Even by the genteel standards of country singers, Travis Tritt seems a remarkably nice guy. He's quiet, polite, good-humored and well-spoken, precisely the sort who would never raise a fuss or cause a ruckus.
Yet somehow, Tritt keeps ending up in trouble anyway. Or, in the case of his current single, "T.R.O.U.B.L.E."
This wouldn't seem to be a particularly provocative piece of work. As Tritt admits, "It doesn't have a tremendous statement to it, but it's a lot of fun, up-tempo and very contemporary for country music these days."
Certainly the fans seem to like it. "Since the release of that single, my album sales have shot back up," he says, speaking over the phone from a tour stop in Erie, Pa. "We sold something like 30,000 albums last week alone. And that's coming up quite a bit since the last single."
Unfortunately, "T.R.O.U.B.L.E." is a little too contemporary for some country radio programmers. "There are about eight key stations that won't play it, because they say it's too rock 'n' roll for them," Tritt complains. "And I think that's terrible when we start getting into that kind of situation where people are saying, 'Well, this is country, and this is not country, and we can't play it on our station because it doesn't fit our format.'
"Well, hey -- what's your format? Are you trying to be entertaining? Or are you trying to define music for your audience, and determine for them what is good and what isn't?
"It's very unfair, I think."
Indeed it is. This, though, is typical of the trouble Tritt keeps ending up in. Or take his "feud" with Billy Ray Cyrus, which made headlines after Cyrus lambasted Tritt from the winner's circle at the American Music Awards.
Tritt insists he never had anything personal against Cyrus. "I simply said that I didn't like a song, didn't like a video, and darned sure didn't want to turn country music into an ass-wiggling contest," he says. "And you would have thought I cut up a picture of the pope."
Still, Tritt has an easier time shrugging off the Cyrus stink as "something perpetuated by the media" than he has accepting the concept that some people consider his music too far-out to qualify as country.
It's not as if he's trying to be a rocker, after all. "I'm a country singer who just happens to be able to sing blues," he says. "I'm not a blues singer, not a rock singer. But I happen to be comfortable doing all the different styles. I'd feel just as comfortable doing a duet with George Thorogood as I would doing a duet with George Jones."
Unfortunately, there are plenty in the country music establishment who'd just as soon squelch that kind of versatility, as Tritt well knows.
"Kenny Rogers and I were talking about this a few weeks ago," he says, "and he had some theories which, though I don't necessarily agree with all of them, seemed like a very interesting commentary.
"He said this thing seems to go in a cycle. About every 10 years or so, the Establishment defines country music as being the ding-chinka-ding-chinka-ding-chinka-ding type stuff. Straight-ahead, real traditional country music. And gradually, we're allowed to bring other influences in -- more rock, more blues, more of the other things. And before you know it, we got this big umbrella of things that are very diverse and are all coming under the umbrella of country music.
"Then, after about 10 years, somebody stands up and says, 'Wait -- this is not what country music is. Don't you remember? Country music is ding-chinka-ding-chinka-ding-chinka-ding.' So they clean house," he laughs, "and start back with the traditional stuff again. And it goes back in that cycle.
"Now, that was his analysis. I don't know that I necessarily agree with that completely, but I will say that there is a group of people, made up of radio stations and people on the board of the Country Music Association and so on and so forth, who determine what country music is. And they pretty much say, 'This is country music,' and 'This isn't.'
"I think that's awful that we have that kind of breakdowns. I think there ought to be, as Duke Ellington said, two kinds of music: good and bad. And let it go. Whatever people listen to, let it fall in whatever category you want to. Just as long as it's music people like, who cares?"
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Baltimore Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.
Call: (410) 347-2010 for information; (410) 481-7328 for tickets