Guitar Builder, Country Star Billy Grammer Passes Away


Billy Grammer, a renowned country-music guitarist and singer, died August 10. He was 85 and passed from natural causes. A member of the Grand Ole Opry, he is arguably best known for his hit “Gotta Travel On,” which reached the Top 5 on the country and pop charts in 1959, the year he was inducted.  In 1963, he charted with “I Wanna Go Home.”

Grammer was born in southern Illinois in 1925. After serving in the Army during World War II, he worked as an apprentice toolmaker at the Washington Naval gun factory, acquiring skills that he would later put to good use designing guitar-production equipment. He began playing professionally in 1947, when legendary country music promoter Connie B. Gay hired him at WARL in Arlington, Virginia. Through the early ’50s, he backed up such country artists as Hawkshaw Hawkins, T. Texas Tyler, Clyde Moody and Grandpa Jones. His career took a giant step up in 1955, when he replaced the chronically tardy Roy Clark on WARL’s “Town and Country Time.” Hosted by Jimmy Dean (who would later have the pop hit “Big John”), the show was aired nationally on CBS. In 1964, he and three partners formed what would become Grammer Guitars, a Nashville-based flat-top maker that built its first guitar in early ’65.

An in-demand session guitarist, he also worked as a sideman in the bands of Hawkshaw Hawkins and Grandpa Jones, Grammer performed Jimmy Dean’s television show. He later formed his own band and began performing as a solo artist.


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