw the stick behind her, and it just happened to hit Randy and went down his throat. I don’t know how that happened, but she said, “The world can thank me for that.” (laughs)

Cooper: Yeah, I knew I’d heard it. Randy, do you think that affected your voice?

Randy: No.

Mary: He always had that voice, from what I understand. He had a voice from early on.

Cooper: Did you always have a deep voice? Or did it develop after puberty?

Mary: It was pretty deep, from what I’ve been told by family. For a kid his age before puberty, they started taking guitar lessons when he was nine years old from a lady named Miss Kate Langer. Daddy had told Miss Kate that one of them has to sing. “They can both play the guitar, but I want one of them to sing.” Rickie was a year older, and he said, “I don’t want to sing, I just want to play the electric guitar.” So Randy had to sing and play the acoustic guitar, which worked out beautifully.

Cooper: That’s a pivotal point right there.

Mary: There it was! And Miss Kate said, “I think we have something here!” He was nine years old, so, evidently, he had something. And I did ask Rose and Dennis, his other brother who lives in Nashville, and Rickie, if he always had a deep voice or did it change, like you asked, with puberty? They verified that it was always deep, and it got a little deeper after puberty.

Cooper: Well, you started smoking cigarettes when you were four, right?

Mary: (laughs) Maybe that did it! We need to thank Marlboro! (laughs) funny!

Cooper: That’s a bad joke. Did you ever smoke?

Randy: [Nods yes]

Cooper: You did?

Mary: At a very young age, you’re right!

Cooper: Got to be careful with the jokes! Do you have animals on the ranch?

Mary: Oh, yes, we have dogs. You were asking about animals when the whole herd started barking. Here on the farm we have long-horned buffalo and horses. Randy was a great horseman. He trained horses himself. We still have those. It’s interesting, because I can take him down in the golf cart and the horses will come over to the fence and lay their head on his shoulder. There’s this relationship, the sweetest of emotion that goes on between him and the horses.

Randy and Mary

Cooper: Have you heard the term “hippotherapy”? Hippos in Greek means horse. Lots of people are benefiting from the horses’ gait; somebody will get on the horse and through the programs these horse therapists use, it helps walking ability. Just as you said, whatever is going on with the horse and that connection—the bonding with the rider—there’s another emotional therapeutic component to the relationship between the horse and the rider.

Mary: Absolutely. From what I understood with equine therapy, the gait of a human and the gait of a horse are very similar, so riding the horse gives the rider a sense of what their gait used to be. We’ve had a little horse down here in the arena a few times, so we’ve got that. My fear is that Randy just didn’t feel like he could before, so I don’t want to do it anymore.

Cooper: It’s baby horse steps.

Mary: (laughs) That’s right. So anyway, what we learned most out of this as far as all of the therapies was just getting out and doing what you want to do. We used a hyperbaric chamber, neuro-acupuncture, and we went through a few stem cells. I don’t think we got to exactly the right stem cells—it’s so limited here in this state—but I think that the greatest thing to do is living and doing what you want. It’s hard, and I know there are just so many people who have these difficult medical setbacks, and they are or aren’t comfortable in public, but I feel like they become introverts; they don’t want to leave the house, they don’t want to see people, they don’t want to be seen. I think that’s the worst thing you can do. Get out there and do the best you can and enjoy life, because it’s so short, and it gets shorter every day. We’re 62 years old now, both of us.

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Cooper: So you’re 31?

Mary: (laughs) 31, yes, if you divide by half twice. Just get out and live. Get out and do what you want to do. We do it all the time. We go out. The feedback we get about Randy is for him to be who he was and do what he did. It would be so easy to fall off that tall mountain and say, “Why me, Lord?” Poor pitiful Pearl, “Why me?” But Randy never, ever did that. He would say, “Why not me?” That’s Randy. That’s the heart I’m fortunate enough to be with, that man right there. “Why not me?” (near tears)

I wish more people would do the same. That’s what we did. People said, “It’s so good that you’re out. It’s good to see you out laughing and having a good time, in spite of it all.” We’re given different challenges in life and depending on which road you choose, that’s the landscape you get to see. And ours is still beautiful. It’s different. We’re not going from concert to concert, but we’re still doing what we probably wouldn’t get to do if we were still on the road doing concerts. So it’s OK.

