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Travis “Moonchild” Haddix

“I am the best that I can be,” says Travis “Moonchild” Haddix, “and since no one else can be me, there’s none better.”  Once you hear this disc, you’ll know why the suave blues singer and guitarist sports such a confident outlook. With more than a dozen albums under his belt and several European tours distinguishing his frequent flyer account, the Cleveland-based Haddix is also a prolific songwriter who’s written memorable material for Artie “Blues Boy” White, Lee Shot Williams, Michael Burks, Charles Wilson, Dicky Williams, Jimmy Dawkins, and the late Son Seals.

Of course, nobody sounds better delivering a Travis Haddix copyright then the man himself. All ten tracks on Daylight at Midnight are self-penned originals, their inspiration stemming from myriad sources. “My songs don’t really depict my life or lifestyle,” he notes. “It’s just something that I’ve heard somebody else say, or something like that.” The title track is an exception. “I wrote that song about a town in the northern part of Finland,” says Travis. “When I was on tour there at that particular time, it stayed daylight mostly all the time.” In addition to his soul-steeped vocals, Haddix plays crisp, concise guitar solos throughout the disc.

Travis was born November 26, 1938, in Hatchie Bottom, Mississippi. “That’s out in a cow pasture, that’s where that is,” he chuckles. I was born in a cabin in Hatchie Bottom.” Eventually the Haddixes settled in nearby Walnut. “The closest big city is Memphis,” he says. “If you wanted to go to town, that’s where you had to go, ‘cause we lived way back in the country.”

Travis first heard the blues from his father, Chalmus “Rooster” Haddix, a Delta bluesman conversant on guitar, piano, fiddle, and harmonica. “My dad and his brothers, they played Saturday night fish fries down in the state of Mississippi. I’m the son of a sharecropper,” he says. “So I got introduced to the blues at a very early age. My dad could play several different instruments, and he could play ‘em very well.”

Although he started out on piano, Travis switched to guitar after a life-changing visit to Memphis’ pioneering radio station WDIA. “That’s where I got my introduction to B.B. King,” he says. “He had a 10- or 15-minute radio program, and my older brother Al used to take me over there to see him play. My brother Al was a great jazz guitarist. And we’d go over to see B.B. King. That’s where I decided that I wanted to play guitar.”

It didn’t take Travis long to get his first axe. “I had been playing my older brother Al’s guitar,” he says. “And then I got a guitar shortly after that. My brother Al bought me a guitar called a Stella. I played that until my father was drinking a little bit too much, and he sat down on it and broke the neck off! That was the end of the Stella. And then I graduated and got a Harmony. And after the Harmony, I got the Gibson 335.

“When I saw the late, great Robert Lockwood, Jr. play a Guild, then I got a Guild. And I’ve had the Guild ever since,” he adds. “I saw him play, this was back in ‘64. I bought the Guild from my cousin in 1965. I’ve still got it, and I still play it.” B.B. wasn’t his only early influence. “There was the late, great Lowell Fulson, Albert King, Little Milton, and of course T-Bone Walker is everybody’s influence,” he says. “And of course, Buddy Guy has been around a long time. I like listening to his music, and trying to mimic his guitar playing too.”

After graduating from high school in Walnut, Travis came north. “My family moved to Milwaukee, and I was a good basketball player, so I went to Marquette,” he says. “I found out that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was, and I wasn’t keeping up academically also. So I left Milwaukee and came to Cleveland. I went to Cuyahoga Community College, and I finished my education there.” Then Uncle Sam came calling.

“I was drafted into the Army in 1961, and I spent a couple of years in the Army,” says Haddix, who spent parts of his hitch at Fort Bliss in Texas and New Jersey’s Fort Dix before being stationed in Europe. “My orders kept drifting me around all over the country, and then I finally ended up in Stuttgart, Germany.

“I played in the service clubs while I was in the Army. There was another boy from Cleveland, a good friend of mine,” says Travis. “We still play together sometimes. His name is Charlie Favors. We had a choice: we could either play and entertain, or we could do guard duty. So we chose to play instead of pulling guard duty!”

Back in Cleveland after completing his military obligation, Travis joined an R&B band, Chuck & the Tremblers, that was led by bassist Chuck Barkley. “He was a very nice guy that would put up with younger guys. He was in his late 40s at that time. And we were in our early 20s,” says Haddix. “They were well established when I got there.” Travis made his recording debut as a member of Chuck & the Tremblers, writing and singing “Stop Cheating Woman” as half of their single for John Hicks’ local Del-Nita label. “That was recorded back in 1965 and released in 1968,” Travis notes. The flip, “Dianna,” was a hard-driving instrumental.

In addition to spending approximately six years with Chuck & the Tremblers, Haddix was also a longtime member of another Cleveland aggregation, Ernest & the El Roccos, led by bassist Ernest Good. “Actually, the El Roccos was a little bit before Chuck & the Tremblers,” he says. “I played with both bands at the same time.” Eventually, it was time to do his own thing. Travis formed his own funky outfit, the Now Sound.

