The Info List - Merle Travis

--- Advertisement ---


MERLE ROBERT TRAVIS (November 29, 1917 – October 20, 1983) was an American country and western singer, songwriter, and guitarist born in Rosewood, Kentucky . His song's lyrics often discussed both the lives and the economic exploitation of American coal miners. Among his many well-known songs are " Sixteen Tons
Sixteen Tons
," "Re-Enlistment Blues," "I am a Pilgrim," and " Dark as a Dungeon ." However, it is his unique guitar style, still called Travis Picking by guitarists, as well as his interpretations of the rich musical traditions of his native Muhlenberg County, Kentucky , for which he is best known today. "Travis Picking " is a syncopated style of guitar fingerpicking rooted in ragtime music in which alternating chords and bass notes are plucked by the thumb while melodies are simultaneously plucked by the index finger. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame
Country Music Hall of Fame
in 1977.


* 1 Biography

* 1.1 Early years * 1.2 Career peak * 1.3 Guitar style * 1.4 Late career

* 2 Legacy

* 3 Discography

* 3.1 Albums * 3.2 Posthumous albums * 3.3 Selected compilations and reissues * 3.4 Notes on the recordings * 3.5 Singles

* 4 Music DVDs * 5 Music films * 6 Film appearances as musical performer * 7 Other film appearances * 8 Original film music * 9 References * 10 Bibliography * 11 External links



Merle Travis
Merle Travis
was born and raised in Muhlenberg County , Kentucky, a place which would inspire many of Travis's original songs. (This is the same coal mining county mentioned in the John Prine
John Prine
song "Paradise") He became interested in the guitar early in life and originally played one made by his brother. Travis reportedly saved his money to buy a guitar that he had window-shopped for some time.

Merle's guitar playing style was developed out of a native tradition of fingerpicking in Western Kentucky. Among its early practitioners was the black country blues guitarist Arnold Shultz . Shultz taught his style to several local musicians, including Kennedy Jones , who passed it on to other guitarists, notably Mose Rager , a part-time barber and coal miner, and Ike Everly , the father of The Everly Brothers . Their thumb and index fingerpicking method created a solo style that blended lead lines picked by the finger and rhythmic bass patterns picked or strummed by the thumbpick. This technique captivated many guitarists in the region and provided the main inspiration to young Travis. Travis acknowledged his debt to both Rager and Everly, and appears with Rager on the DVD Legends of Country Guitar (Vestapol, 2002).

At the age of 18, Travis performed "Tiger Rag" on a local radio amateur show in Evansville, Indiana
Evansville, Indiana
, leading to offers of work with local bands. In 1937 Travis was hired by fiddler Clayton McMichen as guitarist in his Georgia Wildcats. He later joined the Drifting Pioneers , a Chicago-area gospel quartet that moved to WLW radio in Cincinnati, the major country music station north of Nashville. Travis's style amazed everyone at WLW and he became a popular member of their barn dance radio show the "Boone County Jamboree" when it began in 1938. He performed on various weekday programs, often working with other WLW acts including Louis Marshall "Grandpa" Jones , the Delmore Brothers ,(In Alton Delmores Book "Truth is Stranger Than Publicity" on pages 274–275 Alton describes how he taught Merle Travis how to read and write music) Hank Penny
Hank Penny
and Joe Maphis
Joe Maphis
, all of whom became lifelong friends.

In 1943, he and Grandpa Jones
Grandpa Jones
recorded for Cincinnati used-record dealer Syd Nathan , who had founded a new label, King Records . Because WLW barred their staff musicians from recording, Travis and Jones used the pseudonym The Sheppard Brothers. Their recording of "You'll Be Lonesome Too" was the first to be released by King Records, subsequently known for its country recordings by the Delmore Brothers and Stanley Brothers as well as R Travis himself acknowledged the influence of black guitarists such as Blind Blake
Blind Blake
, the foremost ragtime and blues guitarist of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Travis's style is explained and exemplified by Marcel Dadi on the DVD The Guitar of Merle Travis, which includes live video performances by Travis of classics such as "John Henry" and "Nine Pound Hammer" as well as transcriptions of Travis solos in tablature .


