Saturday, October 1, 2011


This one's fun.

"The Travelers" was a name used by MANY groups in the 1950s and 1960s. There are records on labels like Atlas, ABC-Paramount, Decca, Don-Ray, Gass, Knight, Magic Lamp, MG, Midwest, Princess, Vault, World-Wide and Yellow Sand - ALL by some group or another named The Travelers. Some are folk records, some are surf, others doo-wop - all obscure. It's a definite bad-luck name; not ONE of those Travelers groups ever had a national hit.

However, THIS group of Travelers at least came close - and their provenance is a lot cooler than all those other, anonymous Travelers groups. These Travelers were actually The Pilgrim Travelers, one of the GREAT early- to mid-50s gospel groups that recorded for Art Rupe's Specialty Records. With dual leads Kylo Turner and Keith Barber (and baritone Jess Whitaker), the Pilgrim Travelers were one of the most respected groups on the gospel scene. Their manager was J. W. Alexander, who later took an interest in another of Rupe's groups, The Soul Stirrers, especially their lead singer, Sam Cooke. 

Well, we all know what happened with Sam and J. W., but the Pilgrim Travelers followed in their footsteps, leaving Art Rupe and Specialty Records shortly after Sam's defection in 1957. A&R man Bumps Blackwell, who also left Specialty at the same time, signed The Pilgrim Travelers to the Keen/Andex/Ensign family of labels in 1957, and used the same blueprint with them as he did with Sam - he tried to turn them into a secular group, re-christening them The Travelers. At this time a new tenor joined the group, a young man named Lou Rawls (I always think of him as a deep baritone, but everybody says he sang tenor for the group - and who am I to argue?). This was the first single the group released with Rawls (though, to be honest, I can't hear him anywhere on this 45). Kylo Turner left the group shortly afterwards (though he did make a solo 45 for Andex).

Ironically, it was traveling that destroyed The Travelers. The gospel circuit was rough in those days, and traveling 300 miles between gigs in a car was not uncommon. The group had already had several close calls, but on November 10, 1958, at about 2 AM, after a gig and a party, the group (with Sam Cooke himself in tow) piled into Sam's brand-new yellow 1958 Cadillac El Dorado convertible. With Eddie Cunningham (Sam's driver) at the wheel, Sam riding shotgun, and Lou Rawls and Sam's guitarist Cliff White in the back, they traveled from St. Louis to Greenville, Mississippi, down Highway 61. Eddie fell asleep at the wheel, and slammed into a soybean truck at about 100 miles an hour. White ended up with a broken collarbone, broken ribs, and broken fingers (not good for a guitarist, but White would play behind Sam for a number of years afterward). Lou Rawls hit his head on the steel bar that held up the ragtop, and was in a coma for several days. Eddie Cunningham was nearly cut in half by the edge of the steering wheel; he died in the hospital two hours later. As for Sam, who was also fast asleep, he somehow slid under the dashboard and walked away with a cut on his left arm and some glass slivers in his face. With Lou out for the forseeable future, the group decided to call it a day.

As for this 45, it's so goofy but so cool at the same time. From the opening "vroom vroom!" noises the lead singer (probably Jess Whitaker) makes, to the cries of "Hey man, lend me a quarter" and "Man, I just spent thirty cents!", this record makes being a cash-strapped teenager sound fun.

The Travelers - Teen Age Machine Age (Andex 3-4006) - 1958


  1. Great song that i'd never heard before. And some cool stories to go along with it... Thanks

  2. VROOM VROOM like Storey Sisters' "Bad Motorcycle" THANKS!!!