Bobby Lee Trammell (b. Jan. 31, 1934) was crazy. Born in the country outside of Jonesboro, Arkansas, to a pair of cotton farmers (he father Wiley played fiddle, his mom Mae played organ in church, his little sister played on the linoleum) he had a typical upbringing of singing in church and listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. The young Trammell had aspirations as a country singer, until one day, in 1956, a package tour hit Jonesboro, the headliners were Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, and the ever affable Perkins allowed young Bobby to join his band onstage for a song, Perkins even recommended that Trammell try his luck in Memphis and talk to Sam Phillips. This Bobby Trammell did, only to be told to come back in a few weeks when Sam wasn’t so busy. Not exactly the patient sort, Trammell headed for California where he landed in Long Beach and took a job in the Ford plant. He also found a gig singing at the Jubilee Ballroom in Baldwin Park. He attracted enough attention to get a record deal with the tiny Fabor label, run by Fabor Robinson. His first single– Shirley Lee b/w I Sure Do Love You Baby was recorded using Bob Luman’s group– the Shadows as his backing band. The Shadows featured a young guitarist named James Burton who would soon leave Luman for the greener (as in money) pastures of Ricky Nelson’s band (with whom he would re-cut Shirley Lee with Ricky Nelson on his second LP). Shirley Lee was a minor, regional hit. Fabor leased the master to ABC-Paramount, and it was off to the races for Bobby Lee Trammell. Unfortunately he placed out of the money.
In March of ’58 Trammell cut his second single, this time Robinson issued it first on Fabor then re-issued it on the Radio subsidiary shortly after. Both sides are excellent–You Mostest Girl b/w Uh Oh, the a side being the more rocking of the two. So far, so good, and soon Bobby Lee Trammell was booked on the Louisiana Hayride, the regional radio show broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana, where Elvis got his start. Unfortunately the Hayride hated him, booking agent Tillman Franks called him “downright vulgar” and “ten times worse than Elvis”. His stint with the Hayride was cut short. When Farbor Robinson sold Trammell’s contact to the Warrior label– his next disc– Woe Is Me b/w Open Up Your Heart was issued in 1959, rockabilly was not longer tearing up the charts back then but Trammell was not the type to give up easy. He returned to Arkansas and began recording for Terry Gordon’s small group of label, highlights include Hi Ho Silver b/w Been A Walking (Vaden) in 1960, and a re-recorded version of You Mostest Girl that appeared on Skyla.
and Come On Baby b/w I Tried Not To Cry. The a side was a twist version of Arkansas Stomp, the b-side a Jimmy Reed style rocker. The second single featured a Chuck Berry type rocker on the top deck and a “crying” ballad (i.e., Bobby breaks down in sobs at the end) on the flip. Neither met which much success, even when Bobby took to climbing the tower of the radio stations that refused to play his records. Atlanta even issued an LP–Arkansas Twist.
At one point in Arkansas he destroyed Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano which resulted in being black balled from the southern rock’n’roll touring circuit.
He kept cutting records, for smaller and smaller labels. 1962 saw a good one called – Sally Twist b/w Carolyn on Atlanta.
Rockabilly was way past its heyday but Trammel kept plugging, donning a Beatle wig he took to calling himself “the first American Beatle”. Desperate for a hit, he cut some truly strange and wonderful discs– Bobby Needs Love from the Arkansas Twist LP is an excellent What’d I Say style rocker. Toolie Froolie from ’66 on the Hot label is a whacked out Surfin’ Bird take off. The crazed New Dance In France was issued twice in 1966- first on Atlanta, then on Sims, both versions sunk without a trace, but a great record it is.
Bobby Lee Trammell kept plugging away, he cut country discs, including a remake of You Mostest Girl, then moved into an even sleazier branch of show business when he ran for and won a seat in the Arkansas State Senate. He developed a following in Europe among Teddy Boys and collectors and in the 80’s he toured Europe where, ever the excitable performer he broke his wrist jumping on the piano (and missing). Back in the Arkansas, he served in the State Senate until 2002. At this point he’d given up singing, afraid it would ruin his career in politics.
He passed away on Feb. 20. 2008, in Jonesboro, his hometown.