After a career dip during which he struggled to overcome alcohol and drug abuse, Travis put his career back on track in the 1970s. He appeared frequently on such country music TV shows as The Porter Wagoner Show, The Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash
Show, Austin City Limits, Grand Old Country, and Nashville Swing; and his featured performances on the 1972 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
album Will the Circle Be Unbroken introduced him to a new generation of roots music enthusiasts. His 1974 album of duets with Chet Atkins, The Atkins - Travis Traveling Show , won a Grammy
award in the category "Best Country Instrumental," and a later album Travis Pickin' received another nomination. In 1976, he contributed to the musical score of the Academy Award
Academy Award
-winning documentary Harlan County, USA . Toward the end of the 1970s he signed a new contract with the Los-Angeles-based country music label CMH , which launched one of the most prolific recording periods in his career. The many titles that followed included new guitar solo albums, duets with Joe Maphis
Joe Maphis
, a blues album, and a double LP tribute to the legendary country fiddler Clayton McMichen, with whom he had played in the 1930s.

In 1983, Travis died of a heart attack at his Tahlequah, Oklahoma home. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered around a memorial erected to him near Drakesboro, Kentucky .


Although many of his original LP albums are still unissued on CD, Travis' posthumous discography continues to grow, due in large part to the efforts of independent labels. A live concert album Merle Travis in Boston 1959 released by Rounder Records
Rounder Records
in 1993 documents Travis' singing and guitar work still at its peak. A major retrospective of Travis' work and career (Guitar Rags and a Too Fast Past, five CDs with an 80-page booklet authored by Rich Kienzle, who interviewed many of Travis's contemporaries) was produced by Bear Family Records in 1994, and includes much previously unreleased material. The Country Routes label has issued several transcriptions of his radio broadcasts of the 1940s and 1950s. Several recent DVDs published by Vestapol and Bear Family have collected many of his music videos and television appearances. He was an honoree of the two-hour television special An Evening of Country Greats: A Hall of Fame Celebration in 1996, and two classic Travis performances were included in the four-part PBS television documentary American Roots Music in 2001, available in CD and DVD formats.




1947 Folk Songs of the Hills


1956 The Merle Travis Guitar (Instrumental Album)

1957 Back Home (LP reissue of Folk Songs of the Hills plus some songs not released before)

1960 Walkin\' the Strings (Acoustic instrumentals and songs recorded in the 1940s and 50s)

1962 Travis (Compilation of songs recorded in the 1940s and 50s)

1963 Songs of the Coal Mines

1964 Merle Travis
Merle Travis
and Joe Maphis

1967 The Best of Merle Travis

Our Man from Kentucky


1968 Strictly Guitar (Instrumental Album)


1969 Great Songs of the Delmore Brothers (with Johnny Bond
Johnny Bond

1974 Merle's Boogie Woogie + 3 (with Ray Campi )

Rollin' Rock

The Atkins - Travis Traveling Show (with Chet Atkins
Chet Atkins
) 30 RCA Victor

1976 Guitar Player


1979 Country Guitar Giants (with Joe Maphis
Joe Maphis


The Merle Travis
Merle Travis
Story: 24 Greatest Hits

1980 Light Singin' and Heavy Pickin

Guitar Standards

1981 Travis Pickin\' (Instrumental Album)

Rough, Rowdy and Blue

1982 Country Guitar Thunder (1977–1981) (with Joe Maphis)

The Clayton McMichen Story (with Mac Wiseman )

Farm and Home Hour (with Grandpa Jones
Grandpa Jones
) (includes the 1981 re-recording of the instrumental "Rose Time")



1991 Merle Travis
Merle Travis
Unreleased Radio Transcriptions 1944–1949 Country Routes

1994 Guitar Rags and a Too Fast Past (5 CD-Set) Bear Family

1995 Country Hoedown Shows & Films Country Routes

Unissued Radio Shows (1944–1948)

