“An orphan who turned into a preacher, a preacher who turned into a songwriter, a songwriter that turned into a drunk, a drunk that is learning to be a human being.”
by Lisa Morgan
“I run into people every day in search of authenticity. They want to discover the real deal. Well, call off the search – I’ve found him. His name is Travis Meadows. I am proud to call him a friend and I’m in awe of his talent. Killin’ Uncle Buzzy is the most honest record I’ve ever heard. In one word, it is stellar! I can’t wait to hear what comes next!” – Eric Church, 2014
“You need to check this guy out,” he told me. “This guy’s so hot, Nashville gathers around him just to keep their hands warm.” When my friend and former band leader, Jon Eben (a well-respected musician in California and Nashville himself) brags that hard on another musician, I know better than to ignore him. So I checked out Travis Meadows. Eben wasn’t wrong. The honesty in Meadows’ music was riveting, and it connected to my very core.
Travis Meadows is Mississippi through and through. He says so in his music. He grew up where “Hell ain’t half that hot…you could fry eggs on the parking lot.” His love for his roots is undeniable, and eloquently expressed in songs about his grandfather teaching him to stay away from the sissy stuff and drink his coffee “Black”. But underneath the country charm, what is also undeniable is the deep well his songs are drawn from, one that was chiseled out through pain and loss, death and rebirth.
Loss became more than a lesson for Meadows growing up in Mississippi. It was the norm. His first memory was of his brother drowning, followed by his parents’ divorce. Then there was the loss of his leg, and perhaps even more devastating to the 14 year old at the time, his hair, to cancer and chemotherapy. Meadows grew up desperately hungry and thirsty – thirsty for a father figure, hungry to fill the holes left in him from the losses. He went from one addiction to another to fill those holes, and through some kind of grace, lived to tell (and sing) about it.
Captured by Rolling Stone Country’s, Joseph Hudak: “ ‘When I was getting high, I wanted everybody to get high too…on drugs, on alcohol, on Jesus.’ He went on to tour the world as a Christian rock artist, spreading ‘The Word’ across the globe the only way he knew how, through music. However, he found that ‘the truth will set you free, but eventually it’ll piss you off.’ He arrived in Nashville and learned the hard way about fame and fortune.”
Killin’ Uncle Buzzy, a journal turned album/survival guide, documents the truth behind Meadows’ fourth and so far, successful journey in sobriety. As with most everything, softened by an endearing, sharp wit, Meadows sings the story of the unconventional fame he found in Nashville: “I came to make a difference. I had a story to tell. I told it loud, but my opinion didn’t go over so well. Waiting for offers, they never came, the Davidson County Police know my name…if dumb makes you famous, then I can’t complain, the Davidson Country Police know my name.”
Rolling Stone goes on to accurately describe Meadows as “an unforgettable performer…an open wound, the rawness of his words and his vocals pulling you into his world; a Mississippi childhood, learning to drink his coffee black in dives off the highway, his battles with cancer, alcohol, drugs, God and demons, and all the characters along the way.”
Going through my first year of sobriety myself when I discovered Travis, I felt as though Killin’ Uncle Buzzy was a life line. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone, and I didn’t have near as much to be ashamed of as I thought. Even better, even though I was broken, there was hope that things get better. Come to find out, Killin’ Uncle Buzzy had the same affect on people not suffering from addiction. Pain and fear is pain and fear, no matter where it comes from, and we all could smell the blood in these songs, mixed in with our own. Our special group of “Travlers”, a closed group of supporters, bonded tightly through Meadows’ music. There’s even yearly gatherings. We’ve seen his career explode over the last two years, and cheered with him as it did.
There was Blackberry Smoke’s release and CMT promotion of “Pretty Little Lies”. Then there were rumors of songs on hold by major artists for far too long. Dierks Bentley making “Riser” the title song of his soon to be, Grammy nominated album had us tuning in to every performance of it. We all about imploded when Eric Church made “Dark Side” part of HIS soon to be, Grammy nominated album. And fell head over heels in love with Jake Owen when he not only made the song, “What We Ain’t Got” from Killin’ Uncle Buzzy a single, but had Travis come up on stage in front of thousands in a stadium to sing it with him, filming the whole thing and releasing it to all of his fans. Although his career has continued to explode, he still is the same guy who would spend time joking back and forth with us like we were all one big family. For that, we will always support him, because that’s what family does.
In spite of all the commercial success of his writing career, Meadows isn’t rolling in the dough as one might think. With a publishing deal that includes three partnering entities, it takes quite a bit of success for financial gains to trickle down to the writer, especially in the climate of the industry today. “There is this misconception in this business, that there’s all kinds of money in it,” explained Travis. Kobalt is an admin company (an admin company that has the likes of Prince and Paul McCartney on their list). The guy who created the company, did it in the spirit of complete transparency, where the writers keep their copyrights. They administrate the copyrights and administer the licensing all over the world. They do all the paperwork to find your money, for a small percentage. My publishing is a little different. There’s Kobalt, a financial backer (who cannot be named) and another partner (big names from Sony with a contact list to shop songs to, also who cannot be named). I am very happy with the way things are. I’m making a living making music. The lights are on, and I pay my rent on time. There are a lot of people in this town waiting tables that would love to have the opportunity that I’ve been provided. ”
“I’ve slowed my writing schedule a bit. I’m out performing more, which is where my heart is. I don’t like to write more than twice a week. If I do more than that, it all starts running together and sounding the same. I’m still writing more than 8 times a month. I’m booking about as much as I want to. I have my son every other weekend. Sometimes I have to juggle it around with his mom. 90% of what I do is house parties. I think people assume hosting a house party is going to be all this tedious work or they feel like they’re not qualified for some reason. The reality is, I’m just a guy from Mississippi that loves to play music, and if you’ve got 30-50 friends, me and Jack (peddle steel player) will rock for about an hour and a half.”
