I first learned about Merle Travis in the September 1976 issue of Guitar Player magazine.
GP editor Jim Crockett began his introduction to Bob Baxter’s cover-story article/interview with Mr. Travis with this statement: “Countless guitarists, particularly in the country music field, owe a good deal of their picking to the finger style licks of Merle Travis.” Merle’s style of playing was so influential that, according to Mr. Crockett, it had actually been given a name: “Travis Picking.”
“Hmm,” I thought. “I’d like to hear some of this music.”
Fortunately, the article concluded with a “Selected Travis Discography.” The first disc listed was a 1956 solo album on Capitol Records simply titled The Merle Travis Guitar.
“That’s the one for me!”
Unfortunately, as Mr. Crockett also stated in his 1976 introduction, Mr. Travis’ older recordings were “all but extinct today.”
So, the quest to find a copy of The Merle Travis Guitar took many years.
But finally, I got lucky.
While browsing in a local record store, I chanced upon a copy of the album as reissued by the Stetson Records label from England.
There were 12 tracks on The Merle Travis Guitar and Side 1 began with “Blue Smoke” – the very same piece that Bob Baxter had included a transcription of in his 1976 Guitar Player article.
The album’s uncredited liner notes offered the listener the following preparation: “When Merle plays, every phrase is fluent, every note is clean. Merle does not use his impressive technique merely for show, but always as a tool that helps to make his music as meaningful and clear as possible.”
I completely agree, but you should listen for yourself.
Merle Robert Travis was born on November 29, 1917 in the Muhlenberg County, Kentucky town of Rosewood. He passed away on October 20, 1983.
Over the course of his 46-year career, Merle Travis was a very popular performer in radio programs, stage shows, Hollywood feature films, television shows and in concerts. He recorded over a dozen LP’s (two of which earned 5-star ratings from Rolling Stone magazine) and a string of Hot Country chart-topping hit singles. His 1974 album The Atkins-Travis Traveling Show – with fellow guitarist Chet Atkins – received the Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance.
In 1970, Merle was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1977.
Finally, Merle Travis is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential American guitarists of the 20th Century.