We can think of no better introduction to our exclusive
interview than the following article from ROLLING STONE, written a few
years back by Greg Shaw.
"There are some names you never forget. Names like
Narvel Felts, Felton Jarvis, Elvis Presley...Good Southern names for
self-styled Southern boys that made some of rock & roll's great wild
records. Such a name and such a man is Travis Wammack. I first heard
of him in the summer of 1966 when I discovered a little-known single
on the ARA label. It was an instrumental called "Scratchy." This first
side had been a minor hit on select R&B stations. But it was the flip
that really hammered his name into my mind.
"Firefly" was originally recorded as the A side. It was
an R&B instrumental featuring the fastest guitar playing I had ever
heard in my life, and not just fast but good. Brilliant, even. I was
in San Francisco at the time and publishing a rock magazine, so I had
some power and I did everything in it to bring this record to
somebody's attention. I played it on the radio, took it to Bill Graham
and begged him to bring Travis Wammack to the Fillmore, and wrote
articles trying to build up some interest. And all to no avail.
In the meantime, I had unearthed some other records,
vocals this time. A tremendous version of "Louie Louie," Maurice
Williams' "Stay," another instrumental called "Distortion." With every
new side I heard, my awe increased. These records rocked with the
clean solid funk of Booker T's Memphis all-stars, moving along
effortlessly while Wammack rode on top with his torrents of
magnificent guitar pyrotechnics. Among the tight band of Wammack
followers I had built up were some who believed he must be Lonnie Mack
in disguise. Mack at the time was unknown, forgotten two years after
his amazing "Memphis" single, and not only similar in style but about
the only other guitarist anybody knew of who could play that good.
It wasn't until 1971 that I heard of Wammack again,
when he surfaced on Congress Records, but perhaps it's time to let him
"I've been playing guitar ever since I was seven," he
says, and by age eleven he was already playing professionally in clubs
around Memphis, where he had moved with his family from his birthplace
in Walnut, Mississippi. At sixteen he was approached by Roland James,
who had played guitar on many classic Sun records including those of
Jerry Lee Lewis and now owned his own studio.
James was a hero to Wammack, and to this day he is
grateful for the encouragement that he was given. Fifteen sides were
cut during the time he was with James, but a three year lapse took
place between his first recordings and their release.
According to his close friend and Producer Rick Hall
(owner of Fame Records), Travis was so far ahead of his time nobody
was ready for his sound in 1961. I thought back to my first hearing of
Wammack in 1966, and became even further impressed. Finally, in 1964
Atlantic took the rights to "Scratchy," "Firefly" and a few others,
and issued them on their ARA subsidiary. Unfortunately the promise
shown by "Scratchy" was not followed up promotionally, and Wammack
decided to wait out the remainder of his contract.
While he waited, he played local dates, did a lot of
session work, and ended up touring with Peter & Gordon as backup
guitarist. Back in Memphis he worked with Hi Records, Ace Cannon, Bill
Black, Willie Mitchell and the other top instrumentalists of the area.
By 1968 so well was he known that his work was in demand down in
This was at a time when the focus in R&B recording was
shifting from Stax in Memphis to Rick Hall's FAME studios in Muscle
Shoals. Atlantic began doing all their recording there, and when the
world heard the results everybody else tried to get on the schedule. A
large part of the Muscle Shoals legend is due to Wammack, who played
guitar on a lot of the sessions, including those for Aretha Franklin.
He moved there permanently and became one of the
cornerstones of Hall's session band. His playing can be heard on
records by artists as diverse as the Osmond Brothers, Clarence Carter,
Bobbie Gentry, Wilson Pickett, Candi Staton, Little Richard, Liza
Minnelli and Mac Davis.
So many writers, including yours truly, have railed
against the trend toward solo albums by longtime sidemen that I feel
it important to stress Travis Wammack's background. He was the first
guitarist to use fuzztone, on "Scratchy" back in 1961. Along with Link
Wray he was one of the original experimental stylists of rock guitar.
