Country music has never been more popular or more sophisticated. But offstage with friends and family, the performers remain faithful to their rural roots and passions
Those Smashed Alarm Clocks
There's one rule that even outlaw singers can't flout: New boots break your feet in, not the other way around. Travis Tritt, a champion of rowdy rockin' country, is reminded of that when he tugs on a pristine pair in his bedroom at home on the 75-acre spread he owns 45 minutes outside Atlanta. "Just when boots start looking like they're about to fall apart," Tritt says, "that's when they're just about right. I'm probably wincing in this picture." But new boots are about the only pain at home. "On the road everything is very regimented—when I get up, when I eat, when I do interviews, when I perform," says Tritt, 31. "At home, all that goes in the crapper. I don't pay any attention to what time I get up. Sometimes my alarm clock goes off because it's still set from last time I was home." He laughs. "I've been known to smash an alarm clock or two." Once vertical, Tritt likes to roar off aboard one of his three Harley motorcycles (a frequent passenger: his girlfriend of two years, model Malysa Wyse). "When you're leaning into a curve at 60 mph and there's nothing between you and pavement but just a thin layer of leather," he says, "the last thing you're thinking about is business."
The Dawn Patrol
"Oh, we're gonna go on one of Daaaad's trips." That's how Rodney Crowell, 44, says his kids reacted to the idea of a two-week vacation with him in the Southwest. But when Caitlin, 14, Chelsea, 12, and Carrie, 5 (his daughters with ex-wife Rosanne Cash), saw a sunrise at the Grand Canyon, Crowell reports, "I think they were suitably impressed."
Seeing Baby Byrd
"Oh, man, look at that! Look at that little face!" exclaims Tracy Byrd, hugging his six-months-pregnant wife, Michelle, 26. Together in their doctor's office in Houston, they marvel at the image of their first child on an ultrasound monitor. Later, Byrd's parents, Brenda and Jerry, and his grandmother Mavis Vaughn, who taught him to hunt, shoot and fish as a boy, join them in admiring little Eve. She's due this month, so Byrd, 26, cleared his calendar—and bought himself a pager.
Clint & Lisa's Vacation Snaps
Clint Black, restaurateur? No, but the singer and his wife, actress Lisa Hartman, did discover this lovely spot (far left) in Positano, Italy, during their five-week European vacation. The couple savored culture and history on the trip that also took them to Paris (left), Saint-Tropez, Rome and Pompeii, Italy (top). "We learned that being together was most important," says Hartman, 38. "We have a strong simpatico." Many mornings, Black, 32, rose early, took his guitar onto hotel-room terraces and composed songs for a Christmas album, or just sang whatever he felt like, "to get away from the hits, to get back in touch."
The Neighs Have It
"Now, you know I have to do this," says Clay Walker, soothing his quarter horse Sandee as he starts to hose her down after a day working cattle together on his uncle Ted Crumhley's 40-acre ranch near Vidor, Texas. He explains to a visitor: "She's like a kid who doesn't want her ears washed." Walker, 25, knows how much dirt children can attract. He grew up on his family's 50,000-acre Beaumont, Texas, ranch stocked with 3,000 head of cattle and 1,000 horses. His earliest memory goes back to age 2, when his father, Ernest Clayton Walker Sr., assisted him in his first horseback ride. "I'm beginning to understand some of the things my daddy taught me," he says. "You work with an animal, not against it." Another lesson: "I never appreciated solitude until I went on tour. Now when I'm working cattle, I have the time to think about song-writing. You're too busy on the road for that."
The Stars Are Also Fans
Toby Keith's football career ended when the semipro Oklahoma City Drillers in his home state folded in 1983, but the former defensive end made it to the NFL in '93 when Dallas adopted his No. 1 hit "Should've Been a Cowboy" as the team's unofficial anthem. Keith, 33, and QB Troy Aikman, 27, have since become friends. "He's a football fan, and I love country music," says Aikman (right). Admits Keith: "Troy's a better singer than I am a quarterback."
You Gotta Have Pull
"When he first invited me to a 'guitar pull,' " says Mary Chapin Carpenter, 36 (in white), recalling the phone call from Radney Foster, "I said, 'What's that? Should I bring taffy?' He said, 'No, honey, that's what we call it back in Texas. It's just playing music.' " Foster's Nashville jams are informal affairs as valued for the potluck dishes the players bring as for the exchange of musical ideas. "It reminds you why you got into music in the first place," says Foster, 35 (in glasses). His most recent pull (below) was filmed for the TV documentary series THE ROAD.
