Robert Merle Travis (29 November 1917 – 20 October 1983) was a singer songwriter, country and western.
Born in Rosewood, Kentucky, was raised in the Muhlenberg County in the State, mining that would inspire many original songs of Travis County. From the beginning was interested in playing the guitar, starting with one manufactured by his brother.
Merle interpretive style is developed from a tradition of Western Kentucky, the fingerpicking, among whose followers was guitarist country blues Arnold Shultz. Shultz taught his style to several local musicians including Kennedy Jones, who transmitted it to other guitarists, emphasizing Mose Rager and Ike Everly, father of The Everly Brothers. Technique captivated many musicians from the region, and inspiration for the young Travis.
18 Travis performed “Tiger Rag” in an amateur program from a local radio station in Evansville, Indiana, which earned him job offers in local bands. In 1937 was hired by the violinist Clayton McMichen to play the guitar in his group, Georgia Wildcats. He subsequently joined the Pioneers Drifting, a Chicago area gospel Quartet worked station WLW in Cincinnati, the largest country in the North of Nashville music. Travis style surprised everybody in the WLW and became a famous member of his peasant dance program “Boone County Jamboree”. In his performances for the radio station often worked with Grandpa Jones the Delmore Brothers, Hank Penny, Joe Maphis, all which came to a close friendship with him.
In 1943 he and Grandpa Jones recorded for Syd Nathan, who had founded a new King Records label. Since WLW prevented his musicians recorded, Travis and Jones used the pseudonym “The Sheppard Brothers.” His recording of “You’ll be Lonesome Too” was the first to launch by King Records.
When the Pioneers Drifting left WLW, was a space of half an hour that was necessary to cover, and Merle, Grandpa Jones and Delmore Brothers formed a gospel group called The Brown’s Ferry Four. A repertoire of songs playing traditional gospel white and black, became one of the most famous recording nearly four dozen faces for the King label between 1946 and 1952 gospel groups. The Brown’s Ferry Four was called “possibly the best white gospel always group”.
In this period Travis appeared in several soundies , a primitive form of music video designed for use on machines array (jukebox). His first soundie was “Night Train to Memphis” with the band Jimmy Wakely and his Oklahoma Cowboys and Girls, including Johnny Bond, Wesley Tuttle and Mary Ford. Several years later recorded a group of Snader Transcriptions, short videos designed to complete the programming on local television networks. They include duets with Judy Hayden, his wife at that time as well as several songs from her album 1947 Folk Songs from the Hills.
Peak of his career
In 1944 Travis left Cincinnati and moved to Hollywood where his style became even more renowned when started working sessions, radio and live shows and performing minor roles in several films of serie B western. Recorded for small labels until 1946, year in which he signed to Capitol Records. Hits such as “Cincinnati Lou”, “No Vacancy,” “Divorce Me”Sweet Temptation,”C.O.D.”So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed”, and”Three Times Seven”, all they own compositions gave national fame although not all were working with the guitar that had given him fame among his fellow profession.” His design for an electric guitar made to him by Paul Bigsby, thought to have inspired the famous Leo Fender Fender Telecaster in 1950. Travis-Bigsby guitar is currently in the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum.
In 1946, after being requested the recording of an album of songs folk, Travis combined traditional songs with several original compositions Recalling his family on the mine working days. The result was released with the name of Folk Songs of the Hills. This disc, which intervened only accompanied by guitar, Travis contains two songs remembered, both focusing on the lives of coal miners: “Sixteen Tons” and “Dark as a Dungeon”. “Sixteen Tons” (whose authorship has been claimed by George S. Davis) was number 1 on the Billboard Country version made by Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955 and has been recorded several times over the years. The dark and philosophical “Dark as a Dungeon”, although it was not a hit single, became a classic folk and has been covered by many artists including Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and the same Travis next to Doc Watson and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Travis was a popular radio performer during the 1940s and 1950s, and appeared in many country music television presenting the show “Merle Travis and Company” along with his wife Hayden June 1953. It was regular member radio station KNX Hollywood, Hollywood Barn program and the Town Hall Party program first aired on radio by the KXLA in Pasadena, California, and later on television as a number between 1953 and 1961.
Travis successes in the 1940s series not continued in the 1950s, despite radio performances and esteem friends like Johnny Cash, Grandpa Jones and Hank Thompson. Travis continued recording for Capitol in the 1950s, expanding its repertoire. This time out their single “Merle’s Boogie Woogie”.
Got more publicity after his performance in the 1953 film from here to eternity, where he sang “Reenlistment Blues”, and after the success in 1955 version his friend Tennessee Ernie Ford made “Sixteen tons”. His reputation as a musician grew after the appearance of The Merle Travis Guitar album in 1956, the reissue of Folk Songs of the Hills with four additional topics under heading Back Home in 1957, and Walkin’ the Strings in 1960. The last two albums got a score of five stars in Rolling Stone magazine. Her career got a new impetus during the revival of folk at Carnegie Hall as a guest of the Foggy Mountain Boys in 1962 and American late 1950s and early 1960s, taking him to performances in clubs, festivals, folk music. In the middle of the 1960s, he moved to Nashville, joining the Grand Ole Opry radio programme.
Merle Travis is widely recognized as one of the most influential guitarists of the 20th century. His guitar style influenced many later, notably Chet Atkins instrumentalists. Other guitarists influenced by Travis are Scotty Moore, Earl Hooker, and Marcel Dadi. Today, Thom Bresh son still playing the same style in a guitar from the Langejans.
Your personal brand incorporated elements of blues, boogie, ragtime, jazz and Western swing, with rich harmonic progressions, harmonics, slides and bends as well as rapid change of tonality. Changed quickly fingerpicking to plectrum in the middle of an interpretation. In his hands guitar seemed a full orchestra.
However, in spite of their successes, their private lives was complicated. It was a heavy drinker and a very insecure person, which earned him to get involved in violent incidents in California. Also married several times. Also suffered a serious fright while once in action was effective and charismatic.
Because of this, her career suffered a decline that got back in the 1970s. Frequently appeared on television music country as Porter Wagoner Show, the Johnny Cash Show Austin City Limits, Grand Old Country and Nashville Swing. He also appeared in 1972 on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band drive Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which earned him known by a new generation of folz music enthusiasts. His album of duets with Chet Atkins in 1974, The Atkins – Travis Traveling Show, won a Grammy award in the category “Best Country Instrumental,” and subsequent album, Travis Pickin’, received another nomination. In 1976 he contributed to the soundtrack for the winning documentary Oscar Harlan County, USA. Towards the end of the 1970s Los Angeles country signed a new contract with the music label bmc Records, thereby launching one of the most prolific recording career. Among the many titles released discs had solo duets with Joe Maphis, an album of blues, and a double LP tribute to the legendary violinist country Clayton McMichen, with whom he played in the 1930s.
In 1970 she joined the Nashville Songwriters Fame Hall.
Merle Travis died in 1983 from an myocardial attack at his home in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered around in a monument erected in his honor near of Drakesboro, Kentucky.