One of the most famous hits that emerged in the late 1950s was Billy Wayne Grammer’s “Gotta Travel On.” The singer and guitarist recorded the song shortly after he signed to Monument Records in Nashville, Tennessee. Soon to be a million-selling single, “Gotta Travel On” was penned by David Lazar, Larry Ehrlich, Paul Clayton, and Tom Six. A year after its release, the song hit not just a single music chart but four all in all. It was a Top 5 hit on both the country and pop charts peaking at No. 5 and No. 4, respectively. The song likewise cracked the R&B chart’s Top 20 settling at No. 14. Interestingly, the tune gained major fame in Australia becoming a Top 10 hit there. It’s no wonder “Gotta Travel On” accumulated millions in total sales during its heyday.
Inspired by the song’s huge success, Grammer named his band after it. The song’s feat would then give birth to the group, The Travel On Boys. Moreover, due to the high acclaim that the song reached, many other artists became fascinated with it. Soon, they began recording their respective cover of the song. Among the most notable versions of the hit was that of Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys. Their 1959 interpretation of it reached No. 15 on the US country chart. Still, other covers of “Gotta Travel On” charted on the pop and R&B tables. Meanwhile, the late singer and musician, Buddy Holly, also took advantage of the song’s fame. He used it to open his final tour in January and February 1959. It was just unfortunate that his show was ended by his tragic death in a plane crash.
The Man Behind the Million-Selling Hit
Prior to his entry to the music scene, Billy Grammer had served in the US Army during the Second World War. In addition to that, he became an apprentice toolmaker at a gun factory in Washington Naval. Unfortunately, he got laid off along with many other workers. On the bright side of the situation, Grammer met Connie B. Gay and things turned for the better for him. The singer/entertainer businessman asked Grammer to be a singer, and eventually singer-guitarist, for his radio program.
Who would have thought that his first-ever song will help cement his reputation as a recording artist? But aside from earning his highest-charting single and million-selling hit with “Gotta Travel On,” Grammer’s exceptional guitar skills also propelled his career as a musician. He put up his own company named as RG&G and later became Grammer Guitar Inc. During the mid- until the late ‘60s, the skilled artist worked on creating and designing his own guitars.
At the height of his hit’s golden days in 1959, Grammer became a member of the prestigious Grand Ole Opry. He soon performed regularly on the program until the 21st century. Also, he was inducted into the Illinois Country Music Hall of Fame in 1990 along with Patsy Montana, Lulu Belle and Scotty, and Tex Williams.
He died on August 10, 2011, after suffering from retinitis pigmentosa (a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina) causing him to be totally blind. He was 85 years old at the time of his passing. Today marks his seventh death anniversary.
Watch Billy Grammer performing his big hit, “Gotta Travel On” below.
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Billy Wayne Grammer, Dave Lazer, gotta travel on, Larry Ehrlich, Paul Clayton, The Travel On Boys, The Weavers