PHOENIX – Travis Edmonson, a folk music singer and songwriter of the 1950s and ’60s who was considered a pioneer by artists such as the Kingston Trio, has died. He was 76.
Edmonson died Saturday at a Mesa hospital, said longtime friend Mike Bartlett. Although Bartlett did not know the cause of death, he said Edmonson, who had a stroke in 1982, had suffered from numerous health problems.
Bob Shane, founding member of the Kingston Trio, was in college when he first saw Edmonson perform in San Francisco. Edmonson became his idol.
“He was probably the finest solo entertainer I’d ever seen,” Shane told The Associated Press from his Phoenix home. “He had a command of the stage that was just unbelievable.”
Shane said he and fellow band member Nick Reynolds were inspired watching Edmonson, who at the time was a member of the Gateway Singers.
“When we were seniors, we used to drive up and catch the Gateway Singers quite often. I’d say he definitely had an influence on the Kingston Trio because we enjoyed watching what they did as a group. But we decided not to use a girl which they had. So we cut it down to the trio.”
Edmonson was born in Long Beach, Calif., and spent his childhood in the border town of Nogales. His family’s proximity to Mexico helped to shape his passion for Latin music.
Bartlett said as a boy, Edmonson would sleep outside by the border. After dark, he would go to Mexican restaurants to watch mariachi musicians.
While studying at the University of Arizona, Edmonson won an amateur performing contest and decided to pursue a career as an entertainer. He formed a folk music duo with Bud Dashiell called Bud & Travis. The two recorded eight albums between 1959 and 1965. After they split, Edmonson sang solo and then joined Shane, who had split from the Trio.
Their act, Shane & Travis, lasted only four weeks before Shane opted to start the New Kingston Trio.
“We had a lot of fun but, as I said, things were happening quite quickly from the singing. . . . We had some differences but not things we were upset about,” Shane said. “He wanted to go one way, and I wanted to go another. So, we said, ‘See you later.’ ”
Some of Edmonson’s signature songs included “I’m a Drifter” and “Malaguena Salerosa.”
In the 1970s, Edmonson moved back to Tucson where he continued to perform and advise younger musicians such as Linda Ronstadt. Shane said Edmonson was often thought of as an ambassador of music in the Tucson area.
The stroke left Edmonson paralyzed on his left side. He was unable to perform, but he still liked to write songs and meet with other musicians. Bartlett said Edmonson always cared about helping struggling, younger artists.
“Big people didn’t necessarily impress him, but the little guy was the one he always had his eye on,” Bartlett said.
He is survived by his wife, Rose Marie Heidrick, and one son and five daughters from previous relationships.
Funeral services will be private with a public memorial planned for a later date.