BoxCar Willie: Hobo Country Singer Dead At 67 FWD

Tom Boland (
Tue, 13 Apr 1999 10:34:22 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  Associated Press - April 12, 1999

BoxCar Willie Dies Of Leukemia

Branson's Famous Country Singer Was 67

April 12, 1999 -- 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 statesmen.

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 1987.

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

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 tourists.

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 me."

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

"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 sisters.


Boxcar Willie's official Web site

Country Music Showcase has a short biography of Willie.

Did you know he has a theater named after him in Branson, MO?


**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**

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