Merle Travis- vocals and guitar; Lloyd Wise- guitar
This timeless recording was caught at Los Angeles' historic Ash Grove, one of the great bastions of folk music on the West Coast. The intimate club, named after a Welsh folk song, opened its doors in 1958, and over the next 15 years many of the greats of folk, bluegrass, blues, and rock 'n' roll took the stage. On December 11th, 1966, Merle Travis, the country and folk legend, performed in front of a captivated and enthralled crowd.
This show finds the 41-year old at his peak. Though Travis adeptly shows off his impressive vocal and songwriting chops, it would be remiss not to mention his prodigiously skillful guitar work. Performances like this helped cement his legacy as one of the greatest American guitar players of all time. He displays his delightful, intricate finger picking through the concert while flawlessly engaging in breathtaking interplay with second-guitarist, Lloyd Wise.
While many young Americans love the music of Travis, few were able to see him play before his death in 1983. This show is a tribute to one of the great performers, songwriters, vocalists, and musicians of American musical history.
Merle Robert Travis was born on the November 29th, 1917 in the small town of Rosewood, KY. His father was a career coal miner, and Travis lived on the brink of poverty. Young Merle became interested in music at an early age, getting his hands on a guitar when he was still a kid. He was heavily influenced by Arnold Shultz, a popular blues guitar player, who helped Travis develop his offbeat style, which would become known as "Travis picking." Strangely, Travis lived in the same neighborhood as Ike Everly, the father of Don and Phil, who would grow up to become the Everly Brothers.
He got his first taste of the stage in 1935, while visiting his brother in Evansville, IN. His performance at a town dance won him many admirers, and an avenue into the local music scene. He played in a number of bands over the next few years, most notably the Drifting Pioneers. The Pioneers, who many believe are the greatest white gospel band in history, gained a national fan base, and Travis looked set for a legitimate music career. But, upon the start of World War II, the Pioneers broke up and Travis decided to join the Marines.
In 1944, after a brief stint in the service, he headed out to Los Angeles to play with Ray Whitley's Western Swing Band. By 1947, he had released his debut LP, Folk Songs of the Hills, which told stories about life on the railroad and in the coal mines. The album's first track, "Nine Pound Hammer," would become one of his most famous songs, and the album remains one of the greatest country and western/folk LP's of all-time. Though it took him nine years to release a sophomore effort, he recorded over twenty more LP's in a roughly 35 year career. He had the reputation of being a transcendent performer, but through the years, like many of his musical colleagues, he developed a nasty drug and alcohol problem. By the early '70s, the religious guitarist had quit his bad habits, and enjoyed one of the most prolific periods of his career. Most consider his 1974 collaboration with Chet Atkins, The Atkins-Travis Traveling Show, to be one of his finest releases.
Travis continued to record until he succumbed to a heart attack on October 20th, 1983 in Tahlequah, OK. His legacy and influence remains strong, and he continues to inspire and confound young guitarists to this day.
Written by Alan Bershaw