Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
Chandler Travis cannot do anything with an entirely straight face; throughout his career, his excursions in bar band, rock & roll, new wave-influenced power pop, and eclectic jazz-influenced big band music have been delivered with a knowing wink and a sly sense of the absurd, yet nothing he's done has ever been merely "funny." He's not a parodist or a comedian, more of an unrepentant smart aleck. In many ways, he's like Massachusetts' answer to R. Stevie Moore.
Born and raised in the Cape Cod town of Eastham, Massachusetts, Travis got his musical start in the late '60s on the fertile Boston music scene, starting out with a teenage garage band called the Good Fairies, which they changed to the St. James Infirmary once they realized the implications of their original name. In 1969, the guitarist and songwriter met up with Steve Shook, another local musician, and formed Travis Shook & the Club Wow, a loose-knit group that played the Boston clubs for a couple of years before meeting comedian George Carlin, who was so taken with the duo's mixture of rough-edged, R&B-laced rock & roll and increasingly prominent wordplay and musical comedy that he hired them as his opening act, a position they would keep until the early '80s. In that time, the group only recorded one album, 1973's The Essential Travis Shook and the Club Wow, which they released on their own label, the puckishly named Just Like Real Records. The album featured songwriting and playing assistance from various members of cult heroes NRBQ, a band who would soon become inextricably intertwined with Travis' musical career.
In 1981, Travis and Shook decided that the concept of Travis Shook & the Club Wow had gone as far as it could; with new drummer Vince Valium (also known as Rikki Bates) and guitarist Johnny Spampinato, brother of NRBQ's Joey Spampinato, Travis and Shook formed a brand new band called the Incredible Casuals. Poppier than Travis Shook & the Club Wow, with a sound akin to the new breed of post post-punk guitar jangle groups coming out of towns like Athens and Hoboken, the Incredible Casuals debuted with 1982's Summer Fun, Let's Go EP, but didn't release their first full-length, That's That, until 1987. Continuing a release schedule in keeping with the band name, the follow-up didn't appear until 1991; Your Sounds was released on the local indie Sonic Trout. The third Incredible Casuals record, It Is Balloon, wasn't released until 1996, by which time the group had downshifted into a part-time project; when Big Al Anderson left NRBQ in 1993, Johnny Spampinato took over the guitar role in that long-running band.
As the Incredible Casuals wound down, Travis belatedly started his solo career with 1992's eclectic, Van Dyke Parks-like Writer-Songsinger, featuring guest appearances by Shook and David Greenberger. 1998's Ivan in Paris, a restrained and mostly serious folk-jazz pop record, is an atypical follow-up, but an excellent one. That sidestep was followed almost immediately by the formation of the Chandler Travis Philharmonic, an eight-piece band with a full horn section. Their debut album was recorded in 1998 and originally announced under the title Her Stewardess Suitcase, but when it was finally released in late 2000, the album title had been changed to Let's Have a Pancake.
Also in 2000, Chandler Travis announced that his own CD-R label, Iddy Biddy Records, would issue 26 CDs of previously unreleased material that year; in the end, only 22 were released, featuring live and studio recordings by the Chandler Travis Philharmonic, the Incredible Casuals, and Travis Shook & the Club Wow, and available at live shows and through the Sonic Trout website. In 2009, Travis released the album After She Left. In 2011, Travis stayed busy with his side project the Catbirds, releasing the EP Viborate. The Catbirds single "Gonna Keep Drivin'" followed in 2012.