Sonny Trammel

Born in Doddridge, Arkansas, as one of two children of James and Dorothy Lott Trammell, one of Sonny's first jobs was helping his father and grandfather, Blanton Kelly, run a ferry across the Red River. After his father died of leukemia in 1944 when Sonny was twelve, his mother married Gary Norrell, a tank truck driver. She worked in grocery stores as well as for JC Penney. At night the family listened to The Grand Ole Opry on a battery-powered radio. After the family moved to Bossier City, Sonny washed Continental Trailways buses and ran a paper route for The Shreveport Times. Cultivating an early love of music (he played a guitar he ordered from Montgomery Ward catalogue at age fourteen), he often watched stars such as Hank Williams, the Bailes Brothers, and Webb Pierce perform in a morning radio show at KWKH. Forming a trio with friends Bill and Ray Leckie, they played for tips in a Bossier City cafe on Friday and Saturday nights. Sonny quit school after his junior year at Bossier City High School, and played four nights a week in a Texarkana nightclub, often with a band led by Paul Howard. In 1952, Sonny performed on Louisiana Hayride with Webb Pierce, but he was soon called to service. Stationed with the U.S. Army in Germany, he played steel guitar in a country band, appearing on Armed Forces Network. Completing his service after two years, he returned to Shreveport and began playing steel guitar for Jim Reeves on Louisiana Hayride, where he met a young Elvis Presley, who "left a good impression back when he was young," Sonny says. "In his younger days he was real nice." No one could make a living playing just on Louisiana Hayride, he recalls. Singers received about twenty-five dollars, while musicians were paid about eighteen dollars. On the road a musician earned about thirty-five to fifty dollars a night. Touring with Reeves across the country and through Canada, Sonny and the band traveled in sedans, pulling a small trailer with instruments. Moving to Nashville in 1958, Reeves urged Sonny to join him. Sonny stayed a month. "I didn't like the town or the rat race, I called it," he says. He also bristled at strict union rules that allowed him to play only on the road with artists. Because he could perform neither on the Grand Ole Opry nor on radio, he returned to Shreveport, where he backed up future stars such as Johnny Horton, George Jones, and Slim Whitman. Meanwhile he met Evangeline Waxham and married on July 31, 1961. (They would have two sons and three grandchildren.) Sonny played in the band for the gubernatorial campaign of Jimmie Davis in 1959 and 1960. With Louisiana Hayride in its last days, he asked the new governor for a job. "So he put me to work at the Department of Transportation. I stayed there thirty-seven years," he says. Meanwhile, he continued performing around town, mainly on weekends, including playing electric bass in rock and roll. Looking back on his career, Sonny calls Reeves "probably my favorite musician and singer." He also admired the work of guitarists Chet Atkins and Buddy Hammonds. Country, he says, remains his favorite genre of music. He still plays locally, often as a recording studio musician for singers.