Billy Grammer and His Hit “Gotta Travel On”



Billy Grammer (born Billy Wayne Grammer in 1925 – died in 2011) was an American country singer and guitar player, who was particularly active during the 50s music era up to the 1960s. He is now fondly remembered for his 1959 top 10 pop and country hit “Gotta Travel On” which has now an oldies music favorite. He was a US Army officer during the Second World War, and then worked as an apprentice toolmaker at a gun factory in Washington Naval until he was laid off amongst thousands of other workers. Then a stroke of fortune came when he was invited by singer/entertainment businessman Connie B. Gay as a singer (and eventually singer-guitarist) for his radio program in Washington D. C. In terms of his recording career, Billy Grammer scored his highest-charting hit with “Gotta Travel On”, released on Monument Records in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1959. He even formed his own group based on the title of his biggest hit – the Travel On Boys. With his exceptional prowess with guitars, Grammer eventually founded his own company called RG&G, later to become Grammer Guitar Inc. He created and designed his own Grammer Guitar in during the mid- to late 1960s. Since the fame he attained from “Gotta Travel On”, Grammer had been a regular member and performer on the prestigious Grand Ole Opry until the 21st century. Grammer died in 2011, aged 85.

Early life

Born on August 28, 1925 in Benton, Illinois, Billy Wayne Grammer was known for his single “Gotta Travel On” in 1959. He inherited his musical talent from his father, who was a violinist and trumpeter. Aside from having broad interest in science and engineering,  Grammer also loved music. When he was young, he played several instruments including fiddle, guitar and mandolin. He would accompany his father on his performances or would play solo. Grammer was the eldest among the 13 siblings. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army. Upon discharge, he found work as an apprentice toolmaker at the Washington Naval gun factory. In 1944, Grammer married his high school girlfriend, Ruth Burzynski. By that time, Grammar was already singing on Connie B. Gay’s WARL radio program Town and Country Time.

Music career

In 1958, Grammer got signed to Monument Records in Nashville, Tennessee and subsequently released his first single “Gotta Travel On.” The song reached at #4 on the US Pop Singles Chart and #5 on the country songs chart that year. He formed own band which he named The Travel On Boys, based on his hit song. Later that same year, Grammer became a mainstay on the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1959, “Gotta Travel On” was used by Buddy Holly as the opening song on his final tour which ended up with his tragic death from a plane crash.

In 1959, after a couple of minor hit singles “The Kissing Tree” and “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” they were followed by the first chart version of a Bobby Bare’s track “Detroit City” entitled “I Wanna Go Home.” The song peaked at #18 on the Billboard Country chart in 1963.

Grammar became the founder of RG&G (Reid, Grammer & Gower) Company in 1965 along with Clyde Reid and J.W. Gower. The company created the Grammer guitar from 1965 and 1968, when all of a sudden their guitar factory in downtown Nashville was burned down. RG&G was later sold to a new company named Ampeg; a new factory was built down the street from the old one. Later on, the company was renamed after Grammer and became GGI, Grammer Guitar Inc. which produced the Grammar guitar until 1970. On March 1, 1969, his guitar was inaugurated into the Country Music hall Of Fame in Nashville.

On March 16, 1974, Grammer delivered the invocation the Grand Ole Opry House opening. Along with the prominent names in the industry,  Grammer was inducted into the Illinois Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1990.

Grammer became completely blind due to a degenerative disease called retinitis pigmentosa. He celebrated his 50 years membership at the Grand Ole Opry on February 27, 2009. On August 10, 2011, 85-year-old Grammer died due to a heart attack.

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