March 25.2016- Story Behind “Three Wooden Crosses” by Randy Travis


This was the 2003 Country Music Association Song of the Year.

Hear the story here!

The song was released on the inspirational record label Word Records, and it became the first Christian label release to reach #1 on the Billboard Country Singles chart. It was Travis’ sixteenth #1 single in total, and his first since “Whisper My Name” in 1994. It was also Travis’ highest charting single to date on the Hot 100.

The story recounted in this song is symbolic of Travis’ own conversion. He explained to Christian Music Today: “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. For me, I was into my early twenties, and I went to bed one night and just started reading the Bible. 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.”

Four wildly diverse characters, a destination, a melody … just enough intrigue to let songwriter Doug Johnson know he was on to something. He just wasn’t sure what.

“One night, I was sitting around the house,” Doug begins, “and I came up with the characters – a farmer, a teacher, a preacher and a hooker – 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.”

Doug says he knew there was something special in the characters and the situation. “I just had to figure out what was going to happen.”

The mysterious scenario instantly grabbed Doug’s friend and fellow songwriter Kim Williams. “That was one of the best opening lines to a song I’d ever heard,” Kim recalls. “I remember telling Doug that I didn’t know where this was going – but I couldn’t wait to find out!”

“That’s how it was for both of us,” Doug chimes in. “We just said, let’s jump into this thing and see where it takes us.”

Once Doug devised the image of three wooden crosses by the road, Kim delved in to a file of old notes to complete the moral to the story. “I found a hook I’d written for another song that I never finished,” says Kim. “It went: It’s not what you take, it’s what you leave behind. That’s what we wrapped the story around.”

Then there was the question of which character would survive. “I think we both knew that it would be the hooker,” says Doug with a laugh. “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.”

Fans were also moved. “Three Wooden Crosses” became the first song released on a gospel music label to hit No. 1 on the country charts.

“The people definitely made it a hit,” says Doug. “They requested it over and over. You also have to credit Randy Travis. He has such a great storyteller voice and he really put the song across.”

Adds Kim, “I’m just amazed at how the song unfolded. It was like the little engine that could.”

“This song was just meant to be,” says Doug. “I don’t think anyone could have messed it up.”

Story by: Bob Paxman Source: Country Weekly Magazine

“Three Wooden Crosses” reached number one on May 24.2003


LYRICS: Written by Doug Johnson and Kim Williams

A farmer and a teacher, a hooker and a preacher,
Ridin’ on a midnight bus bound for Mexico.
One’s headed for vacation, one for higher education,
An’ two of them were searchin’ for lost souls.
That driver never ever saw the stop sign.
An’ eighteen wheelers can’t stop on a dime.

There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway,
Why there’s not four of them, Heaven only knows.
I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you,
It’s what you leave behind you when you go.

That farmer left a harvest, a home and eighty acres,
The faith an’ love for growin’ things in his young son’s heart.
An’ that teacher left her wisdom in the minds of lots of children:
Did her best to give ’em all a better start.
An’ that preacher whispered: “Can’t you see the Promised Land?”
As he laid his blood-stained bible in that hooker’s hand.

There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway,
Why there’s not four of them, Heaven only knows.
I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you,
It’s what you leave behind you when you go.

That’s the story that our preacher told last Sunday.
As he held that blood-stained bible up,
For all of us to see.
He said: “Bless the farmer, and the teacher, an’ the preacher;
“Who gave this Bible to my mamma,
“Who read it to me.”

There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway,
Why there’s not four of them, now I guess we know.
It’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you,
It’s what you leave behind you when you go.

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About Robynn

Robynn Jaymes has spent her whole life in radio… 30 years!! And almost half of them have been at Star Country. Originally from Cincinnati, Robynn came to the area as a Liberty University student. Along with all things country music, Robynn is a big fan of Football!—The Virginia Tech Hokies, The Washington Redskins and, of course, the Cincinnati Bengals. And also, “I’m addicted to the Weather Channel,” she says. Right now, Robynn is a big fan if the music coming from Miranda Lambert, Lady Antebellum and Kenny Chesney! Robynn is also a winner of the Billboard Air Personality of the Year award. Hear all new Warm & Fuzzies with Robynn M-F at 11:45AM!

15 thoughts on “March 25.2016- Story Behind “Three Wooden Crosses” by Randy Travis

  1. Jim Cooper

    Why not 5 crosses? None of the four were driving. The song mentions the driver as a separate individual; not one the four.

  2. Geoff

    Only three died – the farmer, the teacher, and the preacher; the driver and the hooker both survived

  3. Tim

    Why was a farmer that has a wife and child and crops in the field be on a midnight bus to Mexico going on vacation by himself?

  4. Thanks for this. You always have some amazing posts. I shared this on Facebook
    and my followers loved it. Keep the the great work!

  5. Robin Doe

    Love the song, no one can sing it like Randy Travis could, I just wish he hadn’t drank and drugged himself in to having a stroke. It’s doubtful he will ever be able to sing again like he used to. God bless, Randy.

  6. Robin Doe

    Oh, and Tim, maybe the farmer was divorced or widowed?

  7. lauren

    this song is such an inspiration!!! i love oldies so much because no one can sing like the oldies can!!!!

  8. John

    The song doesn’t say the farmer was alone. It says that 3 died, and implies that the hooker was badly injured. Probably a lot more people on the bus that survived.

  9. Melinda Barr

    Love the song but dont understand how the hooker was looking for lost souls.

  10. Steven James

    I don’t understand. Why were the crosses made out of wood when a good hard plastic has proven to last much longer than wood in outside weather?

  11. Patty L Morris

    I thought somewhere it said or maybe i just thought it that the preacher and hooker had got together..and he was the daddy of the preacher telling the story. Is there any other version or am i mixing this up?

  12. TCB

    There are so many interpretations that can be made from this song. I always thought that all four of them died and there was not a cross for the hooker. Here recently when listening, I thought that the pastor and hooker survived because it said that the pastor was there with the hooker after the wreck. And I thought that the pastor was the one that told the story and the boys mom was the hooker because she had the Bible. My wife listened to the song and she said she thought the three wooden crosses were significant because when Jesus was nailed to the cross, there were 3 crosses.

  13. The hooker is like the devil driving them away from God while the preacher is trying to bring them to God Eventually the preacher brings the hooker to God Symbolizing God is stronger than wicked ways

  14. They are looking for list souls hooker to bring them to devil preacher to bring them to God

  15. […] made their interpretations. Josh Turner is one of the credible artists with a rendition. He covered the song in 2016 in celebration of the “50th Annual CMA […]

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