Dave Travis - Keeper of the Rockabilly Flame

 

I wrote to Dave Travis in England in 1992 after having been impressed with his involvement with the rockabilly revival. Not only had he made several records under his own name but he seemed to be backing up most of the veteran American musicians whenever they performed or recorded on the European circuit. I received from him a photograph, which appears in my book Go Cat Go : Rockabilly Music and Its Makers, and a biography and discography, both remarkably extensive. I was delighted to finally meet him in May 2007, at the Rockin’ Fest III in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He was there not as a performer, though that would have been perfectly appropriate and I would have appreciated to see him in action, but as the owner of the Stomper Time reissue label, artist representative, and occasional master of ceremonies. Just before the interview, I showed him the book with his photo in it and my other book American Popular Music : Rock and Roll.

Dave Travis : I opened the book up at Paul Simon and it just instantly brings back this memory of tiny little folk song clubs in London ’65. The Roundhouse was the most famous at that point. He turned up, just appeared out of nowhere and was playing these great songs : “A Church is Burning,” “The Sounds of Silence.” A fine guitarist. He put them over really well, then he turned up with an album on Columbia. We were like, “What’s he doing with an album in a folk club ?” and he was selling them which was outrageous. I mean no one sold. It was not the thing to do, to sell your record in a club.

CM : Especially since folk was supposed to be the anti-commercial movement.

DT : Absolutely. Well he came up with this record and we all went, “Oh, okay.” And the next thing, he’d gone back to America and I’m sure you know the story : Columbia over-dubbed [electric instruments to make a folk rock sound] on “The Sound of Silence” and bingo it was #1. We never saw Paul again in a folk song club for three pounds a night. That was the end of that but it was a nice interlude.

CM : When he was over there he picked up on Davy Graham, because he added “Angi” to his repertoire. That’s a whole fascinating side : folk baroque they call that style. It’s a whole little undercurrent that shows up later with Led Zeppelin.

DT : It was a fascinating time. I was caught up in it from ’65 till about ’68-’69, and longer in Germany. I had a totally separate career in Germany for about seven years in the ’70s where I went round doing solo concert tours all over Germany and a little bit in Switzerland. Then as things do, they die out and other people come along and take your place.

CM : What kind of things were you doing in your solo shows ?

DT : Some original songs, a little ragtime, a couple of blues. Really and truly stuff I just liked. I was a bit of a pig where the audiences were concerned ’cause I really did play what I wanted to play. But it seemed to work for a few years, so I got by with it.

I was an unusual person. I was born in the West End of London [the touristy shopping and entertainment district], which is not very common. A lot of people will tell you they were born in the East End but I was born in the West End, just towards the end of World War II : March 12th, 1945 ; 12-3-45.

My father was a very conservative person. He had a pretty good job. He was a hearty jazz fan and he played piano. He was a huge fan of Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five and Jelly Roll Morton and so on, and my mother had actually been a dancer, an actress, for a guy called C.B. Cochrane. Cochrane was one of the major impresarios of the London theatre world from about World War I to about 1950 and she and her two sisters had a trio where they were known as the Cochrane Specials. They did elite stuff. You probably know that thing of Noel Coward—“Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage”—and in those days it was a very serious thing. [“(Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage) Mrs. Worthington,” written in 1933, is one of the popular songs by celebrated English actor and playwright Noel Coward (1899-1973).] You didn’t put a nice young gal on the stage. But my mother and her sisters broke the rules. They were nice young gals and they went on the stage. After the Second World War, it was like that whole life disappeared completely and I do mean it was erased.

CM : What do you attribute that to ?

DT : Well it was not done. It just simply was not done. It’s hard to understand but times changed very drastically and I was kept in the dark about this whole theatrical career. Completely, almost until the day she died.

CM : Was that because there was nothing to talk about or she was somewhat embarrassed ?

DT : Embarrassed. In those days it was just, you shouldn’t do it. I’ve tried to run it down through the Water Rats in London, a theatrical society which exists as a children’s charity. They do lots of trips to the seaside for unfortunate children, a good setup. It’s theatrical personalities who make it up. They’ve got a history place and I’ve tried to run it down there but they couldn’t come up with a thing. It’s a blank because she knew all the people from that time and she dropped hints once in a while. I was like, “Yes yes yes, tell me about it” and [claps hands] the door shut. Go dancing with the Rajah of Sarawak [a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo] and the Rajah of Rajpipla [a state in India] and all these bizarre little things that used to exist before World War II.

CM : These are little countries ?

DT : Little countries. It was a whole society thing which she was caught up in. Fascinating. The Noel Cowards and all of that world. She was in it and just wouldn’t come out with it. That’s possibly where any musical ideas came from. Music was pretty dull at that time after WWII in England. Most things were pretty dull. We were still rationing until 1953 for heaven’s sake. So you had to look for music, you had to really go out and try to find it, but I was too young. By the time rock and roll and skiffle came along I woke up. That was the point I started tuning in and going out and buying the records of the day as a 12 year old I suppose.

CM : Did you do skiffle ?

