Who was/is Travis Wammack ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
You might be familiar with the names Lonnie Mack, Freddie King, Scotty Moore or Steve Cropper — every one of them has perfected his own guitar style. But have you heard of Travis Wammack? If you know who he is and what he does, you won't hesitate to take this Compact-Disc-only release, rush home and put it into your player. You know that there is a treat in store. However, if you have never encountered Travis Wammack, you have missed one of the most fascinating and innovative guitarists that ever came out of the U.S.A. He was responsible for some groundbreaking instru-mental guitar hits and later became a driving force behind many of the greatest pop and soul recordings of the '60s, '70s and '80s. He is a true under-rated genius.
Travis Wammack was born in 1946 in the tiny community of Walnut, Mississippi, but his family moved to Memphis when he was still very young. At the age of eight or nine he started playing guitar and practised while his friends preferred playing in the back yard. He was influenced by his father who "picked around a little bit," and grew up listening to country music on Memphis radio. However, Travis asserts that he never copied anyone. He was always searching for his own individual style. His favourites on the radio were Faron our4,, c'mith Webb Pierce and Eddie Bond. It was Bond who heard him street. Wammack was living in Binghampton, near Memphis, and used to go down onto Main Street every day with his guitar and play. That was where Eddie Bond saw him. Bond was booking shows and young Travis Wammack started as a warm-up act for Warren Smith, Jack Earls, Carl Perkins and others. However, Travis Wammack is more than pure country. There is also a lot of blues in his style. Still in his teens, he used to hang out in some of the black clubs and used to play there. "I really loved playing that type of music," he recalled. "I'd be the only little white dude in there." From various jukebox distributors that held sales of records taken off the jukeboxes he purchased stacks of old blues records, took them home and absorbed their message. "I'd play along with them, try to learn the feel, but I never thought of myself as a blues guitar player."
In the late '50s, Wammack was playing in a band led by Marcus Van Story and also sat in on drums behind Charlie Feathers and the Bill Black Combo. He first recorded in 1958. He was then 12 years old and working shows with Eddie Bond who negotiated a deal %1 t h Slim Wallace's Fernwood label. Travis had 11 rit ten a few songs and they chose two which were recorded in the small studio Wallace had built in his garage. Wammack was backed by the cream of the Memphis session musicians: Reggie Young on guitar, Smokey .Joe Baugh on piano, Stan Kesler on bass, Blind Jimmy Smith on sax, and Johnny Fine on drums. Rock ' Roll Blues/ I'm Leaving Today got on a local chart but tatieu to much of an impact outside Memphis. In 1961, Wammack auditioned at a new studio in town. The Sonic studio was owned by ex-Sun session musician Roland Janes.
A brilliant and innovative guitarist himself, Janes saw at once that Travis was an exceptional musician and started using him on sessions.However, Travis wanted to see another record released and, after toying with the idea of releasing a vocal record, they finally decided upon the instrumental coupling of Scratchy and Firefly. Both were high speed numbers featuring the fuzz guitar sound and dazzling technique of the young Travis Wammack. Even today one can recognise that they were ahead of their time which was probably part of the reason that they were turned down every record label to whom Roland pitched them. Finally released on ARA in 1964, Scratchy climbed up to number 80 on the Billboard pop charts. Unable to recapture the success of Scratchy, Wammack continued to work sessions for Janes until 1966 when he was brought to the attention of Rick Hall at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Working steadily for Hall, Travis played on countless sessions and countless hits including Clarence Carter's Slippin' Around [19681, Willie And Laura Mae Jones  and Patches .
He also played on sessions with Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Bobbie Gentry [including her hit Fancy in 1969] and even the Osmonds [including their 1971 smash One Bad Apple]. Wammack also revived his own solo career on Rick Hall's FAME label. Two singles entered the Billboard charts, Whatever Turns You On [Fame 91001] reached number 95 in 1972 and How Can I Tell Your (Fame 91008] climbed up to number 68 a year later.
His greatest chart success, however, came in 1975 after he had switched to Capricorn Records. [Shu-Doo-Pa-Poo-Popl Love Being Your Fool [Capricorn 0239] reached number 38 on the charts. Travis vent on to tour vv ith the Allman Brothers Band, Grindersvv itch and Tony Joe White and, in 1985, supported Little Richard and Percy Sledge on their comeback sessions. He still lives near Muscle Shoals and has never quit performing or recording. The tracks on this CD are from the peak of Travis Wammack's early creativity. His unique and personal style is well in evidence. In a sense, Rock And Roll Blues, the plug side of his first single perfectly describes his musical style. Among his innovations was the fuzz-toned guitar, a style that was adopted by garage bands in later years. Wammack did not use a special fuzz box but invented his own equipment.
"I had an old tape recorder," he recalled in 1985, "and rigged it up to where 1 was getting a real distored fuzz sound and 1 had rigged it up through my amp to where I could amplify it and get the volume I wanted on the thing." Even today, his favourite guitar is an old Gibson 335 with a Bigsby tailpiece, the one heard on Scratchy. With the recent comeback of another '60s guitar hero, Lonnie Mack, and the revival of the Memphis Sound, we feel that the time is right for Travis Wammack to get his share of acclaim. If you dig hot speedy guitar licks with a powerful backbeat and a bluesy feel, you owe it to yourself to check out the instrumental genius of Travis Wammack. We're betting that you won't be dissapointed. Detlev Hoegen, October 1987
SOURCES: Radio interview with Stuart Colman, 'Echoes', Radio London. October 6, 1985; interview with Colin Escott, Tuscumbia, Alabama. June 30, 1987 Copyright Bear Family Records
Thanks to Stuart Colman, Colin Escott, Clive Gray and Bill Millar