“This is basically a four year young career, singing country music, or whatever genre you want to call it,” he continued. “I don’t know if it’s true country, but it’s soul music. It’s heart music. I think I’ve got a great fan base, and it just reminds me that I’m doing pretty damn good for somebody who’s only been trying to do this for four years. Before this, I had worked in churches for 17 years – a whole different audience. It was like working 17 years in plumbing, and then deciding to become an electrician. I had to go get a whole new clientele.”
“I came to town and started hitting all the songwriter nights in town, and playing all the open mics. It was really kind of a humiliating, humble beginning. I had accomplished a lot in my previous career; I’d traveled to 20 different countries, been interrogated by the KGB, and was told by a Hindu in India that if I ever said the name ‘Jesus Christ’ he’d have me stoned to death. I was in Russia handing out Bibles to school kids when I received an ASCAP award. But those open mics all ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. I started writing a different kind of song, started drinking, and one thing led to another and Killin’ Uncle Buzzy was born. It was really the beginning of my country career. It was about a year after Killin’ Uncle Buzzy when I called my friend, Levi Lowery and said, ‘I got this record. I don’t have anywhere to play. I want to play in front of people who are hard to play for – get it over with and just play these songs about getting sober in front of people who don’t really want to hear about it.’ We went and played Dixie Tavern. I was doing “Good Intentions”, and let’s face it – there’s nothing easy about that song. I hadn’t played in about 2 years, and hadn’t played sober in 8. It was all kind of terrifying, when a drunk guy came up and got in my face and yelled, ‘You know any fast songs!’ I had to not lose my shit, not forget my words, and keep my cool. That right there was more terrifying than the KGB or the angry Hindu. I did a few more shows with Levi, a few in town, then I posted on FB asking if anybody wanted to do a house show. One thing led to another, and that’s pretty much been the last four years.”
When I asked Travis what his formula is, he said, “Lot’s of trouble, and lots of not giving a damn. It was the weirdest thing man. When I moved to town, I was 38 years old, and I had two things I wanted to do before I died. I always tell people that I wanted to write with the best writers in the world. The other, I never talk about, maybe because it was too painful. The other dream was getting a record deal. You know, I spent a lot of my youth wishing I had a father figure. Finally at one point I finally just said, ‘He’s not comin’. You be the man.’ There was some real liberty in that. The same thing happened when it came to that record deal. It was like being stuck in the middle of the ocean begging for somebody to come find me and bring me an oar. There was something about wanting that record deal. I knew the clock was tickin’ man, and about the time Uncle Buzzy came around, I was 45. I knew it was just too late. There was no record deal comin’. So I gave up on it. I buried it, and ‘let it go’ (another song title from Killin’ Uncle Buzzy). There was something really magical in the release of that dream. I don’t have to answer to anyone anymore. No record label is going to come out and hear me play. I’m just going to write what I’m going to write, and fuck everybody else. Amazingly enough, that’s when a change really took place. I’ve always had a battle with fear and struggled with confidence, but I’ve never been closer to finding it.”
“There’s something really powerful and magical about confidence. And when I didn’t have anything left to prove, it was like somebody flipped the confident switch. So now, it’s like this: Here’s my music. If you like it, great. If you don’t, go to a Kenny Chesney concert. And that’s not a knock. I love Kenny, but if you want stadium country, you’re not going to get that from me. This is all I do. There is one damn Travis Meadows in the world, so this is what you get. I’m gaining fans by the ones baby. I’m knockin’ ‘em down. I’m living the American dream.”
Travis Meadows will be making a rare appearance in Southern California. This is a rare opportunity to see the soul behind the songs that are causing a stir in Nashville.
2/26 Pappy & Harriet’s, Pioneer Town 8pm-12am
2/27 Nashville & SoCal Songwriter Showcase Benefiting Street Life Project for Local Homeless
@ Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert (corner of Hwy 111 and Fred Waring Drive) 7pm-1am
$10 Suggested Donation for Street Life Project
2/28 Desert Road, VIP Concert, La Quinta 2pm-6pm
Call (760) 464-6773 for details
or go to desert-road-music.ticketleap.com/travis-meadows-vip
2/28 Millcreek Diamond Jims, Mentone 8pm-1am
with Wade Crawford and the Country Trash and R Buckle Road
Must RSVP (951) 840-7521, 1874 Mentone Blvd, Mentone, CA, United States 92359
3/1 House Parties, Palm Desert and La Quinta, afternoon and evening
Call (760) 464-6773
3/2 BMI Acoustic Lounge, Genghis Cohen, Los Angeles www.genghiscohen.com/calendar.php
Follow Travis Meadows, purchase music and tickets at www.travismeadows.com
Select photos by ZiegelmeyerPhotography.com