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Lecil Travis Martin
Boxcar Willie
April 12, 1999
Age 67

        Boxcar Willie, Country Music's 'Hobo,' Dies at 67
                By JON PARELES 

                     Boxcar Willie, a country singer and songwriter who fashioned 
                     himself as a hobo, died on Monday at his home in Branson, Mo. 
                He was 67.  

                The cause was leukemia, his family said.  

                With an image built through performances and television commercials, 
                Boxcar Willie turned a lifelong fascination with trains, train songs and 
                hobos into a career. He was a country traditionalist whose trademark 
                was an imitation of a train whistle and whose most popular song was 
                "Train Medley." In 1986 he settled in Branson, the emerging country 
                music center, and became a mainstay there, performing year-round at the 
                Boxcar Willie Theater and often playing six shows a day. One of his 
                hobo outfits now hangs in the Country Music Hall of Fame.  

                Boxcar Willie was the name adopted by Lecil Travis Martin, who was 
                born in Sterrett, Texas, in 1931. His father was a railroad man who 
                played the fiddle, and the family home was said to be six feet from the 
                tracks. He began performing in jamborees across Texas, and at 16 he 
                was appearing regularly in the Big D Jamboree in Dallas. Then he enlisted 
                in the U.S. Air Force, where he spent two decades.  

                When he retired from the Air Force, he went into radio with the 
                "Cowtown Hoedown," which was broadcast from Fort Worth. He began 
                performing in the 1950s as Marty Martin. In the mid-60s in Lincoln, 
                Neb., he saw a hobo on a freight train who looked like Willie Nelson. He 
                wrote a song about it, "Boxcar Willie," and went on to adopt the name 
                and image for himself. Onstage he wore overalls, an old jacket, a 
                crumpled hat and two days' worth of stubble.  

                He kept working as a disk jockey until the mid-70s, when he went into 
                performing full time. Nelson made a guest appearance on an album he 
                made in 1976. After a 1977 deal with a Scottish booking agent, Boxcar 
                Willie began touring Britain regularly. He became the most successful 
                country music performer there. He also began appearing on the country 
                circuit in the United States and in 1981 joined the Grand Ole Opry. He 
                was named World Ambassador for the Hobos at a hobo convention in 
                Britt, Iowa, in 1981.  

                Bypassing mainstream record labels, Boxcar Willie marketed his 1982 
                album "King of the Road" (Suffolk Marketing) through television 
                commercials. He was a regular on the television show "Hee Haw" in the 
                early '80s, and appeared in "Sweet Dreams," the 1985 movie based on 
                Patsy Cline's life.  

                In Branson he became one of the town's most dependable tourist 
                attractions, operating a motel and a train museum along with the theater. 
                The Associated Press reported that flags are to be flown at half staff in 
                Branson until his funeral this weekend. He is survived by his wife, Lloene, 
                and three children, Tammy, Lorri and Larry.  

 BoxCar Willie dies of leukemia

                 BRANSON, Mo. (AP) -- BoxCar Willie, whose 
               gentle country voice and songs of life on the road 
               evoked memories of a time when hobos watched 
               America pass by from the door of a freight car, 
               died Monday of leukemia. He was 67.  

               He died at home, a family spokeswoman said.  

               BoxCar Willie had recently announced he was 
               canceling his 1999 season of shows when the 
               disease, first diagnosed in 1996, returned. Until his 
               health began to fail, he was not only a Branson 
               performer but one of the music town's elder 

               Roy Clark became the first nationally known 
               entertainer to put his name on a Branson theater in 
               1983. But BoxCar Willie liked to boast that unlike 
               Clark, who often booked other people into his 
               venue, he became the first name entertainer to 
               work the town year-round when he arrived in 

               He did six or more shows a week nine months of 
               the year until his health failed.  

               BoxCar Willie took it upon himself to mentor 
               performers as they arrived in Branson, telling them 
               what worked and what didn't in a conservative, 
               heartland town of 3,700 residents and millions of 

               And he fumed about performers who left Branson.  

               "There's been about 30, 35 artists that came into 
               this town and then left since I've been here," he said 
               in 1996. "They don't pay their taxes here, they 
               don't vote here. Doggone it, it just kind of bothers 

               Born Lecil Martin in Sterrett, Texas, in 1931, 
               BoxCar Willie was the son of a railroad man who 
               used to play his fiddle on the porch while his son 
               sat in on guitar.  

               By his teens he had graduated to playing in 
               jamborees all over the state, but he gave up show 
               business to enlist in the Air Force. He spent 22 
               years there, logging some 10,000 hours as a flier.  

               After retiring from the service he returned to 
               performing, and by the 1970s he had developed 
               the singing hobo persona, complete with overalls, a 
               battered old hat, worn suit jacket and two days' 
               growth of beard.  

               Although he never had a hit single, his albums sold 
               well over the years and he built a loyal following 
               that would later make him one of the most popular 
               performers in Branson, where he operated a motel 
               and train museum as well as his theater.  

               He said he took the BoxCar Willie look, as well as 
               the name, after seeing a freight train pass him by 
               one day in Lincoln, Neb., as he was stuck in traffic. 

               "And there was an old boy sitting on a boxcar, 
               dressed the way I dress today, and he looked just 
               like a buddy of mine named Willie Wilson," he told 
               The Associated Press in 1997. "I said, 'There's 
               Willie in a boxcar, and that's where it came from."'  

               Although he had traveled by freight train as a young 
               man himself, BoxCar Willie said in that interview, 
               he had long since given it up as America changed 
               and it became too dangerous.  

