Travis James Humphrey had to travel the world in order to realize that what he really wanted was to be back home in Maine.
“I was living in Washington D.C., and I was just miserable,” said the 32-year-old singer-songwriter, who’s now based in Gorham. “I realized that I wanted to be making music in the place that matters to me. I’ve been back in Maine for six years now. It’s home.”
Humphrey has been singing for his supper since he was a child, growing up in a musical household in Houlton. He’s now making a living as a working musician with the Travis Humphrey Band, a trio comprising Humphrey, bassist and band manager Tom Ambrose, and two drummers who rotate in and out of the touring schedule, including Rob Duquette and Mike Walsh. The band will play tonight at Gilbert’s Publick House in Camden and Saturday night at Gritty’s in Portland’s Old Port.
To understand where Humphrey’s coming from, you have to go back to the early years, when he played music with his dad, Tim Humphrey, a longtime staple of the northern Maine music scene.
“He played old rock ‘n’ roll and country. He was always playing bars in Houlton and Patten and all over southern Aroostook County,” said Travis Humphrey. “When I was about 13, he started letting me come play with him. That’s really what solidified my love of rock ‘n’ roll, and what made me want to do it as a career.”
The younger Humphrey also had some training of a more professional quality when he joined the American Boy Choir School, a national touring choir that stopped in Houlton when he was 11.
“My aunt said, ‘Why don’t you try out for them?'” he said. “I sang ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ and I guess they liked it, because I traveled around the country with them for two years. When I came back, I had the vocal skills to join Dad.”
Fast-forward five years, to when Humphrey was 18 and graduating high school. He knew he wanted to keep playing music, so he signed on with the military, playing in the Air Force Band for eight years as the lead singer and guitar for Silver Wings, a country-rock band.
“I got to travel all over the U.S. and Europe with them,” he said. “It was really incredible training.”
By the time he reached his mid-20s, though, Humphrey was ready to come back to civilian life and do what he had always wanted to do: play in his own band. Thus, we have the Travis Humphrey Band, a showcase for Humphrey and his natural talent and engaging, amiable personality.
That brings us up to 2008, with Humphrey and company running a busy gigging schedule all over Maine.
“I’m really lucky to play with Tom, who maintains all these relationships with venues and makes it work,” he said. “He’s the reason that we play in a lot of places. And he’s a great bass player, too.”
The band makes occasional jaunts to points farther south and west – including a life-changing trip to Hawaii, which exposed Humphrey to the music of the islands. The sounds of slack-key guitar crept into his own music, so much so that he coined the term “Aloha-billy” to describe it.
“There’s just something about the whole vibe there, that I feel so comfortable with,” he said. “But I still have that classic-rock, born-in-the-country kind of background, so I always default to musicians like Chuck Berry, Willie Nelson and the Allman Brothers Band. Lately, though, I haven’t been able to stop listening to Gram Parsons and Otis Redding. Voices like that just blow me away.”
While the group does play a fair amount of covers, as most working bands in Maine must do in order to please the crowd, Humphrey does his best to work in his own songs.
“My philosophy is that I only do covers that I love. I love to play songs like Paul Simon’s ‘Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes’ because it’s just a great song,” he said. “If you play stuff like that, you can work your own music into a set, and, hopefully, people will respond to it, and maybe even buy a CD.”
Humphrey has two albums – 2002’s “Yellow Cat Blues” and “Cowgirl Romance,” released in 2006 – but he lives for the live experience. As one of a small but indefatigable handful of working musicians in Maine, he’s aware of the struggle to find gigs each weekend, but he’s also driven by the sheer fun of playing music with friends.
“It’s a dream come true, to be able to make a living doing something that really matters to you, with your friends,” he said. “Playing with Tom and everyone is fun, more than anything. It’s one of the things I was born to do, and to be able to do it in your home, with the people you care about, is just about the best I can ask for.”
For more information on Travis James Humphrey, visit www.travisjameshumphrey.com.