Tucson legend and folk singer Travis Edmonson will be honored at the Berger Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, May 12. A former Tucson resident and once pegged the city's Singing Ambassador of Good Will, Edmonson received international acclaim as one half of the folk singing duo 'Bud and Travis' in the 1950s and 60s.
"It was a frantic lifestyle," he said. "I never had time for anything except running from one gig to another." Gigs were plenty from New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles and in-between. The duo recorded nine albums during their 10 years together.
At the tribute, The Tucson Tapes will be released, a double CD of Edmonson's local December concert of 1966. "Malaguena Salerosa," a Latin tune which sold one million copies in the '50s, plus "Cloudy Summer Afternoon," which reached the American Top 30, are featured on the set by Folk Era Productions.
"I'm very excited about the concert," Edmonson said. "I'm a pretty simple guy--it (the CD) captured me in that exact second." Arizona historian Marshall Trimble and state balladeer Dolan Ellis will highlight the show, along with Tucson's own Santa Cruz River Band and Edmonson family members.
Edmonson began singing publicly at age 7 as a member of the St. Andrew's Episcopal Church choir in Nogales. "It made me feel big," he recalled. "I sang the right notes, and wasn't just there for show." Edmonson also would sing in harmony to piano music with his brother on Sunday afternoons.
While growing up in Nogales, he "plunked away at home and on the hillside," to learn the guitar. Edmonson serenaded the University of Arizona sororities with Roger Smith, who eventually became an actor and Ann-Margret's husband. The two became winners on the Horace Heidt and Ted Mack Amateur Hour.
In the late 1940s, Edmonson was introduced to Bud Daishell from Virginia, an Army pal of his older bother Colin. The two hit it off musically and soon joined forces. "He was fascinated by my Mexican music and I was fascinated by his folk songs," Edmonson said. The seventh-generation Arizonan reared in Nogales taught Daishell Spanish and Southwestern lore. (A comprehensive view of the duo's history may be found at http://eserver.org/home/tom/budandtravis.html.)
"I was the Smothers Brothers' landlord in San Francisco," recalled Edmonson of his basement tenants in the '60s. "I heard them at the Purple Onion, worked with them--and within six months they were hot." Edmonson has performed with Maya Angelou, Phyllis Diller, Arlo and Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and was a member of the Gateway Singers for several years.
While attending Tucson High School, Edmonson sang in the choir. His love for the land led him to study anthropology at the UA, following two of his older brothers. "I enjoy knowing and doing," Edmonson said. "It's like being plugged into a continuum which doesn't stop," he recalled of discovering Indian pots and arrowheads in a cave south of Tucson.
Edmonson's interest in the Pascua Yaqui community in and around Tucson led tribal members to invite him to participate in tribal ceremonies. "I felt that their story had never really been told," he said. Edmonson was inspired to write a Yaqui-Spanish dictionary and was made an honorary member of the tribe in 1948.
Edmonson left his tour of music in the early '70s and returned to Tucson, to the home of his friend Ted DeGrazia. He created a musical score to accompany the artist's work. "I was asked by DeGrazia to write a symphony for his work and was provided a place to live," Edmonson said. The musical score of DeGrazia's doctoral dissertation correlated music and color.
"It was scholarly, and took a lot of work," Edmonson said of the project. "It was haunting, unpredictable ... listening to it I got a feeling of real smoothness--smoother than most music. Ted painted music, and I played paintings." The symphony was performed before the Tucson Press Club and the City of Santa Barbara.
Edmonson's contribution to the city of Tucson was noticed, whether it was singing and sharing tales of the Southwest to schools or to St. Mary's burn center. In 1971, he received The Copper Letter for outstanding contribution to the community. In 1995, the Tucson Weekly-sponsored Tucson Area Music Awards presented Edmonson with a TAMMIES Hall of Fame Award.
Edmonson, still challenged by the effects of an aneurysm-stroke in 1982, is working on an autobiography and works of poetry. "I just barely scratched the surface of writing," he said.
The Tucson legend remains grateful for his musical talent. "I never abused that gift from God. For other people who decide to do similar things ... please do. There is a crying need for the expression of American music and there is a huge audience."
Travis Edmonson will play at Berger Center for the Performing Arts, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd., this Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets for the concert are available through KXCI-FM at 623-1000 ext. 13 or www.kxci.org for $15.