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Interview With Travis

TravisThanks entirely to Doug Thompson, I have at long last been able to contact the man and legend himself, Travis Edmonson! I spoke to him for about two hours by telephone on Wednesday, February 26, 1997. Even through the thousands of miles of phone line between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Mesa, Arizona, Travis's energy and enthusiasm were plainly evident. As the man himself told me, "I'd like to quote Mark Twain: 'Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated'!" Exaggerated, indeed!

Enough of my yapping: I now give the podium (most of it, anyway!) to Travis Edmonson!

Tom Straw: It is a great honor to be talking to you.

Travis Edmonson: And I to you! I'd like to quote Mark Twain: "Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated!"

TS: I'm glad you have a sense of humor about that!

TE: Sure!

TS: I have a ton of questions I want to ask you. I'm not even sure where to begin . . .

TE: Fire away!

TS: How and when did you meet Bud, and what made you decide to form a duo?

TE: Bud was in the Army with my older brother, Colin. Colin brought Bud home with him once on leave way back in about 1948 or so. That was the first time I met him, but nothing came of it then. After that, I didn't see Bud for a long, long time until again in San Francisco. I had been playing the Purple Onion since leaving the Gateway Singers, and then Bud started playing there. We started playing together--day and night, really. And it really all just came together then.

Bud really loved what I was doing with the traditional Mexican songs. When I met him, he didn't know a word of Spanish, and was probably only an adequate folk guitarist. But he got good.

TS: Many of my sources have told me that you and Bud had a very tumultuous relationship. But how would you characterize your relationship with him?

TE: We fought nine-tenths of the time, no doubt about that. Tooth and nail. In fact, we hated each other.

TS: Really?

TE: Oh, yes. But like all feuds, like all hatreds, it was all about very stupid, very petty things. I admit that. But what can you do? You are the way you are when you're young.

TS: What did you fight about?

TE: Oh . . . (pause) . . . Who the Hell can remember? (Laughs) We fought about everything. But nothing. Like I said, silly stuff. When we first got together, I was more established, having been with the Gateway Singers. So, we were first called "Travis and Bud." But then, Bud said to me, "I can't pronounce that." That's where it all started, and it didn't get any better from there!

TS: Wow . . . I have to admit that you're destroying some naive illusions, here. I grew up always associating one with the other: where there was Bud, there was Travis. I saw your faces together on album covers. I thought: "These two must be best friends."

TE: No way. But understand something: Bud and I were together constantly, in extremely close quarters, for eight and a half straight years. From about, oh, 1958 to 1966. We never even took a break for Christmas. It was constant. It was just the worst of circumstances. I mean, the closest of lovers or married people couldn't live through that; it would break them apart.

TS: So you think that under better circumstances, you and Bud could have been friends?

TE: We could've gotten along better. But I have to say, in one way, we were the best of friends, close as anyone can be: that was on stage. We could be standing around just fuming, but when the lights went down and we got on stage, everything was hunky-dory. It was magical.

TS: What is your favorite Bud and Travis album?

TE: The Latin Album.

TS: That's my all-time favorite album!

TE: Thank you!

TS: Didn't David Wheat produce that?

TE: No, no! I did! And I did all our arrangements. Buck was our bass player. He passed away recently, you know. That is a great loss.

The Latin Album was my little baby. I had wanted to do a record like that for a long time. I learned how to play guitar in a mariachi band, and I grew up on the Mexican border, so I had had the Mexican influence all my life. There was a mariachi group around at that time called Trio Los Panchos. They were a great group, and they were a huge influence on the Latin Album.

TS: What is your favorite B&T song?

TE: Without a doubt, "Malaguena Salarosa."

TS: Other than that?

TE: Oh . . . there were so many good ones. All the Latin stuff. "Cielito Lindo Son Huasteco." Wait . . . there was "Golden Apples of the Sun." I wrote the music for that, you know! That's one of my favorites! In fact, I'll say that "Apples" is my English-language "Malaguena." When I played that for Judy Collins, she just flipped! She loved the music I did for that, and ended up recording it on one of her albums, I think. Then there's "Haiti." You know that after we did that, Haiti made it their national anthem!

TS: Really?

TE: Oh, yah! Also, one of my favorite songs that I ever wrote was not a Bud and Travis song, but rather one of my solo. It's called "Song of the River." It's on the TAMMIES CD from last year.

TS: Let's talk for a minute about your between-songs comedy patter. I always suspected that you guys were a great influence on the Smothers Brothers.

TE: Oh, yes, we were! We were really the first group to do the comedy. The Smothers followed, and then a lot of other groups started doing it.

TS: Have the Smothers ever acknowledged your influence?

TE: Oh, yah! I just went to a concert recently, and they stopped the whole damn thing right in the middle . . . shined a spotlight on me . . . embarrassed the Hell out of me!

TS: In much of your comedy patter, I hear an outright dislike on your and Bud's part for rock music, which was really just getting started then. How do you feel about rock music?

TE: I don't like rock and roll one bit. Never have. I think it's a poor imitation of an American music. It's about one-tenth the blues, and the rest is just, well . . . garbage. They have some great musicians, great players, but the music itself . . . it's very un-musical.

