This Historic Day In Music: Merle Travis

In the world of guitar music, I know of only a few players who were respected and influential enough to have a style of playing the instrument named after them.

There was Maybelle Carter and the “Carter scratch,” Elizabeth Cotten and her “Cotten picking” and there was Merle Travis and his “Travis picking.”

Merle Travis was born on this day, November 29, in 1917, in Rosewood, Kentucky.

Every fingerstyle guitar player since the 1940’s has been directly or indirectly influenced by the playing of Merle Travis. Whether heard on the radio, back in the days when radio stations broadcast regular shows with musicians playing live “on the air” or heard on one of his many hit records and albums: Merle Travis has made countless guitar players the world over wish they could play like him.

If you are a fan of contemporary players like Tommy Emmanuel, Ed Gerhard and Randy McKee or of older players like Leo Kottke, John Fahey, Doc Watson (he named his son after Merle) and Chet Atkins, you really ought to listen to (and watch) Merle Travis.

By the way, keep an eye on his right hand thumb: that’s the stylistic foundation of Travis picking.

Here’s one where he sings, too.

My, oh my.

If you’d like to get an album of Merle Travis’ guitar music, I highly recommend Walkin’ The Strings. Originally released in 1960, Capitol Records put it out on a CD in 1996.

Merle Travis passed away on October 20, 1983 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

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