Comment on this article

Bud and Travis
by Mark Melnick

He careened through the back room of McCabe's Guitar Shop down in Santa Monica, a blonde little bundle of 16th notes, just shy of the age of four-and-a-half I'd say, careful as the dickens not to damage the Martins, the Guilds, the expensive Spanish imports hanging there on the walls as he danced and spun and sung.

"Look baby," cooed his mom, blonde as a German acoustic, serene like you have to be when they're that age, strumming a third-position G Major on a barely-affordable Dreadnought with perfect intonation. "This one's pretty."

"Scratchplate!" said the kid, strumming the strings with his open hand, tapping the guitar's body with his little nails.

"Yes," said pretty mom. "It has a scratchplate so we don't have to be too careful." She finger-picked her way down to an F# minor and I recognized the beginning to Dylan's Forever Young. She played beautifully.

"Scratchplate, scratchplate, scratchplate!" sang the boy quietly to himself as he worked his way down the steel-strings on the walls and floorstands towards me. I was in the flamenco section, wishing I could buy something. Anything. This was last week.

I got a silly idea. The flamenco box I was holding had double white scratchplates, below and above the soundhole, like two slashes of Spanish soul. For those wild and crazy flamenco riffs that could eventually put a hole in the instrument without them.

"Golpeador!" squawked the kid as I swung the guitar towards him. He knew the Spanish word for scratchplate. He drummed his little hand against the D chord I'd formed. His mom continued to pick against my inept tremolo.

"Yes!" delighted his mother. "A special scratchplate on that one! It's just like Grandpa's isn't it?!"

Well you don't have to hit me over the head in 12/8 time for too long to get my attention. She had sequed into a Malaguena on that guitar she had, which was better-suited to Patsy Cline.

"Grandpa play flamenco does he?" I asked.

"He used to," she said, not as though he'd switched to three-chord power rock recently.

I know of three flamenco guitarists who've died in the last couple years.

"Did he play around L.A.? Professionally?"

"Yes. Bud Dashiell?" she offered tentatively. "He used to—"

"—Of course!" Bud Dashiell! Bud and Travis!"

She smiled kindly, nodded happily.

"Grampa!" said the kid.

Bud and Travis were the best.
No one of their ilk could even touch them.
When they got on stage and did their thing,
there was nothing like it. Wonderful.

--Erik Darling, The Weavers

Of all the American acts that surfed the "Folk Music" craze back in the late 50's and early 60's BBD (Before Bob Dylan)—people like Ian & Sylvia, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, and of course The Weavers—Bud and Travis were my favorite. I think it has a lot to do with what we used to call authenticity, even though we didn't really know what that meant in the context of entertainment.

In a world just beginning to line the threadbare pockets of savvy entrepreneurs like Albert Grossman (Dylan's manager) and Seymour and Maynard Solomon (who founded Vanguard Records), Bud Dashiell and Travis Edmondson came from someplace down deep inside themselves. They sang about life as they knew it to be, and though their music was definitely glossy and professional, and in spite of the fact that they were nothing like household names (they never had a hit record), they transported their audiences whenever and wherever they found them.

They were born on the same day in the same year at nearly the same hour, but they lived in two different worlds.

Oliver "Bud" Dashiell was the son of an American correspondent and an English Folies Bergere dancer. He was born in Paris, grew up on the Bull Run battlefield in Virginia, and enlisted in the Army just in time to become an artillery officer during the Korean War.

Bud met Travis Edmonson in the late 40's after Edmonson's older brother—an army buddy—brought Bud home on a visit. Travis was a California kid who grew up on the Mexican border in Nogales, Arizona, as the musically-gifted black sheep in a family of educators. Edmonson was an anthropologist who had actually lived with a Yaqui tribe while helping to compile the only existing dictionary of the Yaqui language.

They didn't see each other for a number of years after that first meeting, each performing solo in the nascent folk music era, but finally they started playing together at San Francisco's famous Purple Onion.

From the very beginning (and perhaps this is one reason they made such beautiful music together) Bud and Travis were like oil and water. Their personal relationship was notoriously stormy. "We fought nine-tenths of the time, no doubt about that. Tooth and nail. In fact, we hated each other," said Edmonson candidly in 1997.

