By Bill Lynch
CHARLESTON, W.V. — Chandler Travis laughs easily. He’s got a lot to laugh about. For the most part, he’s a man who’s gotten to do what he wants. The singer, guitarist, bandleader and former newspaper columnist’s career in music spans more than four decades, a couple of bands — including the Chandler Travis Three-O, appearing Sunday on “Mountain Stage” — and at least one long-term partnership with an American comedy icon.
Travis got started in music in the late 1960s, after he met guitarist Steve Shook. The two began playing together as Travis Shook, a duo.
“We were just a duo because we were too stoned to find a drummer,” Travis snickered, and then added a little more seriously, “Well, OK, it wasn’t entirely being too stoned. It just took us 10 years to find the right drummer.”
In the meantime, they played all over the country and, in 1972, met George Carlin at The Main Point coffeehouse in Bryn Mawr, Pa. It was a few months before Carlin’s arrest for his routine “The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” at Milwaukee’s Summerfest.
“I think he was a last-minute replacement for Dave Van Ronk,” Travis said. “George’s album, ‘FMAM,’ had just come out, and we’d seen him a couple of times on Ed Sullivan.”
They became fast friends. Carlin, Travis said, was a big record collector. They had that in common, along with a general interest in music. With his star on the rise, Carlin decided he wanted a band with him on tour. During the early peak of Carlin’s career, Travis and Shook were that band.
“We shared a love of music . . . and dope,” Travis chuckled. “I mean, mostly just pot. You know that point in the late ’60s, early ’70s, when everybody was doing everything? We were, too.”
They stayed with Carlin until about 1980, when Shook and Travis formed The Incredible Casuals.
“A noisy rock band,” he said.
After that, they didn’t tour as much with Carlin — just a couple of dates a year — but The Incredible Casuals did OK. “We did shows, released albums and everything.”
From The Incredible Casuals, he formed the Chandler Travis Philharmonic and eventually the Chandler Travis Three-O, which he sees as a kind of satellite ensemble for the philharmonic, not unlike a chamber group made up of members from a symphony orchestra.
And the music?
“Well, that’s a funny thing,” he said. “You work really hard to come up with something that’s hard to describe, that’s unique, and the first thing you’re asked to do is describe it.”
Still, after about 15 years, Travis has come up with a couple of working titles for his buffet-style mix of musical genres. There’s a little bit of everything in there, from rock to odd bits of folk to South American music to jazz.
“It’s been called Alternative Dixieland or Omni-Pop,” he said. “We also use ‘gospel music for atheists.'”
Whatever Travis calls the style, his lyrics often come with a slightly askew perspective and a wry sense of humor.
“My first instinct as a songwriter is to subvert any given form,” he said. “If I write a pretty love song there’s likely to be a twist, because I don’t want to be writing the same song again.”
Reach Bill Lynch at ly…@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.
WANT TO GO?
With The Nighthawks, The Milk Carton Kids, Chandler Travis Three-O, Lucy Wainwright Roche and Sarah Siskind
WHERE: Culture Center Theater
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS: Advance $15, at the door $25
INFO: 800-594-TIXX or www.mountainstage.org