His stage show is flamboyant and exciting, and in my opinion he has,
more than ever, the quality of a star. As soon as his Atlantic
contract expired he was back in the studio, recording first for
Congress and then for Hall's Fame label. Travis Went on to be Little
Richard's band leader for many years.
-Greg Shaw, Rolling Stone Magazine
When did you first get into the music business?
I started playing when I was eight years old and at age
eleven I was the youngest person to ever be voted into the musician's
union. They had to vote me in through the national office in New York.
I grew up in Memphis and I was playing with professional groups there
and was playing my own lead guitar back then. The union back then was
pretty strong and they said that I could not play with the union
musicians. And when I tried to join, we had to get a lawyer and I was
voted in through the national office in New York. A d.j. in Memphis
discovered me- Eddie Bond, a rockabilly singer, he is really popular
across the water- and he discovered me and I started doing Jamboree
shows with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and all the Sun people.
I had my first record when I was eleven years old on
Fernwood records, which was a basement label to Sun- and I wrote both
sides of "Rock and Roll Blues" and "I Believe in Today." The first
time I went to England in 1984 I went over to do an album with Little
Richard. The producer Stuart Coleman, who was one of the top D.J.'s,
wanted me to do his program on Sunday on the BBC. He said I had an
album over here that was one of the top five collector's items. He
played "Rock and Roll Blues" and he played it for me and I sounded
like a young Brenda Lee. It was a bootleg album with all Fernwood
artists on the thing but thename of the album was Rock and Roll Blues
not the title of my sound. Of course I never got paid for it or
anything, but it was a lot of the Rockabilly stuff that was cut back
then and Fernwood Records was the Label. Ace Cannon was on this album
and Thomas Wayne, he was Luther Perkins' brother, and Luther was
Johnny Cash's lead guitar player. Thomas Wayne had one hit called
"Tragedy" on Fernwood back then. It was a lot of the Fernwood artists
back then, Raymond Moppett was one of them.
I started playing with Eddie Bond doing these shows and
things and then when I was sixteen, I went to the studio in Memphis
with the guitar player who played on all the Jerry Lee Lewis records
and Sun records, Roland Jennings, and we became friends and he started
producing instrumentals on me and the first thing we put out was a
song called "Scratchy." It was a big hit for me and stayed in the Top
100 for 9 months and was kind of like a sleeper. It would hit in a
major market and then it would not do anything, and hit in another
major market like Chicago and then it would go up, and it never got
past the Top 40 but stayed in the top 100 for nine months.
Two Englishmen at the time had a number one record that
was "World Without Love," written by Paul McCartney and sang by Peter
and Gordon. Well, Peter Asher, who later became a great producer and
produced Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor heard "Scratchy" and they
hired my guitar trio to back them up on their USA tours. I toured with
them, and Rick Hall was flying me down to play on sessions from about
1965 and then by 1969, I moved down here and went to work at Fame
Studios. I went to work there and worked for about ten years as an
artist and session guitar player. Played on a lot of the hit records
that came out of there Mac Davis, Wilson Pickett, Lou Rawls, Aretha
Weren't you on Mac Davis' hit, "Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me?" I had
that 45 when I was younger.
Yes, I played three guitars on that one. I played on
the original hit "Fancy for" Bobby Gentry. I played her little guitar
that she played on "Ode to Billy Jo," and I played a lead on it. Then
when Reba McEntire recorded it, she went in and copied it lick for
lick. I played on "Patches" by Clarence Carter and "She's Having My
Baby," by Paul Anka. "One Bad Apple" by the Osmonds - I played on all
those Osmond hits.
The writer that wrote "One Bad Apple" came down with me
when I moved down and he was from Memphis. He wrote a bunch of the
stuff. When he left Fame and went to Muscle Shoals Sound, he called me
up one day and said that he had a song that he wrote that was perfect
for me. So he let me hear it and it was "Old Time Rock and Roll." I
played it for Rick Hall and he said that it wasn't a hit, so I said
okay. Then George went back to Muscle Shoals Sound where he was
writing at the time, and let them hear it. Then Bob Seger recorded it,
and it stands as one of the best all time rock and roll songs.
was reading what the guy from Rolling Stone magazine wrote about you,
and he was blown away by the B-side of "Scratchy," "Firefly."