Cooper: Are you familiar with a golf cart called the SoloRider?

Mary: Never heard of that.

Cooper: It’s a golf cart, but you could use it for anything. It is built for people with mobility issues. It has a mechanism that allows a person to play golf from the cart. It’s cool. The way you get in and out of the cart is easy, it’s a one-person golf cart. It is built with hand controls on either side, so you don’t need your feet to drive. It’s a universally designed vehicle. I think they’re made in Plano, Texas. It might be something to look into.

Have you ever gone to any events that are disability-centric, like the Abilities Expo or CSUN, which stands for California State University Northridge? CSUN is the world’s largest IT conference for people with disabilities. It includes assistive technologies, if you have no physical ability at all and can only use your eyes, you can experience eye gaze to browse the web or products. Stevie Wonder always shows up to learn the latest technology for people with blindness or low vision. I think you’d find it really interesting, it’s well worth the visit.

Another place to visit is abilityEntertainment. A website that you can post your acting profile.

Mary: [looking online] “abilityEntertainment, where your character makes the difference”?

Cooper: I like the way you read that. Can I record you?

Mary: (laughs)

Cooper: The site helps performers with disabilities connect with the entertainment industry.

Mary: That’s wonderful! I need to go on there and build a profile for Randy! He’s a SAG-AFTRA member already.

Cooper: That makes sense.

Mary: He was on “Matlock” and did several Western movies, everything from “Blue’s Clues” to “Touched by an Angel”.

Cooper: We interviewed Roma Downey for a cover story many moons ago.

Mary: What a beautiful lady she is!

Cooper: Yes. It was great casting. I remember that she was really sweet.

Mary: She’s wonderful. Randy knew her and the whole cast well. I think he did five different episodes, if not more. We still have the guitar he used hanging on the wall. I’m excited about that, because I’ve been wondering how to let them know he can do that kind of thing, so long as the part fits the disability.

Cooper: Absolutely. Before we leave, can you tell me about your background?

Mary: I was born and raised in Texas on a farm, milked cows, picked cotton, bailed hay, did all of the stuff on the farm all my life. Went to Baylor University, graduated there in ’81 in marketing and management.

Cooper: Wow, you’ve come full circle!

Mary: (laughs) And then I went into interior design, real estate, worked with my brother, and I was a flight attendant with Southwest Airlines for a while. I have two kids. Randy’s known them since the day they were born. Life’s been good. I’ve been a lot of places, but I’m still right here in Texas.

Cooper: Other than aphasia being a core issue right now, are there any other nonprofit causes you work with or support?

Mary: We have the Randy Travis Foundation we set up for creating awareness of aphasia and also for detection of myocardial myopathy. Also we support music in schools. When they’re cutting budgets, the first thing that goes are the arts, which I think is a terrible disservice, because had it not been for music, we wouldn’t have Randy.

Randy Travis Influences Vol1 Cover
Randy Travis Influences Vol1 Cover

Cooper: Have you tried music therapy?

Mary: Oh, yeah. Do you want to know something really interesting? When we finally were able to leave they said, “You can leave the hospital and go to therapy. Where do you want to go?” I immediately felt that we needed to go back to Nashville. There’s music there, that’s what he needs to be around. That’s where his band is, that’s where he’s been for the last 25 years, so we need to go back there. We got back to Vanderbilt, to their rehab, and they didn’t have music. There wasn’t anybody in music in the rehab. So there was a young nurse who was there in Nashville to play music, he came in on his lunch hour and he’d play the guitar and sing to Randy.