Have Dog, Will Jog
Ask Kathy Mattea the question posed by the title of her biggest single, the 1990 Grammy winner "Where've You Been," and more often than not her answer will be: "Out for a run." Whether she's at home in Nashville breezing around Radnor Lake with Bob the Dog (right) or on tour, Mattea, 35, runs two to five miles, three to five times a week. "My favorite is trail running, with lots of hills," says the singer, who started jogging seriously three years ago after throat surgery. At home she and her husband, songwriter Jon Vezner, 43, often log long hours in their basement recording studio. "The studio allows us to spend more time together," she says, "even if it just means eating leftovers in the kitchen between sessions."
Two for the Road
"This is the go-cart I never had," says Ronnie Dunn, 41 (left, in black hat), Of his Legends racer, a five-eighths-scale replica of a '30s stock car. His father once nearly gave him a go-cart, but "my mother shut him off because we needed a new linoleum kitchen floor." He and partner Kix Brooks, 39, each bought Legends last year after taking classes at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Says Brooks, grinning: "Every driver wants to be the one who takes out Brooks & Dunn." Admits Dunn: "I feel more uptight going into a race than I do onstage." Quips Brooks: "We know what we're doing onstage."
"I love all my boys," says Lucille Gregg, 70. But she has a special soft spot for the one whose shoulder she was peeking over at a recent family barbecue in Longview, Texas. Ricky Lynn Greg-g is the youngest by 12 years of the five sons born to her and Melvin, 76 (in white hat). "I'm my mother's confidant," admits the 32-year-old singer. "When she cried, I cried with her. I guess it's best simply to say she gave me life, and we share life." But he stresses that both Lucille and Melvin played strong roles as parents. "We got something moral from Mom and Dad," he says. "He taught us the value of hard work. And more often than not, what he killed was what we ate, usually squirrel." These days, when Gregg comes home from the road, they're grilling chicken and ribs. Dessert is easy: The main crop on the family's 100-acre farm is watermelon.
Singing runs in the Tillis clan—and so does fishing. Pam Tillis, 37, oldest of country star Mel Tillis's five children, learned to fish when she was 6 or 7 and the family lived in Central Florida on about 30 acres that included a lake and a pond. "We all grew up with cane poles in our hands," says Pam. As a teenager she set aside rod and reel ("You get interested in other things—music, boys"), but when her own child Ben, born in 1979, began to grow up she remembered the days she had spent happily casting alongside her father. "So I started saying, 'Let me take you fishing.' " Ben, now 15 (his father is Tillis's first husband, painter Rick Mason; she wed songwriter Bob DiPiero in 1991), has become adept with fly rod. Mom sticks to her spinning reel. Avidly scouting good spots near tour stops, she recently went after trout in Saskatchewan (left), after an outdoor concert in Cypress Hills park. "I try to catch and release, or eat what I catch," she says. "Nature is its own school. When you become part of the food chain, you get this whole other respect for your place."
Butterin' Up Garth
"Butter is just wonderful to work with—you can't sculpt in margarine," says Norma Lyon, 65. "Someone tried to switch it on me one year. I raised the devil." Last summer, Lyon sculpted a life-size, 400-pound likeness of Garth Brooks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. In a cooler at the fair, working mostly with just her hands, Lyon spent three days on the piece—and wishes she'd had more time: "He's a beautiful man to look at in photographs. I'm disappointed that I didn't quite capture him." The sculptor and her husband, Joe, 65, live in Toledo, Iowa, where they milk 200 Jersey cows and dote on 20 grandchildren. Lyon began making butter sculptures 35 years ago "to make a cow out of her own product. I can make a cow of any breed off the top of my head." Brooks was not so easy: "He was about as hard as Mamie Eisenhower, who I did for the 1990 Kansas State Fair." There might be a dollop of Mamie in Garth: Lyon recycles her butter.
Her stays at home just outside Nashville are sometimes briefer than the growing season in Murmansk, so Suzy Bogguss doesn't unpack ("All I do is take out the dirty underwear and replenish it"), but she always finds time to tend her flowers and vegetables before going back on tour. "We've had so much fun this year because we tore up all the landscaping last winter and put in a whole lot of new perennials," says Bogguss, 37. Before she hits the road again, her husband, songwriter Doug Crider, 34, "cuts a bouquet of roses for me before I leave." Bogguss puts the flowers in a vase on the floor of her tour bus. "It's nice—I feel like my sweetheart's there." But the roses also remind Bogguss to inquire how her garden grows. "I'm terrible," she confesses. "I call and ask about my little babies—'Are you taking all the dead flowers off the begonias?' You know, the more you pick 'em off, the more they're going to bloom." Bogguss herself is blooming—she and Crider are expecting their first child in March.
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