Lecil Travis Martin adopted the stage name Boxcar Willie, by which he is still remembered. Willie grew up exposed to music and entered his first singing contest at ten.
Despite trying so hard to make his music successful, it took a while to reap from his efforts. He was triggered to try out country music when a pop singer won a prestigious Country Music Association award.
His persistence in the industry paid off and by 1980, Willie had become one of the most successful country music musicians in England. He continued performing actively until his Leukemia diagnosis in 1996 and finally, his demise three years later.
Among his many records, check out the ten best Boxcar Willie songs of all time.
10. The Lord Made A Hobo Out of Me
While “hobo” means a homeless person, Willie was not. However, he appreciated moving from one place to another; hence, he talks about freedom in his song.
Willie had adopted the hobo look after seeing a hobo on a freight train and noticing the resemblance to Willie Nelson. Thus, whenever he performed, Willie would wear overalls, a crumpled hat, an old jacket, and a two-week stubble to complete the image.
9. Daddy Was A Railroad Man
The song is a tribute to the country musician’s father. In the song, Willie talks of how his father was a railroad man who worked hard, never minding the scorching sun and never quitting. It is based on his life because according to Independent, Willie’s father worked on the railroads.
Since the family lived in a wooden shack near the tracks, Willie loved spending time on the railroad, and the memories must have inspired this song.
8. Train Medley
“Train Medley” is regarded by some as the most popular song Willie ever recorded. He enjoyed singing and always introduced it as six of the greatest train songs ever written.
However, he disclosed that he never wrote any of them. When the song starts, you would be mistaken to think he is singing about a woman, but it is about a train, fueled by coal.
Since it is a medley, in another line, Willie refers to the train as “he” doing ninety miles an hour. The medley did not do so well on the country charts, but it helped establish him in the American market.
Willie’s album “Not The Man I Used To Be” released in 1983, has 11 tracks, and “Luther” is the fifth. In the song, Willie’s compassion is clear as he tells the story of a homeless man who preferred quarters to dollars, yet he was a beggar.
As Willie sings, the old man died, but the life lessons are a legacy Willie holds dear, so he keeps visiting the grave to leave a quarter.
6. Bad News
This is the only Willie song to ever make it to the top 40 in the U.S. Country chart. It is a single in the “Last Train To Heaven” album released in 1982; the album also made it to the U.S. Country chart, peaking at number 27.
It is one of Willie’s best-selling albums, earning the musician a gold disc. In “Bad News,” Willie compares himself to bad news. He even says he had to change his name to change his destiny of being bad news.
5. I Love The Sound of A Whistle
“I Love The Sound of A Whistle” is another song drawn from Willie’s childhood. When he was a young boy, he loved the whistle sound that woke him up gently in the morning and put him to sleep at night.
Since he lived a few meters from the railroad, Willie learned to recognize different trains from the whistles they made. He even learned to mimic them, and as an adult, his trademark was the train whistles he made during performances.
4. Hobo Heaven
Willie’s obsession with being a hobo made him not only refer to himself as a hobo but also believe there is a hobo heaven. In 1985, he bagged the character of a hobo in “Sweet Dreams,” a film by Patsy Cline, and it must have been exciting for Willie.
His love for the hobo lifestyle led to him recording the song “Hobo Heaven,” released in 1988. The singer said he was on his way to hobo heaven. Until then, he dreams of the place, saying that a hobo’s dreams are like angels’ wings, taking him wherever he wants.
3. The Day Elvis Died
This is an ode to the late Hank Williams. Willie could see the devastation in the fans of Elvis Presley when the King of Rock and Roll died, so he likens the heartache to the day Williams died.
Willie sings that what Presley meant to people, Williams meant to him. He reveals his love for “Lovesick Blues,” a pop song Williams recorded after the 1948 recording ban elapsed. According to the Country Music Hall of Fame, the song reached number 1 and remained there for sixteen weeks. In this tribute, Willie refers to Williams as the King of Country and often performed his idol’s songs.
2. Trucker’s Prayer
Willie covered songs from different artists, one of whom is Dave Dudley. Dudley fondly remembered as the King of Trucker’s Country Music, released “Trucker’s Prayer” in 1967, and it did so well, peaking at No. 23 on the U.S. Country chart. Willie recorded his version of “Trucker’s Prayer,” and released it in 1991 for his “Truck Driving Favorites” album.
1. Wabash Cannonball
As someone who had a soft spot for hoboes, going to the extent of acting like one, it makes sense that Willie recorded this song. Allegedly, Wabash Cannonball was a mythical train that hoboes imagined, believing it would carry their souls when they died.
The hoboes even believe that every station in the United States has heard the Wabash Cannonball whistle. Willie, therefore, sang about the mythical train, ready to take hoboes home after finishing their earthly races.
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