We ended up having to go back to the hospital after a staph infection and some other things that we think he’d picked up in the hospital. We ended up at Vanderbilt for another month and a half or two, finally got back to Texas when we stabilized, and when we were released again at Baylor in downtown Dallas, we went to therapy there. First thing I said was, “Is there music?” No, there wasn’t any music. They had a lady who came in with a keyboard twice a week, she’d play and sing with Randy.

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When we finally got out of there, right before Thanksgiving, we immediately started going to Select Rehab Rehabilitation in Denton, where we went for two and a half years. We got no music, but a young woman named Stacy, who was head of the marketing department and a North Texas State University music major graduate. She’d come in after work, bring her keyboard and sing with Randy. She was ultimately the one who taught him how to sing “Amazing Grace,” which he sang at the Hall of Fame induction.

But to go to three different, very well-recognized rehab facilities and find there was no music was beyond comprehension. It blew my mind. I thought, I cannot believe that these places don’t have music because there are so many studies on music rehab and how it helps so many people with a lot of different maladies—music is medicine. I don’t understand to this day why they don’t have it, it should be part of their programs.

Cooper: We’ve done several stories on music therapy over the years. Are you still able to bring anybody into the house or do some music therapy today?

Mary: Sure, yes. We surround ourselves with music any time we can.

Cooper: Randy are you able to hold the guitar, play the keyboard, making a tactile connection during music therapy?

Randy: No.

Mary: We’ve done that before. He can hold the guitar, he just can’t strum with his right hand. But with his left hand, he can chord everything. So if someone will strum it, they can play a full song.

Cooper: That’s great.

Mary: He hasn’t forgotten any of the chording. People will come and ask him, “You know, on this song you had this diminished quarter. How did you do that?” And he’ll show them the chording. They know how to strum, but they couldn’t figure out his chording. He had some pretty masterful chords going on in his music that they recognized and they’re wanting to download that out of him.

Randy Travis One Sheet

Cooper: I’ve seen a game where you connected a guitar to the computer. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Randy: No.

Cooper: It’s called Guitar Hero. You’re playing against the computer, there’s a game element to it. That might be a really fun kind of brain-awakening, if you will, experience that you could do on your own. You don’t have to wait for somebody to strum the other part of the guitar.

Mary: That’s wonderful. Because the computer plays the strumming part, right? I’ll have to look into those.

Cooper: You come home one night and he’s just rocking out.

(laughter)

Mary: Singing in Spanish, doing things like that. That’s great!

Cooper: This has been fun. Randy, I hope to see your profile up on abilityE. Let’s stay in touch.

Mary: I don’t think we talked bad about anybody, did we?

Cooper: I think we bad-mouthed Kirk Douglas a lot.

Mary: (laughs) Oh, no, I love that man! I should go a little farther with that. He sent his book with this kind note that meant so much to us at the time. It was right after we got home from the hospital. We were needing all the encouragement we could get, and then when you get this book and note from Kirk Douglas, you’re like, “Oh, wow!” So I wrote him a thank you note for being so kind and sending the book, thinking about Randy. And he sends me back a thank you note for my thank you note! And I’m going, “Dang, this guy is amazing!” So I wrote him back, just to let him know how Randy was doing. We’ve kind of stayed in touch over the years, until he passed. He was one fine man, and what a great actor over the years. We grew up with him.

Cooper: Want to hear my quick story about Kirk? I’m assuming you’re saying yes.

Mary: (laughs) Yes, absolutely.

Cooper: Finished the interview with him. He signed a book for me, too, and I later opened it up to see what he signed, and he said, “To the comedian.” I guess I joked a lot with him, which I tend to do. I got in my car and was about to leave, and I see him sitting outside of his house on his stoop. I get out of the car and ask, “Are you OK?” He said, “Yeah, I don’t know what’s happening. My driver’s supposed to take me to go play golf.” I said, “I’ll take you.” He said, “OK.” It’s a really low stoop, and he tries to get up, and I said, “Here, let me help.” He takes my arm, I take his arm, together we’re holding on to each other, and he also has his hand on a flower plant on one side. So I start to pull him up, and I hear all this cracking; it’s like a machine gun going off. His back is cracking. You know how you crack your back and you hear a couple cracks? It is just going off. I’m midway through the pull where he’s getting up and I’m thinking, “I don’t know if I should let him down, if I should keep pulling.” I immediately was thinking, “I’m killing Kirk Douglas.”