1998 Turn Your Radio On (1944–1965)

2002 The Very Best of Merle Travis Varese Sarabande

2003 Boogie Woogie Cowboy 1944–1956 Country Routes

In Boston 1959 Rounder



1990 The Best of Rhino

1993 Folk Songs of the Hills: Back Home/Songs of the Coalminers Bear Family

1995 Guitar Retrospective (instrumental compilation album) CMH

2000 The Best of Merle Travis: Sweet Temptation 1946–1953 Razor the 1996 remastered CD reissue of this album, which reverts to the original title, adds a further unreleased track. * The 1960 Capitol album consists of unaccompanied acoustic guitar solos with a few vocals. * The Capitol albums Back Home, Walkin' the Strings and The Best of Merle Travis
Merle Travis
were awarded the top (five-star) ranking in the Rolling Stone Record Guide * The 1974 album with Chet Atkins
Chet Atkins
received a Grammy
Award for Best Country Instrumental * The 1979 CMH CD consists of late-period recordings, tracked over two days in New Mexico four years before Travis's death * The 1981 LP "Travis Pickin'" is an acoustic solo guitar album * On the 1981 CMH LP "Rough, Rowdy and Blue" Travis accompanies himself on 12-string acoustic guitar * The 1991, 1995, 1998 and 2003 Country Routes CDs contain remastered radio transcriptions * The 1993 Bear Family double reissue contains remasterings of all tracks from Back Home (1957) and Songs of the Coalmines (1963) * The 1993 Bear Family 5-CD collection contains Capitol singles from 1946 to 1955 as well as early singles recorded for small labels such as King and Bel-Tone as well as comprehensive notes by country music historian and Travis authority Rich Kienzle. * The 2002 Varese Sarabande CD is a collection of remastered mid-50s live recordings, taken from appearances on Jimmy Wakely's radio show * The 2003 Proper Records 2-CD album is a compilation of remastered recordings from 1943 to 1952 accompanied by a 15-page booklet listing recording dates and personnel. Includes rare Sheppard Brothers and Browns Ferry Four tracks. * The 2003 Rounder Records
Rounder Records
CD is a concert recording of songs accompanied on acoustic guitar * The 2008 2-CD Delta Leisure Group album is a digitally remastered compilation of recordings from the 1940s and 1950s.



1946 "Cincinnati Lou" 2

"No Vacancy" 3

" Divorce Me C.O.D. " 1

1947 "Missouri" 5

" So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed " 1

"Steel Guitar Rag" 4

"Three Times Seven" 4

"Fat Gal" 4

1948 "Merle's Boogie Woogie" 7

"Crazy Boogie" 11

1949 "What a Shame" 13

1955 " Wildwood Flower " (w/ Hank Thompson ) 5

1966 "John Henry, Jr." 44


* 1994 Rare Performances 1946–1981, Vestapol (with 36-page booklet) * 2002 Legends of Country Guitar, Vestapol (with Chet Atkins, Doc Watson and Mose Rager) * 2003 More Rare Performances 1946–1981, Vestapol (with 21-page booklet) * 2005 At Town Hall Party, Bear Family


1. Soundies Distributing Corporation (1946)

* "Night Train to Memphis" * "Silver Spurs" * "Texas Home" * "Old Chisholm Trail" * "Catalogue Cowboy" * "Why'd I Fall for Abner" (with Carolina Cotton) * "No Vacancy" (with the Bronco Busters and Betty Devere)

2. Snader Transcriptions (1951)

* "Spoonin' Moon" (with the Westerners and Judy Hayden) * "Too Much Sugar for a Dime" (with the Westerners and Judy Hayden) * "I'm a Natural Born Gamblin' Man" (with the Westerners) * "Petticoat Fever" (with the Westerners) * "Sweet Temptation" (with the Westerners) * "Nine Pound Hammer" (with acoustic guitar) * "Lost John" (with acoustic guitar) * "Muskrat" (with acoustic guitar) * "John Henry" (with acoustic guitar) * "Dark as a Dungeon" (with acoustic guitar)


* 1944 The Old Texas Trail (U.K. title: Old Stagecoach Line) * 1945 When the Bloom is on the Sage * 1945 Montana Plains * 1945 Why Did I Fall for Abner? * 1945 Texas Home (with Carolina Cotton) * 1946 Roaring Rangers (U.K. title False Hero) (with the Bronco Busters) * 1946 Lone Star Moonlight (U.K. title Amongst the Thieves) (with the Merle Travis
Merle Travis
Trio) * 1946 Galloping Thunder (U.K. title On Boot Hill) (with the Bronco Busters) * 1947 Old Chisholm Trail * 1947 Silver Spurs * 1951 Cyclone Fury (with the Bronco Busters) * 1953 From Here to Eternity
From Here to Eternity
(vocal with acoustic guitar) * 1966 That Tennessee Beat


* 1961 Door-to-Door Maniac (U.S. video title Last Blood) * 1962 The Night Rider (TV film) * 1982 Honky Tonk Man


