NEW YORK TIMES OBITUARY
Travis Edmonson, Influential Folk Singer, Dies at 76
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: May 14, 2009
Travis Edmonson, who brought a Mexican flavor to the fertile San Francisco folk music scene of the 1950s and who, with the duo Bud and Travis, influenced Bay Area groups that lasted longer and became better known, died Saturday in Mesa, Ariz. He was
The cause was heart failure, said Mike Bartlett, a friend and family spokesman. Mr. Edmonson had an aneurysm and a stroke in 1982 that curtailed his performing career and had been in declining health recently, Mr. Bartlett said
A witty and mischievous man with an irrepressibly arch style of stage patter, Mr. Edmonson was a gifted natural singer, with a bell-clear, versatile tenor capable of romantic crooning, cowboy yodeling and folksy, up-tempo harmonizing. Along with comedians like Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, and musicians like the Kingston Trio, Lou Gottlieb of the Limeliters and the Smothers Brothers, Mr. Edmonson was among those who made San Francisco generally and two nightclubs particularly (the hungry i and the Purple Onion) a rebellious center of Eisenhower-era hip culture.
With Mr. Gottlieb, he was a member of the Gateway Singers, a seminal quartet. In 1958, Mr. Edmonson and another guitarist and singer, Bud Dashiell, formed the duo Bud and Travis. Over the next seven years they recorded eight albums and played innumerable concerts and club dates, and their musical virtuosity and seemingly effortless comedic teamwork - not to mention their telegenic looks - earned them appearances on television variety shows and even comedy series like “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”
In a tight-knit music scene, Bud and Travis shared stages, a gift for potent harmonizing and even individual songs with the Limeliters, the Kingston Trio and the Smothers Brothers; according to Mr. Bartlett, Mr. Edmonson claimed to have lived in the same house with Tom and Dick Smothers in San Francisco at one point, and to have been their landlord.
In performance, what distinguished Bud and Travis more than anything was Mr. Edmonson's passion for mariachi and the other Mexican musical traditions that he had absorbed as a boy in Arizona. Many Latin numbers - “La Bamba,” for example - were part of the Bud and Travis repertory, and Mr. Edmonson's own signature song, one that he considered his favorite piece of music, was - and sings - \“Malaguena Salerosa.\“" “Malagueña Salerosa,” a folk lamentation with a tinge of both heartbreak and religious supplication.
“I idolized him,” Bob Shane of the original Kingston Trio said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “He had command of the stage better than anyone I'd ever seen. He had a wonderful feel for whatever music he was singing. And then, of course, he was this straight-looking white guy who sang these beautiful Mexican songs.”
Travis Jerome Edmonson was born on Sept. 23, 1932, in Long Beach, Calif., but he spent much of his childhood in the Arizona border town of Nogales, where his mother, Lillian, was a teacher, and his father, Everett, a social worker who also ran a grocery. Everyone in the family - Travis had three older brothers - played guitar, and he spent a good part of his young life in Mexican villages, chasing after the sources of the musical sounds that drifted across the border.
His parents sent him to high school in Tucson, and he later attended the University of Arizona there, studying anthropology (and also classical guitar, his first formal musical training). He never graduated, but he and a friend, Roger Smith - who would later star in the television series “77 Sunset Strip” and marry Ann-Margret - became locally famous for serenading college girls on behalf of themselves and classmates who would hire them for the purpose.
Mr. Edmonson served in the Army in the early 1950s and afterward began his career as a solo act in San Francisco before Mr. Gottlieb invited him to join the Gateway Singers. Playing a gig with them in Los Angeles, he ran into Mr. Dashiell, an Army buddy of his older brother Colin, and their partnership was born. It lasted for seven years, after which Mr. Edmonson continued to perform solo until his stroke in 1982. Mr. Dashiell died in 1989.
Married and divorced five times, he is survived by his companion, Rose Marie Heidrick; a son, Steven, who lives near San Francisco; five daughters: Tammy Edmonson of San Francisco, Elizabeth Edmonson of Las Vegas and Ellen Murphy, Erin Kissel and Linda Schneider, all of Tucson; and several grandchildren.
“We didn't think of ourselves as folk singers; we were entertainers,” Mr. Shane said of the circle of San Francisco performers that he and Mr. Edmonson belonged to. “And all of those early people you could say were influenced by Bud and Travis. Of course you could also say Bud and Travis were influenced by them.”
A version of this article appeared in print on May 14, 2009, on page A31 of the New York edition
Photo by Jay Rochlin