DT : Yes, but it was just absolutely shocking. I wouldn’t even talk about it, it was so bad. But my mother bought me a guitar in Christmas ’59 and from that point it became obsessive. I just played every day : three, four hours every day for years. And had a little group at school. I suppose after that I went to EMI Records [a major record label based in London. The initials stand for Electric and Musical Industries Ltd.]. Supposed to start the traditional career so I obliged everyone in the family by starting a traditional career in EMI which was a bizarre organization because there we had the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, Jim Proby [P.J. Proby], Herman’s Hermits, and the Animals. They were all streaming in and out the building. The first Motown tour I remember. The Beach Boys. It was an incredibly exciting time. And there we were, all going into the building at 9 o’clock every morning and punching a card, wearing little suits and ties. It was ludicrous, the whole thing and we were actually reprimanded for being a minute late.

CM : What was your role there ?

DT : Basically, to start with, dog’s body.

CM : What’s dog’s body ?

DT : Anything that was going, any old job. But I did end up with Capitol [the record label] for about a year, the last year there, and that was fascinating. The stuff that went on and everybody that came in. There were hit records pouring out, it was terribly exciting, really was. EMI owned Capitol. Capitol in London was in the same building but it was just an office for the release of Capitol Records.

CM : Were they being released in England on Capitol ?

DT : Oh yes, absolutely. Different colored label. Everything on Capitol was American, literally I mean there might have been a couple slipped through but…

CM : So all the British acts were being released on EMI and all the American acts were being released on Capitol.

DT : No, I’ll tell you why. Some of the British acts came out on Capitol in America.

CM : That’s the part we know.

DT : Even some skiffle came out on Capitol over here [America] believe it or not. But over there the Beatles were on Parlophone, etc. It was Parlophone, HMV. What was their other label – Columbia.

CM : So were you still punching the clock over there ?

DT : Still punching the clock at Capitol, but having a lot more fun. I went on the first Beach Boys tour when they came over. We had a theatre in the EMI building and everyone would come in and do a special performance for the executives and the staff and the Beach Boys came and did a show. To be honest with you I’ve forgotten more than I could ever remember about what was actually happening at the time. So much was going on. It was just a very exciting time. I even found Gene Vincent’s gold record for “Be-Bop-A-Lula” which was rumored stolen. Right at the back of the Capitol cabinets. I was foraging away there one day and this battered record fell out, and it was the gold record. Couldn’t believe it. I took it home to show all my friends, and then after a week of showing it off I took it back. Ken Nelson had just arrived, and of course this was like meeting God. He told me about how they made “Be-Bop-A-Lula.”

CM : He was the producer of Gene Vincent and Wanda Jackson and a whole bunch of people.

DT : Yes. He told me the story of how it was made. Vincent had to stand in the corridor and do the vocals ’cause the band was so loud. They’d never had a band in Nashville that loud at that time. I showed him the record and he said, “Well, where did that come from ?” But eventually we got it back to Vincent who probably sold it. He was getting to the point where he was getting hard up for money. The gigs were going down and so on.

CM : You had known Gene Vincent at the time I think.

DT : No, I didn’t know him. There were plenty of stories going around the building of his activities to say the least. He was an interesting person.

CM : So this whole time that you were doing the folk club is the same time that you were working at Capitol.

DT : Yes, which was another strange thing because everyone who worked at EMI signed a contract to say that they wouldn’t actually play music. This is a music company where you’re not allowed to play music ! Naturally half the building were musicians all trying to get their foot on the rung of the ladder. And every night all these guys were going out and playing clubs in London. Jazzers and rock and rollers and folkies, we were all at it. It was hilarious. People coming in in the morning with bags under their eyes absolutely shattered from playing in some club at night. Somehow we got it all done. It was a great time.

CM : So you developed your career as a musician, songwriter, and band leader and that’s how I came across you when I was researching for the rockabilly book. Maybe the first time was on some records where your band was the backup band. I think it was that record with Jack Scott, Charlie Feathers, Warren Smith, and Buddy Knox [Four Rock ’N’ Roll Legends : Recorded Live In London April 1977, on Harvest Heritage]. And that was the first or nearly the first time for those people to go over.

DT : Yes it was. Buddy Knox came in 1970 but for the rest of them that was their first time.

CM : So how was it that you were placed and ready to back up those people in 1977 ? I know there were things that occurred earlier. But when Elvis died in 1977, a lot of people went, “Oh yeah, wasn’t his music really good ?” It got people thinking. Sha Na Na played at Woodstock [in 1969]. There were these concerts at the Felt Forum in New York City [in the early 1970s]. There was an oldies movement. There was [the movie] American Graffiti in 1973 which caused every town in North America at least to bring up an oldies act. I was doing that in ’77 and ’78, ’79, ’80. I was in a Sha Na Na-type band back where I was living in British Columbia. So there was enough of an undercurrent, but by ’77 they’re bringing people over for rockabilly shows and you are the guy backing them up. How did that happen ?

DT : I started playing the music when I was at school, without really knowing what it was. Just liked it. Then when I started the band end of ’68 going into ’69, I had a really hot guitar player who’d been with Screaming Lord Such if that means anything to you ?

CM : I actually saw him perform in 1970.

DT : And he’d been in the ’50s groups and so on in that scene and he was just a hot guitarist : Ted Hatton. We carried on just playing rock and roll, rockabilly and country music. It just continued.

CM : What kind of reception were you getting at that time ? Were people open to that or was it just the teddy boys ?

