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Naples man serenades country music legend Randy Travis Alex Childress, Submitted Video

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As a fairly new country music singer-songwriter, former Neapolitan Jon Bowlin did not expect to have a hit record this year, or even next, in Nashville.

But he also didn't expect some of the joys of his profession would come so soon: being called on to play for his own idol. 

That's what happened during the Keith Whitley Fingerprint on Country Music Awards last month in Nashville. Travis, who had a stroke in 2013, was at the ceremony to accept the title "King of Country." He can only speak in short sentences now, no longer performs and uses a wheelchair for mobility.

His music is a favorite for Bowlin, who sprinkles his sets with Travis tunes, along with those of Daryle Singletary and Tracy Lawrence. (Bowlin even sings two of Travis' hits, "Forever Together" and "Three Wooden Crosses," on his own website.)

Bowlin was backstage at the ceremony, as a former Torch Award winner in that competition for emerging singer-songwriters. So, knowing music is therapy for any condition, friends asked Bowlin to play of few of Travis' songs for him. 

"I was back there playing some of my original songs for one of my friends when they asked," recalled Bowlin.  "I was glad to do it." That was, of course, with a little hesitation: This was the just-crowned King of Country, and Bowlin had only met him before with crowds of fans around him.

So Bowlin decided to dig deep into his Randy Travis repertoire and started with "Call Somebody Who Gives a Damn." "That was one he sang at the Nashville Palace before he became a star," Bowlin said. "I think he was a little surprised to hear it."

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He was also pleased, mouthing some of the words, and when Bowlin called "Sing it, Randy!" to the final phrase, Travis delivered. 

"After that, we just hung out and sang some Randy Travis songs," Bowlin said. "It was awesome."

He said he saw a lot of improvement in the singer's condition: "He's doing a lot better. He's very coherent. He's much better than the last time I saw him," Bowlin said.

Travis is the subject of a new biography by Ken Abraham, "Forever and Ever, Amen: A Memoir of Music, Faith, and Braving the Storms of Life" (Thomas Nelson; retail $26.99). It tells his entire hardscrabble, rags-to-riches-to-rags story and the genesis of hits such as "On the Other Hand," "Too Gone Too Long," 'Digging Up Bones" and the title song of the book. 

Bowlin is still writing, still learning, he says. His strong baritone and traditional music affinity have won him jobs around a city where country singers are on every block. 

"You can play for public events or go shop labels. I want to work on getting my writing better," said Bowlin, who prefers singing in the evening and working for a leasing office by day. The First Baptist Academy graduate moved to Nashville from Naples two years ago to pursue his field.

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He has already opened for and sung with songwriters and artists like Ritchie McDonald from Lonestar, Heath Wright of Ricochet, Billy Dean and others. John Rich of Big & Rich has invited him to perform at his Redneck Riviera showcase.

But his best gig lately was the time spent entertaining Travis, according to his mother, Carol Bowlin. 

"He told us the biggest blessing was making Randy happy."

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