“That was my first band,” he says. “Some of the guys that I had played with with Chuck & the Tremblers and with Ernest & the El Roccos, we all decided it’s time for us to move forward.” The Now Sound served as a frequent attraction at one of Cleveland’s top entertainment clubs until the band was seduced en masse by a soul superstar.

“We opened the show for Johnnie Taylor. It was a very popular place here called the Plush Entertainment Center. And we opened the show for him, and he said he needed a band. He asked, did I want to go? And I said I couldn’t go with him. So he said, ‘I need a band!’ So he took the band,” says Travis. “I think they stayed with him several years.” Their defection didn’t stop Haddix for long. “I put together a band and I called it the Travis Haddix Band, or THB,” he says. “And that’s the band that I have now.”

A solo 45 that the guitarist cut in 1984 with Ernest & the El Roccos providing support spawned his enduring nickname. “It was called ‘Moonchild.’ It was a song about the heavenly bodies–-the moon, the sun, the stars. And they started calling me ‘Moonchild,’ ‘Moonshine,’ ‘Moondust,’” he laughs. “So the name sort of stuck.”

Warming up at the Plush for another soul luminary led to Travis’ signing with John Abbey’s Atlanta-based Ichiban Records. “I opened a show for Clarence Carter, and I was talking to him,” he says. Chicago blues singer Artie “Blues Boy” White also helped out. “He was with Ichiban, and he and Clarence Carter put in a good word for me, and they signed me,” says Haddix, whose debut album, Wrong Side Out, was released on Ichiban in 1988 (the title track served as half of his first single for the label). Travis encored in 1991 with Winners Never Quit and cut three more albums for the firm: What I Know Right Now in ‘92, I Got a Sure Thing in ‘93, and 1994’s A Big Ole Goodun.

That didn’t mean he could quit his day job. “I worked for General Motors for 22 years, and I worked as a mailman for 22 years. Forty-four years, I was working,” he says. “I worked both jobs when my daughters were in school. I worked both jobs for about 10 or 11 years.” That schedule was a backbreaker. “I stayed in trouble a lot of times because I would take a lot of time off from my day job to play. It kept me in hot water for a long time,” says Travis. “I delivered the mail during the day, and I delivered the blues at night!”

Despite a splendid talent roster, Ichiban faded in the mid-‘90s. “They went out of business, unfortunately, but they are largely responsible for getting me in the marketplace, and getting my name known. They were the first label that put me on tour,” Travis says.

Travis’s savvy solution? “I decided to develop my own label,” he says. Wann-Sonn Records was launched in 1995. “That’s the name of my two daughters,” Haddix says. “My oldest daughter’s named Wanda; my youngest daughter’s named Sonya.” His first Wann-Sonn album was titled Dance to the Blues, and he’s unleashed plenty more soulful blues discs since then: Sign of the Times in 1998, the next year’s Shootum Up, Old & Easy in 2000, Milk & Bread in 2001, 2002’s Company is Coming, Mud Cakes (cut live in Osnabruck, Germany, near where he was stationed in the Army) in ‘05, and 2007’s Mean Ole Yesterday.

Daylight at Midnight was also originally done for Wann-Sonn. Earwig boss Michael Frank was so impressed with Haddix’s compelling performances that he picked upthe CD for more extensive distribution. It won’t be a hard sell overseas. “Europe seems to be my best market,” he says. “They like what I do there, and they keep inviting me back. And that’s a good thing!” In addition to writing for White, Travis sometimes shares a bill with him. “Artie’s a good friend of mine,” says Travis. “Last year we were in England together. We went and done a short tour in the U.K. I’ve been writing for Artie since 1985.”

When he’s not dazzling the European demographic, you’re likely to find Travis and his band playing back home. “I play every weekend in small blues clubs here in Cleveland,” he says. “The blues is just sort of a steady thing. It never gets too high, or never gets too low. It’s sort of consistent.” Travis also co-hosts a blues radio show on WCSB every Monday evening.

Now, about the empowering declaration opening these notes. “That’s just a thing that I came up with one night, doing the show.  It just came out, a spontaneous quote. I said, ‘I’m the best I can be, and since no one else can be me, there’s none better. Good night, everybody!’ That just sort of stuck. And now it’s a phrase to end all my shows.”

Travis tailors his sets to please his crowd. “What I do is I play something, and if I can get a vibration between me and the audience, then I continue to play that type of music. I let the audience dictate what I’m doing. “I like to talk to the audience, and if I see that’s working, then I’ll do more talking. And when I’m playing and singing, if my playing is catching on and seems to have a positive effect, then I do a little bit more with my guitar. If my singing has the most positive effect, then that’s what I’ll do.”

Daylight at Midnight is sure to have a similarly positive effect on you.

-Bio written by Bill Dahl

“Without a wasted lick anywhere, this is the kind of blues that used to inspire college kids to go to bad neighborhoods and have a great time.”
–Chris Spector (Midwest Record)

“A solid one-two punch of soul-blues, ten original cuts of down-home blues with an uptown attitude!”
–Don Crow (Music City Blues)

“It’s not often you have the chance to hear someone who is able to move so seamlessly between the blues and near funk R&B on the same disc with such authority and assurance”
–Richard Marcus (Blogcritics)