DT : No, a lot of people liked it. A lot of clubs didn’t. We got banned from a lot of clubs for playing rockabilly which was a terrible crime because the club owners wanted country, their idea of country. Everyone keeps saying that Charly Records were the first label to be putting out these reissues in England and starting the whole thing. This is not right. In fact, the first label was Phonogram who in ’69 did the first deal with Shelby Singleton [the record producer who bought the Sun label and catalogue from Sam Phillips in 1969] and put out the very first [rockabilly] revival albums in Britain. And those were the albums that really kicked the whole thing off.

CM : Were they compilations or individual artists ?

DT : Both. For the time they were dynamite.

CM : You’re talking about the Sun vaults.

DT : The Sun vaults. It was the beginning of going into those vaults. “Put Your Cat Clothes On” [by Carl Perkins] ; we never heard this before, very exciting.

CM : It was never issued in the ’50s.

DT : Absolutely. Then Charly got the deal in about ’75 with Shelby and then they started their program which certainly was huge and a great contributory factor.

CM : Best of Sun Rockabilly volumes one and two were ones I got.

DT : All that stuff, which was originally on Phonogram. Those were all the original Phonogram albums that they reissued. Anyway, this fellow came along who I’d known forever called Graham Wood and I met him on the steps—we’d seen a Chuck Berry concert, I’ll never forget it—of the Odeon Hammersmith. And he said, “Ah, nice to see you, I haven’t seen you for a while. By the way I’m putting on this show next year and would you like to put the band together ?” He just ran off a few names : Jack Scott, Buddy Knox ; Buddy I knew anyway. And I said, “Yes, sounds good.” “Alright let’s do it.” That’s literally how it happened, on the steps of the theatre. We put it together and it was at the end of April 1977. They all arrived and—do you read that magazine Now Dig This ?—’cause I actually wrote the story of that whole tour. It must have been three or four years ago. They asked me for the 25th anniversary to write the story of the tour because there was a story to tell. A lot of activity.

CM : I met Charlie Feathers and spent some time with him at his home, doing interviews, just hanging out, and he told me he did not know he was being recorded that night, and he was against the whole thing. There were a lot of things that Charlie said that I believed but there were a few things that made me think, “You’re just being a crusty old guy.” So which was it ?

DT : I don’t think there was any secret about it being recorded. I mean, people were aware. What did happen was, shall we say, that the money involved didn’t go to the places it should have gone to. That I know. I know what happened to the cash and where it went but the guys didn’t actually get their share. But that’s another story. I’ll tell you when that mike’s switched off. But they did know it was being recorded.

CM : Would you see that moment in your career as a turning point ? Because after that you backed up all kinds of people. I have a record of you backing up Carl Mann for example.

DT : Yes, that was the turning point. I realized this music that I really do like is suddenly happening. There’s an opening, there’s a chance. So we went in for it full tilt and it really started as you just mentioned, with Carl Mann the following March when he came over. We did this tour and it was a terrific tour. It really was great. I suppose from that point the floodgates opened and a lot of the original American rockabillies and rock and rollers really started to come across to Europe. They started really with that show in England and the Dutch picked up on it very fast. Eindhoven, that was the one, that was “the” festival in fact. Then there was a phenomenal festival in France in 1980 which I was part of. They had 50 American acts and musicians which they brought into France plus some British acts and their own acts. It was enormous. It was actually ridiculous it was so big. And they took it out on tour. It was just too big. They couldn’t get the people, and the tour basically collapsed after about a week. Again, a lot of people didn’t get paid because there just wasn’t any money. That old story. I just did the two festivals in Paris and I got out. They had to pay me because I was standing by the bus in front of the whole cast. And the guy—they’re all looking out of the window and I was standing there—he brought the cash out and I went off and that was it. Then I heard what happened later on. That was, what do you say ? show business.

CM : Those events seem to me that they might have been part of the motivation for you doing what you do now. Making sure that people do get their money.

DT : Yes, because a lot of the fellows who came over had some pretty terrible stories about what happened. I got very friendly with Eddie Bond when he came over the first time. Finally I went back to the U.S. Came over first to the U.S. in 1980 to play at the Nashville country music festival, [called] Fan Fair.

CM : Were you then promoting your own records ? You’d recorded Jukebox Cadillac.

DT : Yes, that type of thing. But then in ’84 I came over just to come over, and met up with Eddie and I’ve got some family in New York as well so I came to visit them. That visit, Eddie introduced me to Marshall Ellis of the Erwin label in Memphis and Zone Records. Then I went to Texas and spent time with Johnny Carroll and back into Memphis to Arkansas and time out there with Wayne Raney and Sonny Burgess and all those people out in the Arkansas world of music.

CM : Did you run into Lonnie Glosson ?

DT : No.

CM : At the time I interviewed him he was 90. He was telling me about his tour schedule that summer. He died a couple of years later.

DT : I could have gone round to see him. Wayne Raney said, “If you want to go round and meet Lonnie we can fix that up.” Events took over and it never happened. Wayne was a character. That trip, Johnny Carroll, Sonny Burgess and Eddie and Marshall Ellis all said, “Well, we have no representation in Europe. Will you do it ?” And I thought, “Bingo, this sounds interesting.” My publishing company then was very small, and looking to expand and suddenly all this catalogue came my way from all these people and it began to work. I had to have a slight battle with another bunch of people in Memphis. Shall we say that the Phillips organization weren’t too thrilled with having rivalry. They didn’t take care of their legal side of things in terms of copyright. And I did a little crash course on American copyright and found out that things could be done to help these people. So it ran from there and I suppose for about the next 15 years I just built up a very large number of clients in America : small record labels, writers, which I represented in Europe and Japan and Australia and New Zealand. That’s I suppose been the backbone for many years now.

