Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

“Gotta’ Travel On” Was Early Cross Over Hit

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The song “Gotta’ Travel On,” written by by Billy Wayne Grammer (August 28, 1925 – August 10, 2011), is perhaps among the most renown songs in modern recorded history, and for good reason. It was one of the very first songs to have ever had broad “crossover” appeal.

The song’s melody is a traditional one, and the lyrics are thought to be based on a fragment of an unnamed song found in the archives of the Virginia Folklore Society entitled “Done Laid Around,” though there are versions of the song with the same title which typically use a different set of stanzas.

February 22, 1958, Pete Seeger became the first musician to have recorded it and the lyrics with which most are now familiar – which were written by Paul Clayton, David Lazar, Larry Ehrlich, Fred Hellerman, Pete Seeger, and Lee Hays. The BMI Award Winning Song is BMI Work #503008 in the repertoire, and is 100% controlled by BMI.

Pete Seeger performs “Gotta Travel On”

It was only very shortly thereafter, in 1959, when Billy Wayne Grammer recorded and released that song, that it charted on the Country (ranking 5th), Pop (ranking 4th) AND R&B (ranking 14th) music charts! That was no small feat! While not the very first such crossover song,”Gotta’ Travel On” was certainly one of the first. And in the years since, many songs have increased popularity among wider audiences by artists whose interpretations have brought nuance, and even complete change to a song.

Of the numerous musicians have since lent their interpretations to, and re-recorded “Gotta’ Travel On,” which include musical luminaries such as Buddy Holley, Bob Dylan, Boxcar Willie, The Kingston Trio, Bobby Bare, Harry Belafonte, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc., is the one who is known as the “Father of Bluegrass Music,” the late Bill Monroe (September 13, 1911September 9, 1996). It was his version which made an impression upon me, and it is his version which I consider the standard by which I measure others.

A vibrantly brilliant scarlet sumac leaf highlighted by the sun adorns the grass. It’s a sign that Summer is on it’s way out, and that Autumn is around the corner.

The lyrics are:
I’ve laid around and played around
This old town too long

Summer’s almost gone
Yes, winter’s comin’ on
I’ve laid around and played around
This old town too long
And I feel like I gotta travel on

Poppa writes to Johnny
But Johnny can’t come home
Johnny can’t come home
No, Johnny can’t come home
Poppa writes to Johnny
But Johnny can’t come home
Cause he’s been on the chain gang too long

I’ve laid around and played around
This old town too long
Summer’s almost gone
Yes, winter’s comin’ on
I’ve laid around and played around
This old town too long
And I feel like I gotta travel on

High sheriff and police riding after me
Riding after me, yes, coming after me
High sheriff and police coming after me
And I fee like I gotta travel on

A yellow aspen leaf lies in solitude atop the verdant natural carpet.

I’ve laid around and played around
This old town too long
Summer’s almost gone
Yes, winter’s comin’ on
I’ve laid around and played around
This old town too long
And I feel like I gotta travel on

Want to see my honey
Want to see her bad
Want to see her bad
Oh, want to see her bad
Want to see my honey
Want to see her bad,
She’s the best girl
This poor boy ever had

I’ve laid around and played around
This old town too long
Summer’s almost gone
Yes, winter’s comin’ on
I’ve laid around and played around
This old town too long
And I feel like I gotta travel on

Billy Grammer performing his version of the song “Gotta’ Travel On.”

Bill Monroe performing his interpretation of “Gotta’ Travel On.”

Harry Belafonte performs the song alternately titled as “Done Laid Around” in his 1959 motion picture “The World, the Flesh and the Devil.”

Jerry Lee Lewis puts his touch upon the tune.

A yellow aspen leaf lies alongside it’s brown fellow leaves. Autumn is around the corner.

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