               He is survived by his wife, two daughters and two 

BoxCar Willie Derailed 
                       by Joal Ryan    E Online

                       The flags are at half-staff in country-music mecca 
                       Branson, Missouri, in honor of a favorite local, 
                       BoxCar Willie.  

                       The performer died Monday, losing a three-year 
                       battle to leukemia. He was 67.  

                       BoxCar Willie never had chart-topping records or 
                       albums, but he had a popular theater in 
                       Branson--and an enviable gimmick. Even if you 
                       didn't know his name, you knew the look (and 
                       sound). BoxCar was the guy who dressed like a bum 
                       and made "choo-choo" train sounds with his mouth. 
                       He billed himself as "The World's Favorite Hobo." 
                       It was a living.  

                       Born Lecil Martin in Sterrett, Texas, in 1931, 
                       BoxCar performed as a teen at state jamborees. But 
                       he put down the guitar to join the Air Force, 
                       where he served for 22 years.  

                       BoxCar renewed his performing career in the 
                       1970s--adding the "BoxCar" tag after getting stuck 
                       in traffic one day in Lincoln, Nebraska.  

                       "And there was an old boy sitting on a box car, 
                       dressed the way I dress today, and he looked like 
                       a buddy of mine named Willie Nelson," the Grand 
                       Ole Opry member told the Associated Press in 1997. 
                       "I said, 'There's Willie in a box car,' and that's 
                       where it came from."  

                       BoxCar opened his Branson theater in 1986. He 
                       bragged he was the first name-brand country star 
                       to live and work there year-round.  

                       Funeral services were tentatively planned for this 



Boxcar Willie is perhaps the most successful invented character in the history of country music. With his kitschy persona and stage act -- highlighted by his amazingly accurate impersonation of a train whistle -- Willie played into the stereotype of the loveable, good-natured hobo that spent his life riding the rails and singing songs. Since his popularity had more to do with his image than his music, it makes sense that he was massively successful in England, where he personified Americana. Willie's English success carried him over to American success in the early '80s, where he ironically was perceived as carrying the torch for traditional country, because he kept the stereotypes alive. 

 Born Lecil Travis Martin, Boxcar Willie never worked on the railroads -- his father did.  However, Willie loved the railroads and kept running away to ride the trains when he was a child. He also loved country music, particularly the songs of Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Acuff, and Ernest Tubb. 

As a teenager, Boxcar Willie would perform under his given name, eventually becoming a regular on the Big D Jamboree in Dallas, Texas. In his early 20s, he served in the Air Force. After he left the service, he continued to sing in clubs and radio shows.  

In the late '50s, he began performing as Marty Martin, while working blue collar jobs during the day.  Marty Martin released an album, Marty Martin Sings Country Music and Stuff like That, around 1958, but it was ignored. 

In the mid-'60s, Martin wrote a song called "Boxcar Willie," based on a hobo he saw on a train.  Martin continued to struggle in his musical career until the mid-'70s. By that time, he had become a DJ in Corpus Christi, TX. In 1975, he decided to risk everything he had on one final chance at stardom. He moved to Nashville and developed the Boxcar Willie character, using his song as the foundation. 

 Initially, Boxcar Willie wasn't very successful, but he had a lucky break in 1976 when he was called in to replace a sick George Jones at a Nashville club. During that performance, he was spotted by Drew Taylor, a Scottish booking agent. Taylor brought Boxcar Willie over to England for a tour, where he was enthusiastically received. Later that year, he released his first album which was a moderate success in the U.K. Through the rest of the '70s, Willie toured Britain and every tour was more successful, culminating in a performance at the International Country Music Festival at Wembley in 1979. After his Wembley show was finished, he received a standing ovation -- the performance established Boxcar Willie as a star. His next album, King of the Road, became a humongous success in England, reaching number five on the album charts; the record was helped immeasurably by its accompanying television advertisements, which sold the record through the mail. 

 By the end of 1980, Willie had become the most successful country artist in England and his American success had just begun. King of the Road was available through an American television advertisement. "Train Medley" was a minor hit on the country charts, and he was becoming a popular attraction on U.S. concert circuits. In 1981, he received a spot on the Country Music Hall of Fame's Walkway of the Stars and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. 

 Boxcar Willie enjoyed his time in the spotlight, becoming a regular on the television show Hee Haw in 1982 and turning out albums as fast as he could make them. "Bad News" became his only American country Top 40 hit in 1982. In 1985, he played a hobo in Sweet Dreams, a film about Patsy Cline. By the mid-'80s, his star had faded, but he remained a popular concert attraction, particularly in England, into the '90s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All-Music Guide





  Boxcar Leaves the Hospital
March '99

                    Boxcar Willie is out of the hospital and - as the train-loving singer would say - back on "track."

                    The Opry member was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996. In 1997, he declared he was cancer-free
                    and went back to work at his Branson, Missouri, theater. The disease returned last year...and two
                    weeks ago he became weak and had to be hospitalized.

                    Though his season has been cancelled at the Boxcar Willie Theater, Boxcar's daughter says
                    he's doing a little better and hopes to resume performing later this year.

                    Boxcar joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1981 and last appeared at the Grand Ole Opry in January.


                    (Written by Dan Rogers in Nashville; edited by UPI's Penny Nelson.) Copyright 1999 by United
                    Press International. All rights reserved.

                    Copyright © 1999 CountryCool.com, Inc. All rights reserved.