CM : And it’s under the Stomper Time label that originally had been a label Eddie Bond had run back in the ’60s ?

DT : Eddie started that in ’58 and it ran through in various Bond permutations for about another 15 years. Millionaire Records, Diplomat, these were all part of the Stomper Time setup. Anyway in about ’91, Eddie said, “Well, why don’t you buy it off me ?” So I thought, “Okay, sounds good.” So I bought the label off him and started it again in Europe. I bought several of the labels that I’d been licensing from the Memphis area, and a couple out of Arkansas. What I’ve been doing is anthologizing them slowly through the years. Finding stuff I didn’t know about, finding rare photographs, slowly piecing it [together].

CM : Like The Last Great Rockabilly Saturday Night.

DT : Oh yeah, that was just a bunch of tracks put together which I thought people would like, almost like a party record. Volume II came out a few years ago.

CM : You’ve done a CD on Eddie Bond. What others have you done ?

DT : There’s a most bizarre Jerry Lee Lewis CD. I don’t know whether you’ve come across that. It’s just him and the piano, singing and playing and talking, telling little anecdotes and stories. It’s quite fun. About the same time as I bought Stomper Time I bought about 80 masters of Jerry Lee from the IRS [the Internal Revenue Service : the “taxman” in the U.S.]. They’d taken the tapes in lieu of taxes. I got lucky basically. They had the original 16-track masters. It was wonderful and I took the stuff back to England and re-mixed the whole thing. Re-mastered some of it, put some different instrumentation on it cause the guitar playing was ludicrous. I don’t know who it was but it was some guy in Nashville who thought he was Jimi Hendrix. And there’s Lewis playing all this nice music, but the guitarist was all over the place, nothing to do with what Lewis is playing.

CM : But it was multi-track so you could just wipe him off.

DT : Exactly. I put my guitarist on : Eddie Jones, who is a fabulous rock and roll guitar player. The difference between the originals and what we ended up with is, well chalk and cheese, literally. The original masters that they made, Jerry Lee’s left hand didn’t exist. You just heard a sort of tinkling with the right hand and all that boogie bass was just wiped out. It was there but they hadn’t mixed it. So anyway basically we made it into one hopefully as close as we could to a proper Jerry Lee Lewis record. Ace Records put them out and they’re still in catalogue 15 years later.

CM : What’s it called ?

DT : One of them’s called Pretty Much Country, another one’s called Honky Tonk Rock ’n’ Roll Piano Man and the other one is called Live at the Vapors Club. So this one I’ve got on Stomper Time was part of those tapes and it was just a tape sitting in the middle and someone obviously just left the tape rolling. It’s funny, it’s a funny record. And other stuff, a Glen Glenn CD.

CM : Yes, I have that one : Missouri Rockabilly.

DT : Yes. There was a Carl Mann, that’s deleted now, Johnny Preston, that’s deleted, then there’s a Sonny Burgess CD. Cover Records : do you know that label from Memphis ? Actually not many people do, but it was a good label. Run by B.B. Cunningham, and his father started it, Buddy Blake.

Murray Nash—I don’t know if that name means much to you—was one of the pioneers of country music in Nashville. I bought his companies about six or seven years ago and I put out three CDs of his product. Very much involved with RCA Victor, then Mercury. Between about 1946 and 1950 he was recording Frankie Laine and Patti Page and then the first Flatt and Scruggs records. An awful lot of hillbilly, country of that period. That’s on Stomper Time. I haven’t put out Frankie Laine or anything like that even though it’s public domain now, we can easily do it. The rare stuff that he did was a lot of rock and roll and hillbilly, bluegrass. Sensational bluegrass he put out. In fact I put a whole bluegrass album out on Stomper Time of his material just because the music is so incredibly good. It’s the worst seller in the catalogue : 700 copies.

CM : I had no idea your label was so big, because I go around here [at the festival] and they have your Eddie Bond and Glen Glenn CDs, but these other things are not so represented on the stalls in places like this. In your range, what’s the most popular of your titles ?

DT : The most popular was The Last Great Rockabilly Saturday Night, the first one. That’s the best seller. I’m afraid the bluegrass is probably the worst which is sad because it’s one of the best records. It’s a really beautiful record. There’s a series called Memphis Rockabillies, Hillbillies & Honky Tonkers. That’s on Stomper Time. That’s really anthologizing the Memphis labels. The first one is actually the [original] Stomper Time label and then there’s Marshall Ellis’ Erwin-Zone Records and then there’s the Rebel and Rebel Ace record label out of Arkansas that was run by Shelby Smith who’s still alive. He’s 86, crazy as they come. He turned up last year. I was in Bolivar [Tennessee] visiting Eddie Bond, and Eddie put on this little show in a little tiny theatre down in Bolivar. Shelby Smith appears, he’s driven all the way from somewhere down in Mississippi and he comes up shakes hands and “how are you” and all that. He says, “You know I just turned 85 yesterday.” And I’m like, really ? And he’s got a brand new pair of cowboy boots on which are yellow and light brown. Seriously short on taste but they look absolutely amazing. I said, “What are you doing with those boots, Shelby ?” He said, “I just picked them up at the Goodwill store. They cost me $20.” He was pleased as a peacock with his new boots. It was a bizarre little show. Carl Mann was there. Ramsey Kearney, the first show he’d done in 30 years. Shelby and Eddie and all kinds of local musicians turned up and played. You know, the sad thing about it was, I think they had 30 people for all that gathering of music.

