Classic Tracks: Randy Travis "Forever and Ever, Amen"

Mar 26, 2012 7:11 PM, By Alison Richter


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Before signing with Warner Bros. Records Nashville, Randy Travis spent a decade looking for a recording contract, and being rejected by everyone. In 1985, when engineer/producer Kyle Lehning first heard the artist then using the stage name “Randy Ray,” Travis was working as the catfish cook at the Nashville Palace; he would perform short sets when he could take a break from his shift in the kitchen.

“I was producing Keith Stegall for Epic at the time and he’s the one who brought Randy to my attention,” Lehning explains. “Keith was recording a live album with Randy at the time, and he wanted me to hear his voice. Randy made an impression because nobody was listening to hardcore country music at that time. It was the age of the lost years of the country crossover, where if records didn’t get played on Adult Contemporary radio, they didn’t sell. Kenny Rogers was having huge success, Anne Murray was doing well, and there were [other] people who were doing really well at the time with that sort of stuff, but none of them were hardcore country singers. Randy came from that real place. But the thing about his voice that got me wasn’t the genre. It was the honesty and the pure emotion that he naturally exuded. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter what kind of music you’re singing if you can sing like that. And that attracted me to him: an amazing voice and an amazing talent.”

Lehning became the producer of Travis’ first album, Storms of Life, which turned the artist into a sensation. He went from traveling in a bread truck with his band and gear to selling out multiple shows in the same city on the same days. By the time sessions began on the follow-up, Always & Forever, Travis was exhausted, although it didn’t affect his performance in the studio. Because he had such a clear sense of self and identity, he also had a keen ear when selecting material with Lehning. Additionally, time was on their side: the new wave of country music had not yet kicked in, which meant fewer artists were vying for the best available songs. The playing field was wide open for Lehning, Travis and his A&R person Martha Sharp to find and record some great material.

Released in April 1987, Always & Forever yielded four Number One singles, including “Forever and Ever, Amen,” Travis’ third Number One single. Written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, it’s a simple song with a simple message, but thanks to Travis’ pitch-perfect, unmistakable voice delivering the clever lyrics and easy melody, it was an immediate hit. Lehning remembers the session as “fun to record, but not difficult.”

“Forever and Ever, Amen” was recorded at Stargem in Nashville. Joe Bogan, who worked closely with Lehning on many projects, engineered the track, and Lehning produced. “Stargem was a fairly typical mid-’80s studio,” says Lehning. “They had an MCI 600 Series console, which was not always one of my favorites, but it sounded okay. There was nothing unique or special about the setup. Joe was a meticulous recording engineer and took maybe even a little more time than we were used to in Nashville, but I always gave him the time because the tracks that he recorded were done with such hi-fi and such nice taste that we saved a lot of time on the back end. Mixing them was sort of pulling the faders up and balancing more than it was having to go back in and do lots of EQ’ing and things like that. He did a lovely job on the front end.”

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