That was supposted to be the A-side as far as I was
concerned, and the B-side I split the royalties of that side with the
bass player and drummer. I said, ‘if you guys will cut this with me I
will split the writer's with you on the B-side, which turned out to be
the A-side. (Laughs) The drummer on "Scratchy" is a drummer that
played on all the Elvis stuff in Memphis. "Suspicious Minds," and Neil
Diamond, B.J. Thomas and all that stuff up there. His name is Gene
it true that you were one of the first to use the Fuzz Tone?
Yes, I made my own. As a matter of fact, Gibson came
out with their Fuzz tone and wanted me to endorse it. But at that time
I was 16 and 17, and very cocky and idealistic at the time, and this
did not sound like my distortion unit that I had built, so I felt like
I could not compromise my sound and would not go for it. I probably
should have to make the big bucks, though! (Laughs)
was looking at some of the records that you played on, did you play on
any of Wilson Pickett's hits?
Well, a lot of times when Rick was flying me down here
all I would be hearing was tracks, you know, I never got any credit on
anything that I played on until I moved down here. One day I asked the
secretary, and she said that Rick did not want to put your name on
anything because she said that Memphis was in competition with Muscle
Shoals and she said that the only musicians he used on records were
the local guys. Then when I moved down there, my name was on it. When
I went to England everyone over there was aware of all that, and they
had everything that I had ever played on and ever produced. On the
show that I did over there, this guy pulled stuff out that I had done
that I had even forgotten I had done. They are very smart over there
and their research is very thorough, when it comes to something that
they like. They probably know what you had for breakfast the morning
you recorded. It is amazing.
Did you record on some of Aretha's stuff?
Yes, but I could not tell you which ones, and she was
not there when I did it. Her husband Ted White was there and we did
the tracks, and this was back before I had moved down and Rick was bad
to put you on something and then put another guy on it and you did not
know who was doing what because he would mix it up just depending what
he was doing at the time.
Tell me a little bit about Rick Hall?
I felt like Rick held me back over there because I was
a session guitarist and I had a knack for getting in with the artists
and making them feel at home. Rick needed that, and he was hard to get
to know and did not know how to relate to the artists. He would come
to me and ask if everything was fine and if they were happy and I
would hang out with the artists and musicians. I felt like he needed
me there more than anything else. At one time I had five different
record labels in two years, and I had records going up the charts and
it seemed like when they would start happening good he would have a
disagreement with the record company and they would give him my
contract back and we would go back and cut other records. At one time
we had a good deal with Capricorn and Phil Walden said that if he had
management on me he could have made me another Duanne Allman. Rick had
Duane Allman and sold his contract to Phil Walden for $25, 000. Rick
was kind of seeing that he had made mistakes but in the meantime my
career was suffering. He is a great producer and a likeable guy when
you get to know him. If you can work for Rick Hall for one year you
can work for anyone in the music business! (Laughs)
have a lot of fans that are interested in the Allman Bros. thing and I
wanted to ask you if you ever knew Duane or worked with him?
did jam with him some at a place in Macon called Uncle Sam's. I never
did know him well though, and I have done shows with his brother since
then but I never did know him and he was a great guitar player.
One thing that I did want to touch on was your years
with Little Richard. What it was like to work with him and what that
whole experience was really like?
Well, Richard came down and did an album called "The
Real Thing" album, and he tried to hire all of us to go on the road
with him. Two of the guys, Jesse Boyce and Truman Brown quit Rick and
did go on the road with him. I wrote one of the songs, "Greenwood
Mississippi," on that album that was his first chart record that he
had since "Tutti Frutti" days. That was in 1969, and I did not hear
from him again until 1984 when he called and my wife. She said I had a
phone call and I was in my studio at home- she said that he said he
was Little Richard. He told me that he was going to England to record
an album and he wanted all the Muscle Shoals players that had played
on "The Real Thing" album and he wanted them to go with him.
I ended up getting Jessie Boyce the bass player. I
couldn't find Freeman Brown, so I got James Stroud who was just
getting into production at that time in Nashville, but was a great
drummer from Jackson, Mississippi. He played on lots of things and got
Billy Preston to record on the keyboards.
