Synopsis by Nathan Southern
The critically-worshipped country boogie guitarist and songwriter Merle Travis (author of the Tennessee Ernie Ford ballad "Sixteen Tons") made the most enduring impact on guitar technique of any country performer outside of Chet Atkins, and even inspired a new stylistic trend, dubbed "Travis picking." Kentuckian Travis grew up in impoverished rural surroundings and, as something of a teenage prodigy on the guitar and banjo, managed to support himself as a musician from the age of twenty, when he joined Clayton McMichen's Georgia Wildcats. He broke through to national acclaim a bit later, as a member of the gospel group Brown's Ferry Four, then struck out on his own. Scores of albums and singles followed; hits included "Divorce Me, C.O.D.," "Three Times Seven," "Dark as a Dungeon," and of course "Sixteen Tons." Travis became the unofficial mentor to many additional performers (from multiple genres), including The Everly Brothers and Doc Watson, and experienced a period of resurgence in the seventies, but became notorious for his out-of-control private life, as well as alleged alcoholism and acts of domestic violence, prior to his death from a heart attack in late 1983. Travis's musical legacy, however, cannot be overestimated. Now, the concert compilation Merle Travis: Live at Town Hall Party spotlights the musician's genius, with vintage archival footage of Travis performing, originally broadcast on the Town Hall Party television series between 1952 and 1961. Twenty-six numbers appear here, in full, including: "Cincinnati Lou," "Midnight Special," "Back Home in Indiana," "Nine Pound Hammer," and "Cannonball Rag."