CM : When I first met Eddie which is maybe just a little bit before you went over—I was there in ’82 and ’83 doing my interviews—Eddie and his contemporaries were just finding out that rockabilly was really rising up again. He had tried to start a Rockabilly Saturday Night. He got some really big-sized hall for the Rockabilly Saturday Night and they brought out all these legitimate rockabillies and nobody showed up. In the interview I did with him he said something like if Eddie Bond or—and he named three or four other people—goes to Europe, the people are mobbing us, and if we walk down the Mall here it’s like “there’s Eddie Bond, so what ?” Well, it’s typical that in your own town people are not enthralled by you because they’ve seen you buying your groceries. He was experiencing the contrast of home and away and finding that at home there was no real market for it.

DT : I found that was a real problem in Memphis. I found there was a terrible apathy towards their own music. I always remember, I think it was Overton Park. There was a show I saw there at the end of the ’80s, Sonny Burgess was on there and he’d just started playing music again. He actually stood there and said, “It’s coming back right now, there’s a second chance. You lost it in the ’50s, don’t let it go again.” I always remember him saying that. Of course it didn’t make any difference. They lost it again anyway. So much talent and so much music came out of that city. They don’t seem to be aware of it.

CM : Well they’re like fish swimming in an ocean of talent. They’re not going to turn their heads to see it because they can see it at any moment. Some of those fish swimming are the talented ones.

DT : As a complete contrast, but very similar to what we’ve just been saying, I went to Cuba last year on holiday and the stunning thing about being in Havana was everywhere you went, every restaurant, every caf ?, you only had to sit down and somebody came through the door. Not just somebody, like a four-piece band walked through the door carrying a string bass and started to play. I have never seen so much music in all my life, or heard I suppose I should say. The level of talent and ability was terrifying, it really was. Every guitar player ran off Django [Reinhardt] licks and was standing there looking round the restaurant like this and fingers flying all over the fingerboard. Fiddle players. There was so much talent. Nobody was bad. I never heard a bad player in the whole time I was there. Which is kind of similar, you can see it every day. They also regarded it as, well, yeah.

CM : Well there are some cities like that : New Orleans. Memphis of course but there’s a lot of other cities. Maybe if you’re somebody like Rusty York [a Kentucky artist who settled in Cincinnati], you’re going to stand out because there’s not so many. There’s a lot of places where the little flowers will bloom and people will go “wow,” but when the whole garden is blooming away it’s like, “Well, there’s a daffodil in the middle.” “Yes I know, there are 5000 daffodils in front of us.” That’s been a field, to use the same growing imagery, that’s been a field that you’ve been able to harvest.

DT : Honestly, most of those little labels would almost certainly have died.

CM : Not just gone out of business but stuff being lost.

DT : Yes, that’s the main point. Shelby Smith who I just mentioned, bless him, he turned up in a trailer park when I bought Rebel from him and we sat outside having a barbecue and he emptied the tapes out of a potato sack onto the table. Most of them didn’t have boxes. They were just tapes and they were all unlabeled and I literally had to make him go into a studio. Fortunately, the people I was staying with…there was a fellow called Bobby Davis had a little studio, absolutely incredible the coincidence, so we were able to literally go in there and run through everything.

CM : Was he able to identify it all ?

DT : Yes he was. I remember Buford Cody of Memphis Records and Co and Wi, he just drove up to the motel and opened up the trunk of his car and there was this box full of tapes, all over the place. He said, “There you are, take them with you, take them back to England and make us a fortune.” To him it was, well, this fellow wants them so let him have them.

CM : Were you getting good deals on all this stuff ?

DT : Oh yeah. They were very good deals in terms of price.

CM : They got it out of their closets and they knew someone was going to look after it.

DT : Of course it was cash in hand. That was very attractive. The toughest one was Fernwood. That was the hard one to get. That took six years, a long wait but when it came the wait was worth it. Fernwood was a field day.

CM : You had “Tragedy,” the Thomas Wayne song, so you had something that the general public or the knowledgeable part of the general public would recognize.

DT : It was a treasure trove when it came, because the guy who owned it, Wayne McGinnis—he was on Meteor Records—was a lot more than a rockabilly singer. He was a very, very shrewd businessman, and from what I could understand I think fairly wealthy. ’Cause this guy was flying his own plane to school when he was 12 or 14 years old, before he could drive a car. Something tells me that there was a little money in the background there. When we finally did the deal Wayne just walked into the office of his attorney with these boxes. Man, what came out of those boxes was just fantastic. All the paperwork, all the promotion, all the correspondence going right back to 1956, he had it all. That was a real treasure trove.