We went over there and did the album for Richard, and
he talked to me and he asked me what I thought of his rock music. He
asked me if I felt like it was the devil's music. I told him that when
I think of "Tutti Frutti" and "Good Golly Miss Molly," I think of good
times. He said that he wanted to get back into that and that he
thought that he could touch on some lost souls out there and that is
the only way he could do it. Then he told me he wanted me to put him a
good Southern rock and roll band together. We put a band together and
did the first concert in Arizona and tore the walls down. Then we did
yhr movie "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" and he just started getting
big and did all the TV shows like Arsenio Hall
What really split Richard apart from the oldie but
goodie acts was the band we had, it was awesome and we would go out
there and run with Richard. He is fantastic and you never knew what he
was going to do, never had a song list. He always did 2-3 hours every
concert and always had the people in the audience eating out of his
hand. He was a very religious guy, I have read a lot of books but in
the 10 years I spent with him I never saw him with anything but a
Bible in his hands. I made fantastic money with him but I became
hesitant to fly so much and that is why I quit working with him.
He does a song that I wrote for him about him growing
up in Georgia called "No Place Like Home," and that is the only song
that he gets a standing ovation for. But I can not get him to go into
the studio and record it. There are a couple of boot legs that he does
from shows that are out there over in Europe but he is kind of strange
in that respect, he tells me that he must have money up front because
he might not be here tomorrow and he can not work on any percentage.
I never realized how popular I was over in Europe until
I went over there and we did one concert over there and Robert Plant
and Jimmie Page were there and they came backstage and my son Travis
Jr., we call him Monkey, went up to them when he recognized them and
asked them if they wanted to meet Little Richard. They said, no we
want to meet your Daddy. Page said that the song "Scratchy" inspired
me to go full tilt in the music business.He said, "Me and Robert were
out in the crowd and when Little Richard introduced you we looked at
each other and said "Scratchy!" I have not really "made it" I guess
you could say nationally with hit records but I have been able to work
for 40 years and enjoy it all. And I hunt and fish a lot, I am
surprised that the people I read articles on, most recently the guitar
player of Aerosmith and he was asked when did he realize he wanted to
be a professional guitar player, and he said that when he heard the
song "Scratchy." Sam Phillips calls me the greatest rock and roll
guitar player around.
Sam says that that is pretty good!
Sam's a great guy. I have released two cd.s in the past
three years in town and selling them on the web and doing well. I am
semi-retired and love playing in the live performances and still do
lots of that.
How did you hook up with MSMM Studios?
Donnie and I have long been friends, and as someone who
likes the underdog ,I told him I wanted to do my cd. over there. He is
a great engineer and great guy to work with and I had never done any
original stuff that I can say "this is Travis Wamack." We went in and
did put lots of time in but not lots of overdubs it's mostly good
feel, just getting that good feel on the initial track and adding some
spice here and there on it.
There is one song on that CD I know that I have heard before and I
want you to tell me where I've heard it the one about the "man on the
run from Memphis, Tenn." who did that, it's your song but who else has
It was recorded by a couple of rock groups a few years
back. I think a release that was on Capricorn.
was thinking maybe Grinderswitch?
It could have been Dru Lumbar. When he was with
Grinderswitch, he was a big fan of mine and when he was with Capricorn
he would come up a lot.
wanted to ask about the Dale Earnhardt tribute and did you already do
it at Talladega? How did that go?
Yes, it went over great and people loved it. It is a
good positive up tempo thing and good Southern feel to it.
Travis now works with Muscle Shoals
Music Marketing, and has added “Producer” to his already impressive
resume. He is a member of the ‘Memphis Music Hall of Fame’, and in
1999 Wammack received the Professional Musician Award from the Alabama
Music Hall of Fame. In 2005 he was inducted into The Southern Legends
Entertainment And Performing Arts Hall Of Fame.
In May 2006, Gibson Guitars presented Travis with a new Gibson ES-335
guitar as part of their documentary honoring legendary Gibson ES
Travis Wammack's Official Website: