During the day, Lawrence worked selling and delivering furniture, putting in sprinkler systems, doing electrical contracting work and other odd jobs. He finally decided it might be the time to complete his degree at nearby Ruston College.
“I had applied for my Pell Grant to get my student funding. Classes were getting ready to start in just a couple of weeks. I sat down one night, and it’s like, You know what? If I go to class and I take that Pell Grant, I’m going to be stuck here, going to school, paying back student loans, and I’m never going to get out of here. I made a decision. I was actually booking the band by this point. I canceled everything but the last weekend gig. I packed my car up, moved out of the house that I was sharing with the bass player, did the last weekend performance.
“They collected money at the door and gathered up about $700 at that little ol’ club to help me get to Nashville. I went home and saw my mom and dad and my family … Then I got in the car and came to Nashville. I’d never been here before. Scared to death. I think I cried all the way to Little Rock. I was terrified.”
Arriving in September of 1990, Lawrence met a friend of a friend who let him crash on his couch for a few weeks. He got a construction job hanging metal siding and went to Music City clubs at night and met other musicians. That led to a semi-regular gig at Live at Libby’s, a supper club in Daysville, Ky.
It was there in late 1990 that Atlantic Records music executives came to scout a female vocalist. Instead, they discovered an Arkansan who could sing a good tune. “The wheels started turning. I met the guys that became my first managers with the Atlantic people that night. They put a showcase together for me at the Bluebird (Café) in January of 1991, and in May of that year I was cutting Sticks and Stones. It’s crazy. That don’t happen!”
While success came almost immediately, Lawrence has no doubt that it was not an accident.
“I felt like I was extremely prepared. I was very focused when I got here. I worked hard. I think I had a great attitude. My chops were really good. I was singing good. I impressed everybody that I got in front of, and I was extremely focused, so when opportunity came, I was ready to capitalize on it. I had been playing clubs on a regular basis for a long time. I had great stage confidence. I had good stage presence. But really when I came I expected to be writing songs for a long time. I didn’t expect that side of my career to take off that quick. I really believed it would happen but not that fast.”
Right after finishing the background vocals on Sticks and Stones, the album that would touch his recording career off like a wildfire, Lawrence was nearly murdered in downtown Nashville on May 31, 1991. He was dropping off a girlfriend from high school days at her Music Row hotel late at night.
“I didn’t even get the car shut off,” he remembered. “Somebody opened the door and stuck the gun right between my eyes and said, ‘Get out of the car. Leave the keys in the ignition.’
“They took us out. There were three of them. One of them had a gun to my head. The other one had a pistol on her on the other side. The one that didn’t have a gun told me to take my belt off. He took my belt and my buckle off of me, and they told us to go to the motel room. They were going to do what you could imagine.
“She was first. One guy was behind her with a gun. The guy with my belt was in between us. And then the other one was right behind me with a gun. By the time I got up and turned the corner, she was all the way to the edge, and I yelled at her to run, and I turned around and hit the guy in the mouth and the gun went off. Then I took off running. She rounded the corner and rounded the front, and they emptied two pistols on me. Pretty scary.”
Lawrence caught four bullets: one in the knee, one in the hip, one grazed his finger and one grazed his arm. He survived, the criminals escaped, and one bullet remained in his hip. “I guess lead dissolves,” he said. “I’m sure it’s dissolved by now … I’ve got a big old hole in my hip.”
After recovering from the assault Lawrence watched his debut album shoot up the charts and birth four Top-10 singles. The 1990’s proved to be very good years for the singer-songwriter. But, as eventually happens to most recording acts, sales began to wane, and he began hopping from label to label without much fanfare.
Finally, in 2006, he opened his first record label, Rocky Comfort Records, and released a new album on his own dime. Against the odds, he climbed to the top of the charts with a No. 1 record, “Find Out Who Your Friends Are”. The feat marked the first time an artist’s first release on his own label hit the top position. It also earned him awards from the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music, and his album went gold.
In early 2011, Lawrence released The Singer, his debut album on the Lawrence Music Group label. He believes he’s in a good place now with his writing, his singing and his studio acumen.
“I always had such a lack of confidence about my songwriting. I was writing a lot when I came to Nashville, but when I started getting hooked up with guys who really knew how to do it, I realized how inadequate I was and how much I had to learn. Over the last several years, as I’ve really gotten more confidence about my writing skills and been able to sit down and take a song from its inception and write the music and write the lyrics and feel good about the end project and do it by myself,” said Lawrence.
“I feel like I can walk in a studio by myself now and structure a track, comp my vocal, tweak it out, oversee the mix, write the songs, do everything that I need to do and feel confident about the end project when it’s done. That’s something that as a kid, you might think you can do, but there’s so much you don’t know. I know what I’m doing now. After 20 years, I’ve seen it from a lot of different aspects. I know how to make it happen.”
His record label is also helping manage Lacey Brown, who was a top-12 contestant on American Idol in 2010. The company plans to produce an album on her this year.
Lawrence is also in a joint venture with singer-songwriter Rick Huckaby, who played acoustic guitar in Lawrence’s band for five years. Meanwhile, the record maker plans to release a second single, “Heaven for a While,” off The Singer album this spring, while he and family continue to enjoy their little piece of heaven on earth in Wilson County.
Becca Lawrence’s dance and athletic apparel store for dancers, cheerleaders, gymnasts and team athletics is located at 233 West Main Street in Lebanon and open 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday. For more info, call 443-3221 or go online to gravityactivewear.com
Tracy Lawrence No. 1 hits “Sticks and Stones,” “Alibis,” “Can’t Break It to My Heart,” “My Second Home,” “If the Good Die Young,” “Texas Tornado,” “Time Marches On,” “Find Out Who Your Friends Are.” For more info about the singer-songwriter, go online to www.tracylawrence.com.