* 1976 Harlan County, USA


* ^ "I Am A Pilgrim (Merle Travis) ‒ Guitar- and Ukulele chords". GuitarParty.com. Retrieved 2016-07-07. * ^ Lightfoot, William E. 1990. "A regional musical style: The legacy of Arnold Shultz," in Sense of place: American regional cultures, edited by Barbara Allen and Thomas J. Schlereth, 120–137. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky; Kienzle, Rich. "The evolution of country fingerpicking" * ^ A B Merle Travis
Merle Travis
interviewed on the Pop Chronicles
Pop Chronicles
(1969) * ^ The Drifting Pioneers * ^ Truth is Stranger Than Publicity 1995 ed. * ^ Rich Kienzle, The Merle Travis
Merle Travis
Story This link is dead. Archived September 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
Wayback Machine
. * ^ An interview with Merle Travis
Merle Travis
Yesteryear in Nashville, retrieved July 2010 Check date values in: access-date= (help ) * ^ by William E. Lightfoot, 2003. The Three Doc(k)s: White Blues in Appalachia, Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 23, No. 1/2, pp. 167–193; see also "Brown\'s Ferry Four" by Bruce Eder, Allmusic * ^ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0871419/ * ^ Liberation sets \'Soundies\' free * ^ "The Ford Show. Season Five. 1960-\'61". ernieford.com. Retrieved February 11, 2015. * ^ A B Chet Atkins, liner notes to 1996 reissue of the album Walkin' the Strings * ^ Gold 2006. * ^ Ferris, William R., Michael K. Honey and Pete Seeger,"Pete Seeger, San Francisco, 1989", Southern Cultures Volume 13.3, Fall 2007, pp. 5–38 * ^ Gérard Herzhaft et al., 1997. Encyclopedia of the Blues, University of Arkansas Press, p. 14 * ^ Available from Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop GW 918, 1993 * ^ Points of Interest – Central City, KY


* Travis, Merle. 1976. Foreword to Country Roots: the Origins of Country Music by Douglas B. Green. New York : Hawthorn Books. ISBN 0-8015-1781-8 , ISBN 0-8015-1778-8 pbk * Travis, Merle. 1979. "Recollections of Merle Travis: 1944–1955" (Parts 1 135–143. * Travis, Merle. 1955. "The Saga of Sixteen Tons", United Mine Workers Journal, December 1, 1955. * " Merle Travis
Merle Travis
on Home Ground", Interview with Hedy West in Sing Out, Vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 20–26. * "Interview: Merle Travis
Merle Travis
Talking with Mark Humphrey" (Parts 1 to 4). 1981–1982. Old Time Music nos. 36–39, pp. 6–10; 20–24; 14–18; 22–25. * Kienzle, Rich, 2004. "Merle Travis". In Paul Kingsbury, ed., The Encyclopedia of Country Music: the Ultimate Guide to the Music. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-517608-7 , ISBN 0-19-517608-1 * Gold, Jude. 2006. "The secrets of Travis picking: Thom Bresh passes on the lessons of his legendary father, Merle Travis," Guitar Player, April 1, 2006. * Eatherly, Pat Travis. 1987. In Search of My Father. Broadman Press. # ISBN 0-8054-5727-5 , # ISBN 978-0-8054-5727-8 * Dicaire, David. 2007. The First Generation of Country Music Stars: Biographies of 50 Artists Born Before 1940. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland ;background:none transparent;border:none;-moz-box-shadow:none;-webkit-box-shadow:none;box-shadow:none;">v

* t * e

Country Music Hall of Fame
Country Music Hall of Fame

* The Carter Family
Carter Family
(1970) * Bill Monroe
Bill Monroe
(1970) * Art Satherley (1971) * Jimmie Davis
Jimmie Davis
(1972) * Chet Atkins
Chet Atkins
(1973) * Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline
(1973) * Owen Bradley (1974) * Pee Wee King (1974) * Minnie Pearl (1975) * Paul Cohen (1976) * Kitty Wells
Kitty Wells
(1976) * Merle Travis
Merle Travis
(1977) * Grandpa Jones
Grandpa Jones
(1978) * Hubert Long (1979) * Hank Snow
Hank Snow


* WorldCat Identities * VIAF : 33145971352032331561 * LCCN : n86109519 * ISNI : 0000 0000 5955 1457 * GND : 134542061 * BNF : cb13900549v (data) * MusicBrainz
: 13da4ed2-7344-49aa-aa73-004826896c5c * NLA : 49284026 * NKC : js20030331011 * BNE : XX940094 * IATH