“I’m planning on developing it out. We’ve got some people interested in buying right now. We’re trying to get some stuff rezoned with the county … So we’re working on that. I don’t want to be a farmer. I did enough of that when I was a kid. I want to keep about 40 acres for myself and chop the rest of it up,” he said.
Becca finds Wilson County to be “God’s own country.” “Being from Texas and Arkansas, living here is just like being at home,” said Becca, who owns Gravity, a dance and athletic apparel store on Lebanon’s West Main Street. “It kind of feels like a small town.” The two met through mutual acquaintances in the radio business. “We were good friends at first, and one thing led to another,” she said. “I was attracted to his sense of adventure. He also understands life the same as I do. And he’s got a huge heart. He is always wanting to give somebody something.”
The country music singer spends part of his free time assisting two charities that have local ties. For unwinding, Lawrence enjoys golf (he shoots in the low 80s), often playing at Five Oaks Golf & Country Club in Lebanon, where he returns this spring for his second year as host of the Golf for a Cure Charity Golf Classic, which benefits Susan G. Komen Greater Nashville (a nonprofit dedicated to the fight against breast cancer).
Lawrence also continues his annual tradition of deep-frying hundreds of turkey the week of Thanksgiving to share with residents of the Nashville Rescue Mission and several hundred citizens of Wilson County.
“I feel like I’m supposed to be giving back. This is my home. I’ve been here over 20 years now, and I just felt like I needed to be doing something in my community. It’s just grown to be such a huge event. It really has been amazing how it’s taken off and the support that we’ve gotten from the entertainment community. It’s been very gratifying. It’s probably one of the more exhausting days in my year, but it’s very satisfying,” said the turkey chef, who in six years has overseen the cooking of about 5,000 turkeys.
Born in Atlanta, Texas, Lawrence grew up in Foreman, Ark. (population 1,011), in the southwest corner of the state just a few miles from the Oklahoma state line and not far from Texarkana. His step-dad was president of the bank, while his mother, a homemaker, took care of Tracy, his older brother and sister and his three younger step-siblings.
“Daddy would work at the bank, and then in the summer, we would work cows, and we would cut hay. He would have us hauling hay till the middle of the night, so we worked hard. Looking back, there was a lot of love. We had a good family. The siblings were all close. I enjoyed my time in school. I had a real good childhood,” he recalled.
During high school, he was on the baseball team and played trumpet in the marching band, but singing was his favorite subject, and he earned a choir scholarship to Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, Ark. He taught himself to play guitar at age 12.
“I started going to the Methodist Church camp when I was in sixth grade, and they had a little songbook that had songs like ‘Country Roads, Take Me Home,’ some progressive stuff, kind of middle-of-the-road country and Christian songs and things that I was familiar with, and it had the chord structures in the book. It had a little chart in the back that showed you the finger placements and how to make the chords. I actually taught myself how to play out of the back of that church camp book.”
After losing a talent contest to his baby sister at 14, Lawrence was befriended by a deputy sheriff who carried him to local weekend music shows such as The Ashdown Jamboree and The Dierks Opry, and the teen began his schooling in public performing. At 16, he turned pro in a country music band, Cross Creek, and played with the group until he dropped out of college. Initially, he considered a degree in church youth ministry.
“I was actually conference council president, and I had made a large circle of friends and was very connected throughout the State through the Methodist Church and UMY (United Methodist Youth). The pastor of the church was really trying hard to push me to go to Hendrix because that’s a Methodist university.”
But by 18, Lawrence had his own idea of what to do with his life. Enrolling at Southern Arkansas, he planned to major in mass communications and minor in business. About five semesters later, the music urge won out over the college experience.
“I didn’t feel like anything that I was doing was going to help me get to the place that I wanted to be. I knew I needed to move to Nashville, so I knew that it was time for me to go.”
Dropping out of college, he wound up in northwestern Louisiana with a band called Phoenix, and for the next couple of years he played the club circuit and honed his skills.
“That was when I really started coming into my own. It was a better band, bigger markets where I was actually able to play some clubs that had crowds in them instead of playing in the backwoods kind of places, where I was really learning how to keep people on the dance floor and learn to do some Skynyrd stuff and adding some rock and roll stuff in toward the end of the night.”