CM : When you get a treasure trove like this you’ve got an awful lot of work in front of you. What’s the most enjoyable part of it for you and what’s the least enjoyable part of processing all this stuff ?

DT : The most enjoyable part is literally finding the music. ’Cause there’s a lot of things that are in a cache like that which are not down on paper, which we didn’t know about before. For example, the whole rhythm and blues CD of Fernwood : virtually nobody knew any of the material. There were no tapes. It all came off disks in the files and they were all one-off records made for the local groups, local bands etc., and they never got out of Memphis. Sold off the back of the truck. I went to real R&B experts who really know their stuff and they were just flummoxed by all this material. Funnily enough much of it was documented, but only in the files. There was one record on each page, mint copy every time. That made for a very, very interesting CD, a good record. But unfortunately the public didn’t respond in terms of sales. I don’t think I’ve sold 1,000 copies of that. It’s a great shame because it’s a very nice record. But that’s show business.

CM : And what’s the least pleasurable part ?

DT : The least pleasurable part is, probably for me, what you do : writing up the stories. Not because I don’t enjoy writing. It’s because I want to get the heck on with getting the project into the pressing plant and get it out. I’m stuck with having to put this story together which can take a while. That’s the down side in terms of time.

CM : This is not a one-man operation. You don’t have to listen and write the liner notes, sequence, and master. You have to have help for all of this marketing and all.

DT : It’s now pretty close to a one-man operation. My wife and I separated a while ago and so I lost that assistance. So now it’s more or less me putting it together but the mastering of course is done mostly up at the Ace Records studio in London. The actual artwork, the graphics, is done by a friend of mine in Sweden and it’s printed in Sweden and shipped over.

CM : But the listening, deciding on the sequencing, the themes, the titles.

DT : That’s down to me.

CM : That’s probably pretty rewarding work I would think.

DT : Yes, it is. A lot of fun as well.

CM : And the playing career, as you mentioned to me the other day when we bumped in the hallway, you’ve pushed that off to the side in order to do this.

DT : Yes. It reached a point at the end of 1995 where the record company and the publishing was really taking over. You’ve got to, if you’re going to do something like that, you have to take it seriously. It was just pushing the playing out of the window. The fact is that you know you have a shelf life. You have to face up to being a professional musician. I’ve done 30 years, and I thought, “Well, the time has come.”

CM : What you’re setting yourself up for is to be rediscovered like these other guys that you’ve been helping.

DT : Yeah, that’s it !

CM : Sometimes the best career move you can make is to disappear for a while. Like when George Harrison was putting out a record every year, it’s almost the same thing as the over exposure of the Memphis people in Memphis. When he had not done one for five years and a new one came out, it was news. So you’re setting yourself up for rediscovery.

Dave Travis (at left) and Craig Morrison, London 2013

DT : It’s just around the corner, Craig.

CM : In your musical career, what are you most proud of ? The performing, writing, recording side of your career. [The Dave Travis entry on the Discogs websitelists 16 LPs, 7 singles/ EPs, and shows that his recordings can be heard on 25 anthologies.]

DT : Well, the performing side, it’s a hard question. Some of the shows I’ve done, I’m certainly very, very glad to have been on them. Certainly the most memorable moments would have been in Poland back in 1989. I was doing a business thing with a Polish record company at the time. It was pretty bizarre. At that time Poland was still under the Communist regime. I’ve got a friend of mine who had gone to live in Warsaw, a Dutch fellow, and he got in league with one of these executives at the local record company and suddenly I got this call saying, “You’ve got a lot of stuff in your catalogue that the Poles would like to have, to license from you.” So I said, “Okay, fine.” And we met—it was like something out of a James Bond film—we met in a railway station in the middle of Holland, a central point kind of thing. There we are in this caf ? with this negotiation going on about how the Polish system works and at the end of the day I ended up licensing probably about 25 albums.

CM : Your own albums.

DT : No. One of mine went in there, yes, but everything else under the sun. I had a contact in Germany who had this big catalogue of standard-type material and the Poles lapped it up. You had this incredible situation where they would say, “Okay, Roy Orbison, we’d like an album of Roy Orbison.” And there was one album of Roy that was out there that you could get. It was an in-between contracts album, one of those deals, and this was on the marketplace. So we said, “Okay,” so we got the Roy Orbison and they said, “Well, yeah we can sell 30,000 records. So what we’re going to do is we’ll pay you on the 30,000.”

CM : Before they sold it ?

DT : Yeah. Suddenly your little Polish bank account was like X million richer. And the Polish record executive got 25%. Totally corrupt, the whole thing. Like the record companies here aren’t corrupt but you know what I’m saying. They’re painting themselves whiter than white over there. But it was totally corrupt. And they just put the record out, sold the 30,000 and that was it. Then the next time it would be Guy Mitchell or Frankie Laine or some standard artist that they’d want. This went on for several years. Anyway finally they put an album of me out which was great because you’d walk along the streets of Warsaw, there you are, you’re in the capital city of Poland, and your album is in the window of every damn record shop. And you think, “Yeah, this is nice.” When of course the truth of the matter is that they own all the shops, there was no such thing as promotional distributing in those days because they owned them all so they’d just press the records and put them in the shops. Distribution : fantastic. And it was guaranteed sales. They just sold out and that was it.

