Born: 1946 Walnut, MS
Lived in Muscle Shoals, AL
1999 Inductee Alabama Music Hall of Fame
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 talk.
"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 Muscle Shoals.
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
Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Born in Walnut, Mississippi, he began his professional
music career when he wrote and recorded his first record at the tender age of
eleven, and also became the youngest member ever voted into the musicians
union. After moving to Memphis, Tennesse, the young guitarist made his mark
on the music world at the age of sixteen with his 1963 number one hit
“Scratchy”. He was the first to develop and use the fuzz tone for an electric
guitar. By 1969, Wammack’s skills landed him in Muscle Shoals, Alabama
where he teamed with legendary producer Rick Hall at Hall’s FAME Records.
Travis’ guitar licks can be heard on hit records that have sold over 'SIXTY
MILLION' copies!…songs recorded by artists such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson
Pickett, Little Richard, Mac Davis, Clarence Carter, the Osmond Brothers,
Bobbie Gentry, Candi Staton, Delbert McClinton, Liza Minnelli, Narvel Felts
and many more. Wammack’s solo artist career (produced by Hall) also sky
rocketed with the release of albums in 1971 and 1975.
He traveled the world
as Little Richard’s band leader from 1984 until 1995, performing on several
nationally syndicated television programs as well as President Bill Clinton’s
inauguration party. Wammack became known as the “Fastest Guitar Player In
The South”, where he was described by Rolling Stone’s Greg Shaw as “the
fastest guitar player I have ever heard in my life, and not just fast but good.
Brilliant, even. His stage show is flamboyant and exciting.” In 1998, Wammack
released his live CD "Still Rockin’". It contains a collection of rock and soul
classics from the 60's and 70's. In 2000, his “Snake, Rattle & Roll in Muscle
Shoals” CD was released. This release contains a collection of Travis’ best
original material and is sure to rock you with a touch of soul. In 2002
Wammack released another live CD “Rock-N-Roll Party" which showcases
everything from his soul vocals on ‘Dreams To Remember’, his dazzling guitar
work and voice-box on ‘Rocky Mountain Way’, to the swampy slide work on
his original ‘Rock-N-Roll Shoes’. In 2008 Travis released the CD "Memphis +
Muscle Shoals = Travis Wammack" which includes more of his original rock-n-
soul tunes, including a medley of "Scratchy" & "Firefly". In 2008 he also
released his first gospel CD "Almost Home".
In 2009 he released his fist
country CD "Country In My Soul". In 2010 Travis released "Rock-N-Roll Days",
an acoustic show of oldies but goodies and in 2011 released "Rock-N-Roll
Days Vol. II". 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 series players. In 2011 Travis was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of
Source: Official Website
Muscle Shoals Music Marketing http://www.muscleshoalsmusic.net/
The Hound Blog: Travis Wammack http://thehoundblog.blogspot.com/2009/09/travis-wammack.html
Allmusic biography: http://www.allmusic.com/artist/travis-wammack-mn0000013593
Gibson guitar interview: http://www.gibson.com/_microsite/electricspanish/vid_travisWammack.html
Video: "Scratchy" Travis Wammack (1964) http://youtu.be/7dxVex-iCyY
Video: Travis Wammack - Greenwood Mississippi http://youtu.be/NRGBDV41_vY
Video: Travis Wammack & JM Van Eaton Levitt Shell Memphis levittshellarchive video #12 http://youtu.be/hCKGBJR3vwo
iTunes: Travis Wammack
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