In country music, it is no longer unusual for an artist to record a gospel album at some point in their career. Country and gospel share so much in common as it is, so the transition between the two genres is an easy one.
Several country artists have already offered their voices to treasured gospel songs and classic hymns. One such artist is Randy Travis, who has recorded multiple gospel albums throughout his career.
Travis released his second gospel album in 2003, which was titled Rise and Shine. The album contained an impressive total of thirteen tracks, including “Three Wooden Crosses,” which became his comeback hit that year.
The song did not only became Travis’ first No. 1 single on the Hot Country Songs chart since 1994’s “Whisper My Name,” but it was also the first Christian label release to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Country Singles chart. “Three Wooden Crosses” was also named Song of the Year by the Country Music Association in 2003 and won a Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association as Country Song of the Year in 2004.
A Song About Four Wildly Diverse Characters
Written by Doug Johnson and Kim Williams, the song tells the story of four characters: a preacher, a farmer, and a teacher who were all killed in a bus crash and the only survivor, a prostitute. “One night, I was sitting around the house,” Johnson recalled, “and I came up with the characters on their way to Mexico. I thought it was a really odd grouping of people, but from that, the first verse and the melody of a song just kind of came out.”
Johnson said he knew there was something special in these characters and the situation. “I just had to figure out what was going to happen.” The mysterious scenario immediately grabbed the attention of Johnson’s friend and fellow songwriter, Kim Williams.
The song explained all the things the four characters left behind, with the preacher leaving his blood-stained Bible to the prostitute. “It seemed to fit in with the theme of forgiveness and understanding that we were going for. I am always moved by messages of mercy, and by stories of outcasts who are saved by love,” Johnson said on which character would survive.
By the end, the narrator revealed that his pastor is the prostitute’s son in the song. His mother grew up reading to him from the blood-stained Bible, which led to his passion for ministry. With this conclusion, the narrator realized why there are only “three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway.”
The story recounted in this song is symbolic of Randy Travis’ own conversion. “I came from a background that was heavy with drugs and alcohol and arrests. I’ve heard people speak about how a vision or something hit them, like a light turned on, right then and there,” he explained to Christian Music Today.
“For me, I was into my early twenties, and I went to bed one night and just started reading the Bible,” he continued. “That’s how the slow process of coming to understand that I needed to know more about the Word of God began, and then coming to the point of accepting Christ and water baptism.”
Randy Travis has released many hit songs throughout his career, but none have definitely touched more people than “Three Wooden Crosses.” Watch his performance in the video below as Travis proves why he is considered a country music icon. There’s no one else out there that can sing quite as he can.