Boxcar Willie

Box car willieBoxcar Willie, born as Lecil Travis Martin (September 1, 1931 – April 12, 1999) was an American country music singer, who sang in the "old-time hobo" music style, complete with dirty face, overalls, and a floppy hat.  "Boxcar Willie" was originally a character in a ballad he wrote, but he later adopted it as his own stage name.

 

 

Born in Sterrett, Texas, Martin joined the United States Air Force in 1949, and served as a pilot and flight engineer for the B-29 Super Fortress during the Korean War in the early 1950s. In Lincoln, Nebraska, Martin was once sitting at a railroad crossing and a fellow that closely resembled his chief boom operator, Willie Wilson, passed by sitting in a boxcar. He said, "There goes Willie." He pulled over and wrote a song entitled "Boxcar Willie".[citation needed] It eventually stuck and became Martin's nickname. In 1962, Martin met his future wife, Lloene, in Boise, Idaho. They would later have four children.

In San Jose, California, Martin attended a talent show as "Boxcar Willie" and performed under the nickname for the first time. He won first place, a $150 prize and a nickname that he would forever go by. That was his part-time vocation, however; he was still in the Air Force and had been flying daily missions. He later became a Flight Engineer on KC-97L aircraft in the 136th ARW in the Texas Air National Guard, including air refueling flights around the USA and overseas in Germany.

In 1976, Martin left the Air Force and became a full-time performer. He entered American mainstream pop culture consciousness due to a series of television commercials for record compilations of artists who were obscure in the United States, yet had large international followings, such as Slim Whitman and Gheorghe Zamfir. He went on to become a star in country music, selling more than 10 million records, tapes and CDs worldwide. In 1981, Martin achieved a professional landmark by being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry as its 60th member.

In 1985, Martin moved to Branson, Missouri and purchased a theater on Highway 76, or 76 Country Music Boulevard. In addition to the Boxcar Willie Theater, he opened a museum and eventually had two motels, both bearing his name. Boxcar Willie was one of the first big stars to open a show in Branson, paving the way for the other nationally-known names that followed. He performed at his theater in Branson until he died.

Diagnosed with leukemia in 1996, Martin died on April 12, 1999 in Branson at age 67. Martin was a first cousin to the actor, Tommy Lee Jones, who is also from Texas.

 

In Red Oak, Texas they have the Boxcar Willie Memorial Overpass on IH 35.