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,” “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 in 1977.
One of my personal favorites is his “Cannonball Rag”.
If you’re a fan of Spotify, here’s a couple tunes to get you started:
- “Sixteen Tons”: https://open.spotify.com/track/64skAtN95a0tWy6ncADfvW
- “Cincinnati Lou”: https://open.spotify.com/track/0JwYjrVfTIfRqCINVHUMLE
Album: View List