So I came over and did this festival and we arrived, and unknown to me Mickey Newberry was top of the bill, and Johnny Rodriguez. We all tooled up to north Poland. We were there for a week living in this wonderful hotel. No expense spared. You did feel slightly guilty because there were people who queued up for bread and meat and people were still tilling the land with oxen. It was an extraordinary experience but at the festival they had 7,000 people. It was on the backdrop of a lake so the stage was set against the lake. It was just an unbelievable week. I mean it’s hard to picture it but there we all are just bounding out on the stage. There’s thousands of these people all around you and going absolutely AWOL [a military term meaning absent without leave : going wild in other words] because then they didn’t get the entertainment so they were so pleased to see you. They were starved for entertainment. We were received like demi-gods. Absolutely wonderful. It’s all gone now. It’s all changed, they’ve become just like us : seen it all before.

The first time I went to Norway at the end of ’69 and then into ’70 we didn’t know we were the first band to ever go there from England to play this west coast of Norway. We just arrived thinking it’s going to be a nice little tour, and go home. Wrong. It was like the Beatles had come. No exaggeration at all ! We were yanked off stages and clothes ripped off, and hair cut. Mob riots, women climbing up drainpipes to get in the hotel. We were like, well, have a good taste of this. It was like three weeks of paradise and total madness. What I didn’t know was that I had an album in the Norwegian top 10. So there was a little more ammunition to that story. It was another little magic moment.

CM : What were your biggest successes ? I have two of your albums. I don’t really know what your biggest successes were in terms of albums or song titles.

DT : I didn’t have any hit singles. I had about six singles out but no hits. I had a “Billy Lee Riley story” on the first single which parallels his story about Sam Phillips pulling his record. I had a single that came out at the end of ’68. It was a Christmas record and it had everything behind it. It was written by the head of overseas BBC in London. You can’t do better, believe me. In those days the BBC ran it. If you wanted to be on radio it was BBC. This guy just went out there and got every single DJ in the whole country to play this record. Well, the orders were coming in and it was a tiny record label. The guy was really out of his league, out of his depth totally. The orders were coming in and people were saying to me, “We can’t buy the record,” that old story. I went down to the office, I said, “Tony, they can’t buy the record. We’ve got a hit. We have a hit record, where are the records ?” He said, “I haven’t been paid for the first thousand. When I get paid for the first thousand I’ll press some more.” I said, “Well, we’re going to lose it.” “I’ve got to have my money, gotta have that money for the first thousand.” It cost probably in those days about a tuppence a record. Nothing. So he didn’t get paid for 90 days. Christmas is over. Lost the record. That was my Billy Riley story about losing a hit.

I made mostly albums, about 20 albums. The most successful were the first three which sold about 150,000, something like that. After that it was downhill all the way. I never came close to selling that many again on any particular record, but they always made money. I suppose we ended up probably selling about half a million records altogether over the years. It’s something, but no real hits.

CM : It surprises me to see you here and not to see you on the stage because of all your experience.

DT : Well, it would mean a lot of work to get the chops back again, the fingers. I did do a gig with Carl Mann two months ago in Holland. That was kind of a return to Holland. The old band got together and we did a special show in Holland which was good fun, it really was good. Yes, it would be great, I’d actually quite like to do it. But it has to be balanced with everything else that’s going on. I’ve got a project at the moment for five double CDs for a Dutch company, of jazz. It’s just strictly original British traditional jazz, and they want five doubles.

CM : This is the Monty Sunshine type of stuff.

DT : That type of thing : Chris Barber, Ken Colyer, Humphrey Lyttelton, all those people.

CM : You’ve been writing liner notes I think for Disky [record label].

DT : I did a lot of stuff for Disky. The guy who was running it now runs his own company : Smith & Co. it’s called. A great guy and I’ve now transferred from Disky to his operation. I’m now writing for him. The traditional jazz I was just mentioning, that’s part of his next program. But compiling five double CDs of jazz is another lengthy process.

CM : Is it because the selection of the material ? There’s so much to hear ?

DT : Yeah, a huge amount to listen to. Barber’s not bad because I know Barber’s music pretty well. But Humphrey Lyttelton although I know him very well, I don’t know so much about his old records. That’s been a learning experience. He’s very good. His early records, boy, they move.

CM : Is Acker Bilk part of that ?

DT : Acker’s part of it. He doesn’t begin as early as the other guys do but what I’ve discovered is that Acker made two albums in ’57 for a little jazz label called 77 Records. It was a label they only pressed 99 copies of every album they put out ; 99 was because then they didn’t have to pay purchase tax which is what they called it back then. Once you went over that magical 100 then they hit you so they just pressed 99. They are incredibly rare. A friend of mine has got them. So he’s loaning them to me to dub.

CM : You must have your own studio at home to go and listen to all these different formats that come in.

DT : I do. I’ve still even got an 8-track player. I’ve got an album of Lefty Frizzell on 8-track. The master is on 8-track. A friend of mine in Nashville, Ramsey Kearney I mentioned earlier, Ramsey actually went to a Lefty Frizzell gig I’m going to say at the beginning of the ’70s with an 8-track deck and recorded Lefty onto 8-track.

CM : What’s the sound like ?

