More than ten years after a stroke, Randy Travis sings again, thanks to AI

Even if you don't like country, you can't help but bask in Randy Travis' baritone. His voice sounds like whiskey – it always has, since his first album, 1986's 'Storms of Life'. “I thought if we sold 40,000 copies, maybe we could make a second record.” said producer Kyle Lehning.

They were eventually sold four million. “So I'm a genius!” Lehning laughed.


Randy Travis – No Place Like Home (Remaster 2021) Through
Randy Travis on
YouTube

Randy Travis and that voice helped build Warner Music Nashville into what it is today. “How do you describe that thing that hits you right in the middle of your chest and subconsciously makes you feel full, comfortable, and familiar?” said Cris Lacy, co-chairman and co-president of the label. “How do you to describe something like that?”

He had a God-given talent… and then fate took it all away.

In 2013, Travis suffered a massive stroke. He was given only a 2% chance of survival. “I thought we were going to lose him,” Lehning said.

Lacy said, “It felt like this could be the end of an era.”

In addition to the paralysis, the part of his brain that controls speech and language was hit the hardest. Randy's wife, Mary, said, “Music is what he's made of. Music is his heart, it's his soul.”

Nowadays Maria does most of the talking. She said Randy knows what he wants to say, but he just can't get it out.

When asked if he was okay with that, Randy replied, “Yes, yes.”

Three years after his stroke, Travis was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame with Mary by his side gave “Amazing Grace” a new meaning. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum 2016 Medallion Ceremony - Show
Randy Travis sings “Amazing Grace,” along with his wife Mary Travis and Garth Brooks, during the 2016 Medallion Ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, October 16, 2016 in Nashville.

Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum


However, during his absence, he has heard many AI-generated spoofs of his voice. A simple Google search will bring up sites that promise to hide someone's voice in a Randy Travis sound. “It doesn't sound good, and it doesn't sound real because it isn't,” Lacy said.

And that got his record label thinking. Lacy said, “We started with the concept of what AI would be for Good look like to us? And the first thing that came to our mind was that we were going to give Randy Travis his voice back.”

There were more than a few skeptics – Kyle Lehning, for example. “It sounded like a parlor trick or something,” he said.

But Lehning (with Randy's blessing) decided to give it a try. He and Warner Music began by pulling 42 Randy Travis songs from the vault, such as the original recording of his hit “1982.” And then they removed the music, leaving only the vocals.

That was half the recipe. The other half was to be provided by a donated or 'surrogate' vote. In this case, that voice came from country singer James DuPre.

james-dupre-mary-travis-kyle-lehning-randy-travis.jpg
James DuPre, Mary Travis, producer Kyle Lehning and Randy Travis.

CBS News


The AI ​​program – the “secret sauce” – takes Travis' voice and overlays it on DuPre's vocals. It's hardly an exact science. 'It's not about how it sounds, it's about how it sounds feels', said Lehning.

And that's not something a computer can figure out. “Not yet!” Lehning laughed.

He knows Travis' voice almost better than Randy does; they have been working together for 40 years. This time, however, the task was to use a computer-generated voice and give it Randy's country heart. “Having him here and being able to be an essential part of the decision-making process makes all the difference to me,” Lehning said.

secret sauce.jpg

CBS News


Ultimately, they landed on something they felt was worthy of a voice that only those who knew him best could replicate.

According to Lacy, “It's Randy Travis. Randy's on the other side of the microphone. It's still his voice. There's no reason why he can't make music, and to take that away from him, if he still want to do, I find that unconscionable.”

Two months ago, Warner Music gathered a small circle of fellow musicians in a recording studio. Randy sat with the grin of a Cheshire Cat, and then they pressed play.

Listen to Randy Travis' 'Where That Came From':


Randy Travis – Where That Came From (lyrical video) Through
Randy Travis on
YouTube

The reaction to his first new song in over a decade was a mix of joy and wonder.

Tears for his wife. For Randy's country friends, like Grammy-winning superstar Carrie Underwood, there was confusion. (“How how? How?!?“) For Cole Swindell, who just won three ACM Awards, it reminded him why he became a country singer in the first place. (“For y'all to let me hear it, that means a lot. Damn, I'm glad to hear you sing!” ) And veteran country star Clay Walker was simply over the moon.

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Carrie Underwood expresses surprise after hearing Randy Travis' new song.

CBS News


Even Randy's own family had only heard about it two weeks ago.

It was perfection… with one caveat. “We don't know exactly how we're going to get back here,” Cris Lacy said.

The second song they are working on proves to be a more difficult nut to crack. There is still work to be done and many questions to be answered about what this all means going forward.

But enjoy this: after a ten-year absence, Randy Travis is back on the radio. His post-stroke debut song, “Where That Came From,” was released last week.

kyle-lehning-randy-travis.jpg
Kyle Lehning and Randy Travis.

CBS News


For Randy, it's not just a single, it's a victory. And as Mary says, “It's an inspiration for life. Speak kindly, love fully, live fully, and leave the rest to God.”

Sounds like there's a song in there somewhere. We can only hope.


For more information:


Story produced by Reid Orvedahl. Editor: Lauren Barnello.

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