Travis Edmonson was born in Long Beach, California, grew up in Nogales, AZ, and went to the University of Arizona. His father was a welfare worker and his mother a teacher and "mother of the year" in the state of Arizona. He majored in anthropology and helped write the only existing dictionary of the Yaqui Indian language--this after actually living with the tribe for a period of one year. He is the only non-Yaqui ever to be accepted into that Indian tribe. He served in the USO during military service.
Growing up on the Mexican border, Travis was introduced to Spanish-language music early and often. He in fact got his start in a local mariachi band. "The first instrument I learned to play, when I was about nine or ten, is called the jarana," he remembers. "It has five strings and no frets. It makes that chunka-chunka-chunka-chunka sound you hear in mariachi bands. From there, I graduated to guitar. At the time of my aneurysm in 1982, I could play just about every stinged instrument there is other than the violin. I could even play the harp a bit."
Travis's love for music often made him a bit of an outsider in his family--but not because they didn't like music. "My family loved music," he says. "But I had three older brothers who were all very bookish and intellectual. Colin--the brother I met Bud through--became a professor of Classics and actually taught for the majority of his career in Athens, Greece. My other two brothers also became college professors of equal stature. And all of them had these intellectual inclinations from early on, and my parents were both like that, too. My mom was a teacher. And there I was: all I cared about was music. Music, music, music."
Travis began his music career proper as a member of The Gateway Singers in the early 50s. After that, he began his famed stint at the Purple Onion cafe, where he became re-acquanited with one of brother Colin's old Army friends, a young musician named Bud Dashiell. From there, Bud Dashiell and Travis Edmonson launched their career as the greatest folk-pop duo of all time.
Both on and off stage, Bud and Dashiell and Travis Edmonson made a brilliant but tumultous pairing. Folk musician Frank Hamilton remarks: "Both of these unlikely partners had a beautiful blend of voices and personalities on stage. Off stage, they were a fractious couple. They were the Gilbert and Sullivan or the Weber and Fields of pop-folk music. They came from different places in their idealogies. Trav, according to Bud, had a penchant for being late and irresponsible. Bud was too conservative for Trav."
Eventually, the rift between the two of them came to a head at the Gate of Horn. "I had the dubious distinction of being there during the fight that broke them up," Hamilton recalls. "I had left the Gate of Horn dressing room. I heard shouting, and when I came back in, Trav's nose was bleeding. There was talk that Trav had accused Bud of having no gajones (Spanish for 'balls')."
After parting ways with Bud in 1965, Travis recorded three solo albums (see Discography) in the late 60s. In the 1970s, Travis gigged "solo" throughout Arizona and recorded two great collections of cowboy-folk songs: The Liar's Hour and Ten Thousand Goddamn Cattle, the former with Billy Moore and the latter with Katie Lee. In the latter part of the dacade, Travis received an unexpected phone call from Bud Dashiell.
"Bud called and suggested that I go over to California and see him. I was going over there anyway, so I thought, Why not? But when I got there, after just ten minutes, I knew that it would be the same as it always was between the two of us. It's too bad, really."
Despite the rift between the two of them, Travis expresses very sincere regret that Bud never lived to see the recently renewed interest in Bud and Travis. "It's just too bad Bud isn't around to share in this with me," Travis says. "It's too bad." No matter their differences in temperament, Bud and Travis recorded some of the finest pop-folk material of their own or any other era, and the renewed interest in their art and music together is long overdue and richly deserved.
Travis Edmonson passed away in Tucson, AZ on May 9, 2009, surrounded by friends and family. He will be forever missed.