DT : Listenable. Remastering is one of the plusses of modern technology. We had it with the new Stomper Time CD with Eddie Bond. If you listen to all the original Mercury recordings of Eddie Bond, the rockabilly ones made in Nashville, they’re all distorted, all four of them distorted. We’re so used to hearing them for 50 years that you don’t hear the distortion anymore. It’s like you’re past it. When it came to putting the CD out, I was listening to the records and I thought, “Damn, they are distorted.” Well, Eddie had a copy master which he’d been given in the studio on the day back in ’56, which he’d always kept. I got access to that tape and of course we ran it and the engineer was like, “Just as you’re saying.” It was all up on the screens : it was so simple it was ridiculous. Of course one channel was distorted. Oblivious to the whole thing. They’d been cutting off that for the last 50 years. Even the CD on Bear Family was distorted. Of course we got rid of it ; the other channel was clean.

CM : It was mono so you didn’t miss anything.

DT : Exactly ! So the very first time you’re hearing these tracks as they were actually recorded at the time without the distortion. Amazing really. The ’56 Mercurys if you listen to the Nashville recordings, you’ll hear how clear they are.

CM : That’s “Slip Slip Slippin’ In” and “Boppin’ Bonnie.”

DT : And “Flip Flop Mama.”

CM : Is there anything I should have asked you ? Anything you want to throw in ?

DT : Probably. In all truth Craig, I can probably carry on waffling with stories for hours. The only other thing which might be of some interest to you is I did produce a lot of records. I don’t know whether you’re aware of that at all. I did produce albums on people like Charlie Gracie, Eddie Bond, Sleepy LaBeef.

CM : These were albums that you played on though.

DT : And produced. I did Amazing Gracie, Sonny Burgess. I did two albums on Buddy Knox. That was a phase anyway of the career which ran for about 10 years.

CM : It’s almost like, I won’t say transition, but a kind of a mid-period. I’m trying to see your career with an overall perspective. You were working in the record companies and playing in the folk clubs, sometimes simultaneously, but I’m sure you put a lot of full-time energy into a playing career, and then you’re backing up some of these American performers. Then producing records from working with them and then you go from playing your thing to playing with those guys and to now you’re managing the recorded legacy of these people.

DT : Yeah, that’s pretty succinct.

Dave Travis in London, 2013

CM : How would you like to be remembered ?

DT : Hopefully with some respect for what I’ve tried to do. That would be nice.

CM : What was it that you tried to do ?

DT : That’s a hard one.

CM : I could say it and you could tell me if I’m completely off the map. Something about bringing dignity and honor and respect and recognition to this music.

DT : That would be pretty good, yes.

CM : In all the roles that you played.

DT : I would have taken longer to have thought that one up, but that is good. Covers it very well. Now own up to the fact that you’ve said that to everyone you’ve interviewed this weekend.

CM : I haven’t, because they are all doing different things. I asked you about your performing career but what are you most proud of in your life or in your music ?

DT : I think probably a couple of albums I’ve made I’m quite proud of, on a personal basis. I’m very happy to have been able to play with so many artists from that era. When I grew up I bought Carl Mann’s records as a schoolboy. Then suddenly 20 years later I’m standing on stage playing with him, and personal friends as well. I’ve probably written a half a dozen good songs out of 300. “Feel Like I’m Catching the Blues” was one of the best. I think that was a good song. I was in that classic holding position back in 1980 when Roy Orbison was going to cut it and he didn’t because Acuff-Rose [the Nashville publishing firm] came in and didn’t want him doing a non Acuff-Rose title. So I got sidelined for an Acuff-Rose title. Eddie Bond cut it, Carl Mann cut it too. About a half a dozen songs I think were really pretty good. I’m pretty proud of the record label. I think we’ve achieved something, and there’s a way to go yet. There’s more to come. About three more little labels still to be anthologized. Big Howdy records, down Mississippi and Louisiana way that’s got Luke McDaniel on it, some of his earliest. “Switchblade Sam” you might remember, some good stuff there. Cottontown Jubilee from Arkansas, Santo records that was out of Arkansas. There’s another one in there, can’t remember.

Now that I think about I’ve just cut a deal with somebody in Montreal. It’s a rights organization, an independent. The girl’s name is Lucie Bourgouin and she’s done a deal with me for a French-Canadian television show called “Les Invincibles” and it’s a song called “Bop Pills” by Macy Skipper [recorded in 1956]. “Bop Pills” came out on Charly, it was a Sun record and the Cramps covered it. It didn’t actually come out till about 1985/86. The Cramps just picked it up off the Charly album. I met Macy years ago in Memphis and we just did a deal and I got lucky. I got a world-wide deal on it. We got on and he was an amazing guy. One of the great unknowns of the music. He turned up in the hotel wearing a huge felt fedora and a cape. We’ve got a real Bela Lugosi here. He just was theatrical, he was in the theatre. He was a total theatrical and incredibly funny. Very entertaining guy. That was my meeting with Macy Skipper. I’ve never forgotten it. Great character. I always say thank heavens these people were there ’cause they’re not there anymore. They’re going. Once that era has passed, that kind of highly individual, crazy eccentric individualism that is prevalent in the South is gone. Everyone’s conforming.


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I have posted interviews with many veteran musicians. To go to the index page, click here.

CRAIG MORRISON
is an ethnomusicologist, teacher, author, and musician
based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
7 Nights Music Communications, 2006