(laughter)

He gets up and I ask, “You OK?” And he says, “Yeah, I’m fine” I take him to go play golf, and I hang with him part of the day, and he’s hitting these driver shots like nobody’s business. And I think he had one of the best days of golf because I had stretched him out so much!

(laughter)

Mary: He had his chiropractic therapy. That’s good. I love that.

Cooper: (laughs) Right. He was in his late ’80s and he was still playing golf when I met him.

Mary: He was an amazing man. Not many people can say they broke Kirk Douglas! (laughs)

Cooper: I cracked him up in more than one way.

Mary: That’s awesome. That’s a great story. You’ll be hard pressed to find us talk negatively about anybody. There’s always good in everyone. We’ve found that to be so true. Sometimes you have to look harder in some than others, but it’s always there. You just peel the onion a little.

Cooper: Yeah, different layers of the onion. Did you ever do anything with Habitat for Humanity?

Mary: We did something with Habitat for Humanity years ago. He did five Bob Hope USO tours all over the country, all over the world. He has a great heart for the soldiers. He went on his times off to Walter Reid Hospital to see the soldiers. He always got re-energized when he went up there to see those guys. He’d go in and be all smiles, they were so happy to see him. He said, “I’d just break down and start crying, for their service, and they’re lying there with no legs, no arms, all for the service to the country. I go back and do what I love doing, singing, because of them.” It’s a real eye-opener. We love to do Wishes for Wings and the Make-a-Wish Foundation with the kids. We do a lot of those kinds of things. Those are dear to us, the soldiers, the kids, animals. Wherever we can make a difference. He leads the charge and I just follow. We like to go out and do what we can do.

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Cooper: How is your balance?

Randy: [Shrugs subtly]

Mary: He’s unsure of his balance. He can walk pretty well, but he likes to hold on to me. And he can’t use the walker because of the right side paralysis.

Cooper: I think he’s just using that as an excuse to hold you.

Mary: (laughs) No. Neither one of us minds, we’ll put it that way. Our home, we’re blessed, because when this happened, of course, you don’t even think about having your home handicap-accessible when you’re 54 years old and in top health. That’s the last thing you think about. Six months later, when we came home, it was nice because most of the house is on the first floor—the living area, the kitchen, no steps to get into the house, and we had an elevator. Of course, that was Christmas storage, stuff that needed to go up to the other level, so I had to clean that out. But it had an elevator, which we never thought we’d ever use. But that sure came in handy. And the house has wide doorways, wide hallways. The shower was just a little step-in shower with two doors. There was very little retrofitting we had to do for the house other than grab bars. That’s pretty much all we had to do, drop the level of the bed, and we were rockin’ and rollin’!

Cooper: It’s very lucky that you had the basics—not everyone has that. I’m in a one-story, but I have two elevators.

(laughter)

It’s important to know about the term “aging in place.” If you have a home that’s built in such a way that it’s hard to retrofit, aging in place becomes very difficult. Most people can’t afford to put in an elevator, even though there are some new companies out there modifying very small spaces for elevator capabilities. But it’s still expensive. If people are lucky enough to have that, aging in place becomes easier, and they might have to do something with the bathrooms and hallways. It sounds like you have the perfect scenario.

It was wonderful meeting both of you and talking to you. Maybe we’ll see each other in person, or go to the CSUN conference and experience that world of technology. You would be so amazed at what is out there. Brilliant people working to make the world more accessible for everyone.

Mary: We’d love to do that. We have some friends out there. There’s so much more to know about.

Randy Travis photo by Robert Tractenberg

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