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Merle Travis

October 17, 1975 OH185 138 min.


Guitarist, songwriter, and performer. Born November 29, 1917. Died October 20, 1983. Full name: Merle Robert Travis. As a leading exponent of the thumb-style guitar technique, his innovative style influenced generations of guitar players. Songwriting credits include the classics “Sixteen Tons,” “Dark as a Dungeon,” and “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke (That Cigarette).” Member, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Member, Country Music Hall of Fame®.

Interview Summary

1975 October 17
(2 hours, 18 minutes)
Guitarist Merle Travis discusses his career. Discussion includes early musical influences Mose Rager and Ike Everly; the start of his guitar and banjo playing; his guitars; his association with Leo Fender; joining Clayton McMichen’s Georgia Wildcats; the Brown’s Ferry Four; recording for Sid Nathan and King Records; signing with Capitol Records; his songwriting, including “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke (That Cigarette)”; the story behind his Grand Ole Opry membership; changes in country music performance styles; his assessment of his role as an influential guitarist; the importance of early radio shows to country music; and the evolution of the country song.

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