Country star Billy Grammer dies age 85

Thu Aug 11, 2011 4:47pm EDT
 
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By Vernell Hackett

NASHVILLE (Reuters) - Grand Ole Opry star Billy Grammer, best known for his 1959 hit "Gotta Travel On", has died at the age of 85.

The singer and guitar player, who developed the Grammer guitar in the 1960s, died on Wednesday in his Benton, Illinois home town, according to an obituary notice in the local newspaper.

Grammer had not performed for the past 20 years because of failing health, but he traveled to Nashville in 2009 to celebrate his 50th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

The singer was one of 13 children whose father worked in the coal mines of southern Illinois. His father played the fiddle, which Grammer mastered along with the guitar and mandolin.

Grammer first set out performing with his family at local gatherings near Benton. After a stint in the Army he moved to the Washington, D.C. area and later played guitar on television's "The Jimmy Dean Show".

The singer's biggest record, "Gotta Travel On," climbed to No. 4 on the pop singles chart in 1959. Other hits included 1963's "I Wanna Go Home" and his 1969 cover of "Jesus Is a Soul Man."

Grammer had a busy career as a session guitarist, playing on albums by Patti Page, Louis Armstrong, Charley Pride and Eddy Arnold, among others. In 1990, he was inducted into the Illinois Country Music Hall of Fame.

He also developed the Grammer guitar. One of the models that belonged to country legend Johnny Cash recently sold at auction for $130,000.

Grammer is survived by his wife of 66 years, Ruth, three children, four brothers and four sisters; eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

(Editing by Jill Serjeant)