TS: You don't like the Beatles?

TE: I never liked the Beatles. I did meet them once, though. It was back when they were playing the Hollywood Bowl. All four of them. They were very nice guys, and very funny. I will say that. But I just don't care for their kind of music.

TS: This is very interesting, because some of the rumors I've heard have you hanging out with a lot of folk-rock stars in the mid-sixties, after you split with Bud.

TE: I never hung around with any rock stars.

TS: How about David Crosby?

TE: David worked for me. He got his start with me. You know, he said in his book that I turned him on to a joint, and that is totally untrue. That never happened.

TS: Since we're on the subject . . . I must say that I have heard some crazy stories--even outside of the Crosby book--about your lifestyle in the old days.

TE: I drank and I smoked. I know that I had the reputation of being the wild one, and Bud was supposed to be a "clean liver." I don't want to get too much into this, but Bud was no "clean liver." That's all I'll say. He has a widow and children, so I refuse to say anything else. But I was never that wild. I was actually very quiet, very shy.

TS: A lot of the people who I talk to today do say that you kept to yourself a lot; you were always sort of on the sidelines . . .

TE: Oh, yes. That's very much me. I was shy. And I was doing a lot of the damn work. That's not a good thing for a shy person to do . . . But I do keep to myself, sort of on the sidelines. I was like that during the TAMMIES, too. And today, I don't drink anymore. I sometimes smoke cigarettes.

TS: What was your favorite or most memorable gig with Bud and Travis?

TE: Once we were going out of Australia and New Zealand and had a layover in Tahiti. We were walking along, and a crowd started forming around us, and they actually started singing our songs! I turned to Bud and said, "Are we not clear on the other side of the world? What the Hell is going on?" Eventually, we got up on the tarmac, grabbed our guitars, and played for all of them for about an hour. It was marvelous. Afterward, everyone was saying--the audience, the pilots, the crew--that nobody else would do that. And that was true. Only Bud and I would do that.

TS: You know, despite what you say sometimes, I can sense a lot of affection in what you say for Bud.

TE: Parts of me love him. No doubt about that. Parts of me love him.

TS: What were the two of you fighting about at the Gate of Horn in that incident Frank Hamilton describes on the page?

TE: Who the Hell knows? (laughs) Something stupid. But I must say that Bud didn't give me a bloody nose. He pushed me into the wall, and my head was broken open. That's what happened.

TS: Well, I'm glad that's clear! It sounds like you two are lucky you didn't kill each other!

TE: We are.

TS: Well, here's a question that I--as well as many B&T page downloaders--have had ever since starting to love your music. What have you been doing since the breakup of Bud and Travis? Let's start with the late Sixties.

TE: Sure. Well, I did a record for Frank Sinatra. I found out he was a big fan of mine! What a surprise, and what an honor! I did that record for his company--what was it?--Reprise, I think. Travis On His Own. I also did the live record at the Troubadour, Travelin' With Travis. There was also Travis On Cue.

TS: What was it like doing the record for Sinatra?

TE: Well, there I was doing all this American folkie stuff, strumming away, and it turns out he wanted all the beautiful boleros! Oh, well.

TS: What about the 70s?

TE: I played by myself at the Tuscon Ramada lounge and I filled the damn thing so much that they named it after me! I also made two records of cowboy songs: The Liar's Hour with the great Billy Moore, a cowboy singer, and Ten Thousand Goddamn Cattle with Katie Lee, who is an absolute jewel of American folk music. She knows more cowboy songs than anyone, even cowboys! In the late 70s and into the early 80s, I also played the guest ranches in and around Tuscon, and I always went over really well there. Then I had my accident in 1982, and I haven't been able to play since.

TS: What happened?

TE: I had an aneurysm. I haven't played an instrument since then because of it. I can't.

TS: That's terrible. Are you still involved with music in any way?

TE: Oh, yes! I still write for both the Kingston Trio, and I'm getting some stuff together to submit to the Smothers Brothers!

TS: Music or patter?

TE: Both! One of the members of the Trio even moved here, to my neck of the woods, so that he could be closer to me. With the Smothers, it's a little harder. We have to do it all by mail. They're based up in the Pacific Northwest.

TS: What else have you been up to lately, musically?

TE: I've been coaching three young singers here in the Mesa area. They're coming along real well. There's also a fine singer here named Gerry Glombecki who has just released a record called 49 and Holding. There's a song on it called "Gopher Blues" that I co-wrote with him. Then there's "Song of the River" on the TAMMIES CD.

TS: Well, before we finish and before I forget, I have a message to you from my Mother!

TE: Fire away!

TS: She says, "We love you. Thanks for all the great music and memories, and hang in there."

TE: God bless her heart! I love her! Tell her, "I did it for love"!

TS: And I must say that it was my Dad who introduced me to your music.

TE: God bless him! Tell him "Thanks"!

TS: Do you have any other messages to all your fans out there, anything at all you want to say to them?

TE: (After short pause) Well, yes: "I'm not through!"

NOTE: More info gleaned from my talk with Travis can be found in Travis's section of the "B&T Bios" link. Be sure to check it out!

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