Regardless, onstage they were miraculous. They played acoustic nylon-strung guitars and were famous for uncanny harmonies and beautiful arrangements of traditional tunes as well as—uniquely—Latin American boleros, which Travis had heard and loved during his childhood.

Their concerts were punctuated by hilarious patter between songs, years before The Smothers Brothers borrowed the idea. Since Travis was actually Tom and Dick Smothers' landlord for about a year in San Francisco, this is not so far-fetched as it might seem. "It was like owning a couple of trained bears," said Edmonson regarding the Smothers. "They were angels, but they were cuckoo. You never knew what to expect!"

Bud and Travis's relationship ended acrimoniously in 1965 when, according to Frank Hamilton, a Folkways Records recording artist, Bud punched Travis in the nose for suggesting that the Korean War combat vet had "no cajones." Travis remembers the altercation differently: something about a scuffle, being shoved against a wall, having his head bloodied. Nonetheless, first and last stones had been thrown and the team broke up.

Hamilton called them "the Gilbert and Sullivan of folk music", Travis the wild and irresponsible "artist", Bud the conservative but outspoken idealogue.

They released eight albums between 1959 and 1965, and there were two more post-breakup compilations from Liberty Records (their original label, now defunct) and a "best of" pressing from Collector's Choice in 1998. They are the only perfomers to have sung before both houses of Congress, in order to have Bud's anti-war song The Time of Man entered into the Congressional Record.

Their effect upon American music—at a time when American music was being redefined—is undeniable. David Crosby (who was Edmonson's gofer if you can believe that) and Linda Ronstadt, famously, acknowledge the duo's influence. The Mexican songs from Travis's boyhood in the Sonoran desert, Florecita De Mi Cielo, Rayito De Luna, Vamos Al Baile and their signature piece, Malaguena Salerosa are still being reinterpreted by 21st century artists such as Los Lobos and Ronstadt herself.
Personal favorites of mine, songs that I can still sing and play (badly) to this day, nearly forty years after I first heard them, include the anti-war ballad Two Brothers, the pure-American Abilene, Joey, Joey, Joey, Red Clay Country, their cover of Dylan's Tomorrow is a Long Time, and especially the rhapsodic Golden Apples of the Sun, adapted from the poem The Song of Wandering Aengus by William Butler Yeats.

Bud Dashiell died in 1989 of a brain tumor. Travis Edmonson (also stricken with a brain aneurysm at about the same time as his partner) is still with us, moving somewhat slower, with all his years.

Their music together remains timeless.

Though I am old from wandering

Through quiet lands and hilly lands

I will find out where she is gone

And hold her mouth, and take her hands

And walk through long green dappled grass

And pluck till time and time is done

The silver apples of the moon

The golden apples of the sun

W.B. Yeats, The Song of Wandering Aengus

So as I looked into the bright inquisitive eyes of Bud Dashiell's bilingual grandson, as I was caressed by the plaintive acoustic meanderings of his beautiful daughter in the back of L.A.'s landmark guitar shop, a thought occurred to me:

Tomorrow really isn't such a long time. Not at all.

Addendum: Travis Edmonson died on Saturday, May 9th, 2009, of Parkinson's Disease and other illnesses at a hospital in Mesa, Arizona. He was 76.


A Bud and Travis Discography, all vinyl, all out-of-print:

Spotlight On Bud and Travis (Liberty, 1960)
In Concert (Liberty, 1960)
In Concert, Part 2 (Liberty, 1960)
Bud and Travis Naturally (Liberty, 1960)
Perspective On Bud and Travis (Liberty, 1963)
In Person At The Cellar Door (Liberty, 1964)
The Bud and Travis Latin Album (Liberty, 1965)
Bud and Travis (Greatest Hits)(Sunset, Late 60s)
Cloudy Summer Afternoon (Liberty/Capitol, 1984)

The good news is: The Best of Bud and Travis (Collector's Choice, 1998) is on Compact Disc and available worldwide.

Check out the excellent, comprehensive website:


Return to:

[New] [Archives] [Join] [Contact Us] [Poetry in Motion] [Store] [Staff] [Guidelines]