The Gateway Singers are - well, let's not beat about the bush - one of the most spectacular, successful, and all-round satisfying group of folk singers in the country. The reasons for this are various. For one thing, they are not merely musical - they're trained musicians; they treat folk material with respect. This does not mean that their approach is academic - on the contrary, their touch is light and often humorous - but it indicates that they value the importance and integrity of folk music. They delight in discovering the unusual, and winning with it a surprise response. For another thing, they are all expert performers; their voices are young and vibrant, their pronunciation is extraordinarily precise, their timing is brilliant, their range is international, and their renditions are fresh and exciting. Most of all, it is their spontaneity and enthusiasm which captivate their audiences; people have such a good time listening to the Gateway Singers because the Gateway Singers have such a good time singing.
They are, naturally, proud of the wide public acceptance which has greeted their appearances in person and on record, and they are gratified because they feel that folk music can hold its own as a popular form, a fact proved again and again by the number of folk songs that have reached the top ten popularity polls. The Gateway Singers are a mixed group, not only racially but by virtue of their different backgrounds. The quartet being composed as it is, the group have the benefit of four different reactions to the treatment of any song or situation. The cast is as follows:
Jerry Walter, the impressively bass-voiced spokesman-banjoist, was a professional radio actor at the age of nine, portraying everything from the most overtly jolly Santa Claus ever heard to
Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. (When Jerry sometimes becomes verbose, a soft-spoken “there is no time for that now, Billy!” invariably brings him back to earth!) Jerry now lives in suburban Palo Alto with his lovely wife and three children and, occupies himself alternately reading anything imaginable, and attending interminable P.T.A. meetings. Incidentally, he is considered to be one of the best five-string banjoists in the country, and does the majority of the group's arranging and musical adaptations.
Mrs. Elmerlee Thomas, affectionately dubbed “Mama Lee” by the boys, makes her home high on a hill above Oakland with her husband Ally, daughter Marcie, aged 12 and son Maurice, aged 10. When not engaged in the normal activities of a mother of two, she devotes herself to classical music, for which her rich contralto voice is eminently suited.
Ernie Sheldon, born in Brooklyn, is the group's senior guitarist. He makes his home in Los Angeles or, to use his phrase, “the valley.” Ernie is married, and has two lovely girls, aged 6 and 4. A family man, Ernie revolts his colleagues by persisting in rising early at the crack of dawn to play tennis with his wife Annie. When not taking long afternoon naps, he manages to fill his days by writing songs, teaching guitar, and improving his backhand drive. At present he is collaborating on a Broadway show about the Civil War.
Travis Edmonson, the group's highly articulate younger guitarist, lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children. He spends most of his time talking about his home town of Nogales, Arizona, writing songs, and playing the guitar. One of his major interests is the study of Mexican and flamenco guitar music.
So much for the singers, now for the songs.
ALL OVER THIS WORLD is a blend of two songs: an old Huddie Ledbetter tune called “Meetin' at the Buildin'” and a southern folk song. This infectious treatment of Biblical legends is a rousing version guaranteed to stir the most sluggish pulse.
ROLLIN' HOME is a brilliant original, a “modern” folk song written by Travis, the group's junior guitarist. Ernie cynically says it expresses a secret desire of anyone in the entertainment business after a certain point in the evening.
BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN. Around the turn of the century when jobs were scarce men often had to travel around the country seeking employment. They rode the freight trains, and when they met with other hungry and jobless men, they dreamed up a hobo's utopia - a haven where apple pies grew on bushes, when hens laid soft-boiled eggs, and where there were countless lemonade springs for the thirsty. The imaginary spot they picked up was a mountain peak in Utah which, when the sun shone on it at a certain angle, looked as if it were made of rock candy. That, they say, is how this song got its title.
COLORADO TRAIL. This is one of the many versions, perhaps the most touching and effective - of a song which many collectors have paid tribute. Carl Sandburg gave it a prominent place in The American Song Bag .
SHENANDOAH is one of the most beautiful of sea shhantys; its lovely tune expresses deep sentiment. The story goes that a frontiersman loved the daughter of an Indian Chief by the name of Shenandoah, and that he took the girl with him when he went away across the rolling river, the wide Missouri.
HEY-LI-LEE is a tune the singers found on an old record by the Weavers, and enlarged a little for purposes of audience participation. The group starts the song off, and the audience takes over. This way, as with the ancient ballads, new verses are added from time to time.
LET ME FLY is an old Negro spiritual which is impressive in its combination of robust earthliness and rollicking high spirits. Jerry insists that it would make a fine rallying cry for a major airline.
KISSES SWEETER THAN WINE was originally an old Irish folk song about - of all things - a dead cow. The haunting melody was brought over here, became acclimatized, and turned into one of the tenderest and most poignant of ballads.
MALAGUENA SALEROSA is a song which Travis learned while journeying in the Southwest and Mexico. It breaks easily through the language barrier, and suggests the favorite romantic setting: moonlight, a mellow evening, a boy, a girl - and a guitar.
HARD, AIN'T IT HARD is a memorable song from the mountain country of the South. It contains a moral which is universal if somewhat overdrawn.
RIO GRANDE is an old nostalgic shanty, a sailor's work-song. It is said to date back to the time of the Mexican War when guns and other contraband were being shipped to the Rio Grande. It is a song of labor as well as a brief farewell to love, as the men haul on the ropes and hoist sail for the south.
FAIS DO-DO is a tender little French lullaby which has charmed generations of listening children … and adults.
ROCK ABOUT MY SARO JANE. The men who loaded the river-boats along the Mississippi were known as roustabouts, and as they loaded the boats they sang in order to make the work a little faster and a little easier. This is one of their better songs, better in style as well as language.
-- Louis Untermeyer
Other members of the quartet are Jerry Walter, Elmerlee Thomas and Ernie Sheldon. Travis Edmonson has supplied the arrangements for several items, and this album offers his first recording of “Malaguena Salerosa.” Other featured solos are on "All Over This World," and "Hard Ain't It Hard," with "Rollin' Home" offering one of his most appealing performances on record.
For more about the fabulous Gateway Singers, visit
All Over This World
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Let Me Fly
Kisses Sweeter Than Wine
Hard, Ain't It Hard
Rio Grande (Away Rio)
Fais Do-Do (Go To Sleep Colas)
Rock About My Sara Jane
denotes Travis Edmonson compositions
denotes Travis Edmonson collaborations
denotes Travis Edmonson arrangements
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Travis Edmonson made his breakthrough with The Gateway Singers, resident group at the hungry i
Be sure and check out the website celebrating the great San Francisco club at www.hungryi.net
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Travis Edmonson Recommendation! Love the music of Bud & Travis? then you're sure to enjoy the fabulous STREET MINSTRELS.
If you're in Arizona, you can experience their music live, and even have them perform at an event you're arranging. But music lovers all over the US and beyond can experience the great STREET MINSTRELS sound on CD. Just go to www.streetminstrels.com to hear them and get ordering info!