Twice divorced and selling air conditioners to make ends meet, the native of Marietta, Ga., paraded into one nightclub after another looking like a long-haired freak from the late '60s who needed an attitude adjustment.
Tritt appeared to be a misfit on Nashville's Music Row.
His musical makeup was that of a neighborhood mutt on Rodeo Drive. It included influences from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Waylon Jennings, Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe to the most famous balladeers and folk singers from all genres. He also had a steady flow of rock 'n' roll in his blood.
Record companies shook their heads. They realized Tritt's many talents but also knew he wasn't a Garth Brooks clone -- and was perhaps unlike anyone before.
More than 13 years down Music Row, Tritt indeed has found a niche audience that celebrates and embraces his diverse styles.
Tritt will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Crown Coliseum Arena. Newcomer Joe Nichols will warm up a crowd that will come prepared to sing the many Tritt musical milestones that have made their way into the consciousness of country music fans.
They are tunes not played on radio waves nearly as much as songs from Brooks, Tim McGraw or George Strait. The songs are nonetheless quiet classics that slowly powerlifted Tritt into selling more than 25 million albums.
Tritt has had seven No. 1 singles on the Billboard country charts and been in the top 10 on 20 occasions. And though nominated for CMA and Grammy awards numerous times, he hasn't gone home with as much hardware as his fellow country superstars.
He's won "only" two Grammys and struggled at the CMAs despite having a barnful of nominations.
Still, he's developed a loyal fan following and impressed perhaps the two most important groups -- critics and industry peers.
Expect a bit of everything Saturday.
He'll play mellow and heart-wrenching ballads such as "Help Me Hold On," "Anymore," "Best of Intentions," "Tell Me I Was Dreaming," "Strong Enough," "Love of a Woman" and "If I Lost You."
Tritt also will play rock-a-billy numbers such as "I'm Going To Be Somebody," "South Bound Train," "It's a Great Day to be Alive," "Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde" and his newest single, "Country Ain't Country Anymore."
But the mood will become roughneck and rowdy when Tritt breaks into versions of "T-R-O-U-B-L-E," "Whiskey Ain't Workin,'" "Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)" and "Country Club."
Diversity and consistency have been Tritt's trademark. He's recorded eight studio albums in 12 years, six of which were spaced out on even-numbered years starting in 1990.
He has ventured into new musical territory and toured enough during this span to keep his name and songs alive among fans. He's become the Bob Seger of country music -- a millionaire and cult hero who still wears ripped blue jeans.
To it's credit, country music has allowed artists such as Tritt to experiment and develop. While steering into new ground, he's always kept true to traditional roots. Tritt has walked the fine lines that intersect traditional country with bluegrass, southern rock, rock, pop and pop country as well as -- or better than -- anyone in Nashville.
"I've always said that I never saw myself as being the fastest train on the track, but I've always been consistent," he said. "I've seen a lot of people in this business come and go, and as competitive as it has gotten, it's a great thrill to still be able to sell records and still be able to draw people to concerts.
"There comes a time, though, when it's nice to try new things."
Tritt leaped into the limelight with top 10 single "Country Club" in 1990. His follow-up, "Help Me Hold On" climbed to the top of the charts.
Next came 1991's double-platinum "It's All About Change" with rousing "Whiskey Ain't Workin'" and "Here's A Quarter" balanced out with the dreamy "Anymore."
Double-platinum "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" in '92 and "Tell Me I Was Dreaming" in '94 provided more balance from his next two album releases.
During 1996's "The Restless Kind" album, Tritt worked with producer Don Was. While not as good a selling release, it critically acclaimed. "No More Looking Over My Shoulder" in 1998 did not have many hit songs either, but Tritt made up for it with "Down The Road I Go" in 2000, which reached platinum status and spawned four top 10s. "Best of Intentions" and "It's a Great Day to be Alive" rose to No. 1, while cult favorites "Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde" and "Love of A Woman" were chart hum-alongs for months.
Tritt's latest venture, "Strong Enough," keeps the blistering pace. The title cut hit No. 1 in the fall. It was written as his response to a Sheryl Crow song, but from a man's point of view.
"If You're Gonna Straighten Up (Brother Now's the Time)" has a slick Allman Brothers feel to it.
A farm boy returns home from law school driving a Lexus (he left with a Ford) in "Country Ain't Country Anymore." The young man accepts the changing world, but his father struggles with the fact the city is growing closer to his back porch.
Tritt flexes his vocal muscles on up-tempo cuts "Time To Get Crazy" and "I Can't Seem to Get Over You" and runs on pure emotion on ""Now I've Seen It All" and "I Don't Ever Want Her to Feel That Way Again."
Tritt delivers country music with plenty of new ideas and enough traditional elements to let fans know where he's been and where he's headed.
Nashville too knows what to expect from Tritt: Something old and something new combined into a unique package.
- Tickets for the Crown show are $30. For information, call (910) 438-4100 or visit the Web site www.crowncoliseum.com.