In May of 2003, Randy Travis hit his 16th number one song with “Three Wooden Crosses,” his first number one song in nearly 10 years. The Country Music Association named it the song of the year for 2003 and was also awarded a Dove Award, for song of the year from the Gospel Music Association.
The song was written by Doug Johnson and Kim Williams. It was Johnson who one night created the four characters: a teacher, a preacher, a farmer, and a hooker, a misfit of characters bound together on the same bus trip to Mexico. That opening line is what caught Kim’s ear and she jumped into the songwriting process. Neither of the two had any idea of how the song was going to end. Kim found a line from an unfinished song she wrote years earlier, that had the line they were looking for “It’s not what you take, it’s what you leave behind.” That, combined with Doug’s vision of three crosses, helped them find the end for the story they were writing.
After that, they both knew which of the four characters was going to survive the song. As Doug describes, the hooker being the lone survivor fits with the encompassing theme of forgiveness and understanding, and how we can all be saved by love and kindness of even a stranger.
There is no one else who could have delivered this song and this message like Randy Travis. As someone who found his faith later in life, he brings a sincere voice to the song. It is a masterpiece from beginning to end, songwriters to performer. It’s songs like this that make country music great.