Tracy Byrd is mellowing at middle age. During the halcyon days of the ’90s when big-hat country was king, Byrd was writing and recording hits with an eye on the charts.
“Back then you were competing for radio play,” Byrd said by phone from his Beaumont, Texas, home. “It was a competitive time for me and everybody else.”
During the peak of that country era, “everybody else” included Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Randy Travis. Byrd, 51, wasn’t on Brooks otherworldly echelon.
“Every single I released wasn’t a hit,” he said. “I would have a hit, followed by another hit and then a miss.”
Don’t feel bad for Byrd, who hit the top of the country charts with “Holdin’ Heaven” and has such top five hits as “The Keeper of the Stars,” “Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous,” “Watermelon Crawl” and “The First Step.”
“I’m not complaining,” Byrd said. “I had my share of success on the charts, but I wasn’t massive. I was happy having a solid career.”
Life for Byrd, who has a number of platinum-plus albums to his credit, and the music industry has changed.
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“It’s a different deal now,” he said. “For most of my career I was on a major label and it was about getting on the radio. But I’m on my own now. I follow my own schedule. I’m writing what’s important to me. I don’t think about airplay now. I’m not sure how you get on the radio, and that might be a good thing.”
Byrd, who will perform Dec. 6 at the First Avenue Club in Iowa City, doubts he’ll preview any new songs.
“All I know is that I’ll have an album out by next year,” Byrd said. “I’m in no rush. When I get back to Iowa, I’ll have plenty of songs to choose from.”
Unlike many of his peers, Byrd flies by the seat of his pants when it comes to performing. The laid-back family man loves taking requests from fans. “I enjoy living in the moment up there,” Byrd said. “When I come to town, just yell out what you want to hear. I have no problem playing exactly what the fans want to hear. I’ll be happy to sing it.”
There’s no voice quite like Byrd’s full, twangy baritone.
“I had no idea I had a voice that was different when I was a kid,” he said. “I just thought everyone could sing like I could. When I was in college, I discovered I had something different.”
His voice catapulted him to a great deal of success when talent programs weren’t ubiquitous.
“I had to go out there and put the time in in order to become successful,” he said. “I had to hone my craft.”
What does he think of the new crop of young singers, many of whom use Auto-Tune to bring their vocals up to snuff?
“I saw someone on YouTube and he was just an awful singer,” Byrd said. “There was no way of getting around it. But he had something like 200,000 followers and people posted things like, ‘You’re wonderful.’ I just don’t get it. I’m bewildered by it. And then there is live performance. A lot of these young performers have no idea how to perform. I learned how to perform by getting out there six or seven nights a week playing bars and clubs. I had to put the time in so I could get respectable.”
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Byrd’s oldest of three children is following in his footsteps, sort of. Son Logan, 21, is a rapper.
“He and his little brother are into rap,” Byrd said. “I don’t know much about rap, but what he is doing sounds great to me. I told him that if what I heard was lousy, I would tell him, but he’s good at it. He’s a heck of a guitarist but rap is his thing. He’s always working on beats. It’s music.
“His little brother is into rap and my daughter is into country. It’s all good. We have a lot of fun when we get together as a family. We just celebrated Thanksgiving and I’ll be on the road soon, and before you know I’ll be in Iowa.”
When Byrd was asked about his early days playing Iowa, he laughed.
“I remember playing a music club that was also a strip bar in Cedar Rapids,” he said. “It was a long time ago, around 1993. I remember the club was split in two. I performed on one end and the other half featured a strip club. My fans were women and all the men were walking toward the female performers, which I could see plain as day while I was up onstage ... I don’t think it’ll be the same when I go back to Iowa, but (T)hat’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
WHAT: Tracy Byrd
WHERE: First Avenue Club, 1550 S. First Ave., Iowa City
WHEN: 8 p.m. Dec. 6
TICKETS: $25, Squareup.com/store/first-avenue-club/
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Tracybyrdmusic.com