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Besides being able to pick his Gibson 335 at close to the speed of light, just what was the secret to Memphis guitar genius Travis Wammack’s sound? “I used A tenor banjo strings for my G string,” says Wammack, “I’d go into clubs and look at the picker’s guitar and if he didn’t have an unwound third string I knew I could burn him up. I could get the stretchy sound and lay some funk on him.”
And burn he did, from his Eddie Bond-sponsored debut recording on Fernwood Records (“Rock ‘n’ Roll Blues”) at age eleven clear through session work in Muscle Shoals and, most recently, holding down the guitar chair in Little Richard’s band. As if these accomplishments aren’t enough, there’s always the very thing that rock ‘n’ rollers love most about Travis Wammack: the series of recordings that he cut at Roland Janes’ Sonic Studios from 1963 through 1967. There were the originals; “Scratchy,” “Firefly,” “Tech-nically Speaking,” “Distortion Part 2.” There were the classics; “Night Train,” “Hideaway,” “Louie, Louie,” “Hallelujah, I Love Her So.” There was even one vocal number—the incredibly great “Try To Find Another Man”—that barely utilized Travis’s “Scratchy” guitar and still managed to be a complete work of genius. Generally backed only by bassist Prentiss McPhail and drummer Danny Taylor—a rhythm section that sounded like a freight train at full roar, and often moved just as fast—the teenage Wammack laid down a wailing pound of sound the likes and intensity of which will surely never be heard again. It’s almost impossible to grasp the fact that this much sound could come out of three people, but their ferocity of attack coupled with their sheer playing power made this band a true “power trio” years before the term came into usage.
When Janes tried to license a few of the cuts to Chet Atkins, the great picker refused them, flatly stating, “This scares me—I pass!” But Roland, having played guitar on every Jerry Lee Lewis hit at Sun, knew rock ‘n’ roll inside out and issued the tracks himself, denting the charts briefly with “Scratchy” in 1964. But by and large, Travis’s wild guitar workouts proved to be too crazed and ahead of their time even for the radical musical climate of the sixties. After a stint with the Bill Black Combo he concentrated on session work, first at Sonic and Hi and eventually at Fame, where he cut a pair of hits under his own name in the early ‘70s. Meanwhile, the Sonic masters languished for decades until they were finally issued by Bear Family and Zu-Zazz, blowing the collective minds of a whole new generation of guitar maniacs.
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Gear used by Travis Wammack
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