Click to listen

To listen: Click here, then click "play"

Oct. 20: Merle Travis — a legend who influenced scads of guitarists and songwriters and whose easy-going stage presence could instantly win over an audience — died on this date in 1983. Here’s his first No. 1 single from way back in 1946, an example of his clever, bouncy songs that so excited post-war audiences.

Travis was a native of Muhlenberg County, Ky., where he picked up the local thumb-and-index-finger style of guitar playing. He took that style first to Cincinnati and then to Hollywood, perfecting it along the way. After World War II, he joined the roster of Capitol Records, where songs like this rode high on the charts. Others in that vein include “Cincinnati Lou,” “No Vacancy” and “So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed.”

His recording career as a vocalist had waned by the mid-50s, when he recorded a seminal album, The Merle Travis Guitar, that was a must-have for any budding axman. Guitarists already looked to Merle for inspiration; he influenced the likes of Chet Atkins, Earl Hooker, Marcel Dadi and, later, his son, Thom Bresh. (Atkins and flatpicking master Doc Watson each named a child Merle, and Glen Campbell’s parents gave him the middle name Travis, all in honor of Merle Travis.)

If you are a fan of fingerstyle guitar, make sure you have The Merle Travis Guitar and Walkin’ The Strings (they were recently released as a single CD). Both are prized members of my record collection.  But first, check out this YouTube video of Travis, introduced by Tex Ritter, performing one of his signature numbers, “Nine Pound Hammer,” on the Town Hall Party TV show in the 1950s.

Travis co-wrote “Divorce Me C.O.D.” with a frequent collaborator: L.A. bass player, radio star and Capitol producer Cliffie Stone. Both are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Check out their profiles here and here, along with the partial discography on Travis’ Wikipedia page.

Advertisements