Boxcar Willie’s legacy also includes being named “America’s Favorite Hobo”.
|Birth name||Lecil Travis Martin|
|Also known as||Boxcar Willie|
|Born||September 1, 1931|
Ovilla, Texas, U.S.
|Died||April 12, 1999 (aged 67)|
Branson, Missouri, U.S.
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, train whistle|
|Service/||United States Air Force|
|Years of service||1949–1976|
|Rank||Master sergeant E7|
Lecil Travis Martin (September 1, 1931 – April 12, 1999), whose stage name was Boxcar Willie, was an American country music singer-songwriter and enlisted United States Air Force Flight Engineer, 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.
According to his birth record, Martin was born in Ovilla, Texas to Birdie and Edna Mae Martin. He joined the United States Air Force in 1949, and served as a 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”. It eventually stuck and became Martin’s nickname. In 1962, Martin met his future wife, Lloene, in Boise, Idaho. They later had 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 forever went by. That was his part-time vocation, however, for he was still in the Air Force and had been flying daily missions. He later became a Flight Engineer on Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter aircraft in the 136th Air Refueling Wing in the Texas Air National Guard, including air refueling flights around the U.S. and overseas in Germany. In the early 1970s, he was in the Texas Air National Guard as a Flight Engineer on KC-97L tanker aircraft, participating in Operation Creek Party by flying over the Atlantic to Germany many times to do air-to-air refueling there. He was in the 136th Air Refueling Wing, 181st Air Refueling Squadron.
In 1976, Martin retired from the Air Force and became a full-time performer. One of his first national appearances was a win on Chuck Barris‘ The Gong Show. 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. In 1981, Martin achieved a professional landmark by being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. His was more than a US success too, with his 1980 album King of the Road giving him his greatest chart success by reaching No. 5 in the UK Albums Chart. Traveling around the world with his band, was his steadfast and trusty steel guitar player Chubby Howard, radio show host and musician for many years.
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.
On February 23, 1992, Boxcar Willie was featured on the Season 2 premier of Tracks Ahead in which he performed with his band at the Boxcar Willie Theater.
Martin was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996, and died on April 12, 1999 in Branson, Missouri at the age of 67. He was buried at Ozarks Memorial Park in Branson. Major league baseball umpire “Cowboy” Joe West was among his pallbearers.
After a major reconstruction project, the overpass at Interstate 35E and Farm to Market Road 664 in Red Oak, Texas (also known as Ovilla Road, approximately four miles east of Ovilla) was renamed Boxcar Willie Memorial Overpass. A small park, two blocks from the National Mall, near the L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington, D.C. was renamed Boxcar Willie Park. Boxcar Willie’s legacy also includes being named “America’s Favorite Hobo”.
|1976||Boxcar Willie||—||—||—||Column One|
|1978||Daddy Was A Railroad Man||—||—||—|
|1979||Boxcar Willie Sings Hank Williams And Jimmie Rodgers||—||—||—|
|1980||Take Me Home||—||—||—|
|Greatest Hits – Boxcar Willie||—||—||—|
|1981||King of the Road||54||40||35||Main Street|
|1982||Last Train to Heaven featuring Lee Gentry||27||—||—|
|Best of Boxcar, Vol. 1||34||—||—|
|1983||…Not the Man I Used to Be||35||—||—|
|1986||20 All Time Favourites||—||86||—||J&B Records|
|Boxcar Willie||—||—||—||Dot Records|
|1988||Live at Wembley||—||—||—||Pickwick Records|
|Best Loved Favorites||—||—||—||Heartland Music|
|1991||Pure Country Magic||—||—||—|
|Truck Driving Favorites||—||—||—||Madacy Entertainment|
|1993||Rocky Box: Rockabily (With The Skeletons)||—||—||—||K-Tel Records|
|1994||The Spirit Of America||—||—||—||Madacy Entertainment|
|1996||Achy Breaky Heart||—||—||—|
|2004||American Songs – The Very Best of Johnny Cash & Boxcar Willie||—||—||—||Retro Records|
|US Country||CAN Country|
|1980||“Train Medley”||95||—||Take Me Home|
|1982||“Bad News”||36||15||Last Train to Heaven|
|“We Made Memories” (w/ Penny DeHaven)||77||—|
|“Last Train to Heaven”||80||—|
|“Keep on Rollin’ Down the Line”||70||—|
|1983||“Country Music Nightmare”||76||—||Best of Boxcar, Vol. 1|
|“Train Medley” (re-release)||61||—|
|“The Man I Used to Be”||44||—||…Not the Man I Used to Be|
|1984||“Not on the Bottom Yet”||87||—|
- “Martin, Lecil Travis, MSgt”. Weservedtogether.com. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
- Malone, Bill C. Country music, U.S.A., University of Texas Press, 2002, p. 277.
- Mazor, Barry. Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America’s Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 291
- Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 171. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 74. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- “BoxCar Willie” Archived November 7, 2004, at the Wayback Machine, Salon obituary, April 14, 1999.
- Jasinski, Laurie E. (2012). Handbook of Texas Music. Texas State Historical Assn. p. 239. ISBN 978-0-87611-297-7.