W. W. "Skinny" Trammell
Guitar maker and musician from Lone Star, Texas
Imagesshow all 19 images
W.W. Trammell answers the question "How did you get started as an instrument maker?" Interview with Alan Govenar. Recorded by Alan Govenar. Texas, 1986.
W. W. Trammell explains how he's responsible for country music getting its name. Phone interview with Alan Govenar, 2010.
FOR THE TEACHER
W. W. Trammell grew up in a poor family that valued music and by an early age was playing 78-rpm records on the family Victrola. He formed a country and western band in the 1940s that played for dances and on the radio. His decision to teach himself to make instruments in 1966 is steeped in traditional culture, but he did not apprentice himself to a master guitar maker. Trial and error was his method. Music was done in his spare time; he was a trucker and then ran a gas station in a small town. Most traditional artists do not make a living from their craft.
- Improve listening skills and note taking
- Investigate handmade instruments
- Consider hard times and resilience
- Research old-time and bluegrass music
- Explore handmade crafts in their communities
- Write about naming traditions, including nicknames
- Folklorists use the term material culture to describe the diverse array of crafts and artifacts that people make and use in everyday life.
- The study of material culture includes the process of making and using artifacts such as instruments, not just the objects themselves.
- Examples of material culture in our daily lives abound and include things with which students are very familiar, for example, foodways and hairstyles.
- Although handmade objects are rarer today than in W. W. Trammell’s childhood, young people still learn and pass along many skills in daily life, from programming iPods to making fortune-telling devices.
- Like most people, W. W. Trammell experienced music in a variety of ways as a child and an adult, hearing and playing traditional old-time and popular country music at home and in the community. Young people today also experience music in a variety of ways, with classical, traditional, and popular music interweaving at school and at home.
- Traditional and popular music are often hand-in-glove and not separated.
- Music can define a generation and help tell the story of a person as well as the history of an era and a place.
- From his eighth-grade education in a one-room schoolhouse to his years as a trucker hauling pipe, W. W. Trammell faced hardships with hard work and creativity, weaving music and instrument making into a busy life.
- Considering how others cope with hardships and develop resilience helps young people develop their own coping skills and feel empathy.
- Texas history and literature are full of hard times and resilience!
W. W. Trammell’s story and photos
Everyday Music Field Notes
Traditions Venn Diagram
1-2 class periods
Texas history, social studies, English language arts, music
Review W. W. Trammell’s story and the media clip. Choose Big Ideas that you find important to your curriculum and your students. Copy Everyday Music Field Notes and any other worksheets students will need and cue the audio clip.
Students may read the story and listen to the audio story independently, in groups, or as a class. Using the Everyday Music Field Notes worksheet will help them focus more closely. In a class discussion, raise some of the Big Ideas above, depending upon your curriculum and students’ needs and grade level. Here are questions to spark discussion:
- What skills have you learned outside school?
- What skills have you taught yourself? What skills have you taught others?
- What are skills and crafts of people you know in your family or community?
- How many ways do you experience music, from ring tones to video games, the living room to religious settings?
- What music matters most to you? Why?
- How do you think music and creativity help people cope with hardship?
Students may work independently or collaboratively to:
Brainstorm a list of things that you’ve learned to do or make outside a formal classroom setting. Examples include skateboarding, cooking, playing games, hunting, fishing, or texting with friends. If possible, list the person who taught you. Share examples and talk about what and how you learned. What skills have you taught someone? Choose a classmate to interview about how he or she learned to do something. Make a storyboard or timeline illustrating the sequence of learning or making something.
Invite a parent or community member who makes something by hand to class for a group interview. Be sure to use a Release Form. Document the interview to create a presentation or Web page. Include music in the final project.
Research the music that W. W. Trammell loved as a child by musicians like the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers. Share lyrics and, if possible, music excerpts in an essay or oral report.
The guitar is the most important instrument among Texas traditional musicians. Investigate how to make a guitar by hand. Calculate the cost of materials and the time it takes to make a guitar. How much would you have to charge to make a profit? How does this compare with the $2,500 W. W. Trammell charges?
Living in the Piney Woods region of Texas during the Great Depression meant hard times. W. W. Trammell got his nickname “Skinny” because one of his thirteen siblings couldn’t remember his little brother’s name when he got a job with the Works Progress Administration and was asked to list family members. Research the economic and social effects of the Great Depression in Texas for an essay. Include at least two of the following: a timeline, graphs, pie charts, illustrations, or song lyrics.
His family’s four-foot-tall Victrola that played 78-rpm records was a highlight of W. W. Trammell’s childhood. Research the history of recorded sound from the late 19th century to today for a class multimedia presentation. Team members may choose different decades. Interview people of different generations about their experiences with recorded sound. Be sure to use a Release Form. Include illustrations, sound excerpts, prices, and stories.
Lists of skills
Essays with timelines, graphs, pie charts, illustrations, lyrics
Use and create primary sources