Merle Travis

Induction Year: 1970

Birth Name: Merle Robert Travis

Birth Date: 11-29-1917

Place of Birth: Rosewood, Kentucky

Death Date: 10-20-1983

Place of Death: Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Best known as one of American popular music's most innovative guitar stylists, Merle Travis was also the writer of numerous classic country songs, including wry hits "Divorce Me C.O.D.," "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)" and "So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed" and serious-minded ballads "I Am a Pilgrim" and "Dark As a Dungeon." His "Sixteen Tons," a #1 country and pop hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford, melded humor and working class despair and wound up being recorded by artists as disparate as Johnny Cash, B. B. King, Stevie Wonder and Bo Diddley.

Travis grew up in the coal country of western Kentucky, an area rife with guitar players. With help from influences Ike Everly and Mose Rager, he developed a syncopated finger-picking style on the guitar that allowed him to play bass runs with his thumb while exploring melodies on the treble strings. That guitar style allowed Travis to play with a melodic complexity that served him well as a songwriter.

He moved to California in 1944, signed to the Capitol label in 1946 and soon scored Top 10 country hits with "Cincinnati Lou," "No Vacancy" and his first country chart #1, "Divorce Me C.O.D." His own version of "Sixteen Tons" was released in 1947, but the song wouldn't be a hit until Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded it in 1955. In the 1940s, Travis had success as a solo artist but also by crafting songs popularized by others, such as "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette), a top-charting smash for Tex Williams. His "So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed" reached the top five of the Billboard country chart three separate times in 1946 and 1947, with Travis' #1 version followed by Johnny Bond's #3 record and Ernest Tubb's #5 single.

"Anybody can write a song, but it takes a great artist to deliver it to the multitudes and make them love it," Travis once said. "Let's say it this way . . . . We can all purchase peroxide, but there's only one Marilyn Monroe."

By the end of the 1940s, Travis was writing fewer songs, but Ford's 1955 version of "Sixteen Tons" renewed interest in Travis' catalog. He moved to Nashville in 1968, starred on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's landmark 1972 album Will the Circle Be Unbroken, won a Grammy in 1974 for Best Country Instrumental Performance and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1977.

"Blue Smoke"

Merle Travis1954 

"Cincinnati Lou"

(written with Shug Fisher)

Merle Travis1946 #2 country

"Dark As a Dungeon"

Merle Travis1947 
Harry Belafonte1962 
Johnny Cash1964 #49 country
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band & Merle Travis1972 
Dolly Parton1980 
Wall of Voodoo1985 
The Chieftans with Vince Gill2002 
Kathy Mattea2008 

"Divorce Me C.O.D."

(written with Cliffie Stone)

Merle Travis1946 #1 country
T. Texas Tyler1946 
Hoosier Hot Shots1946 
The King Sisters1946 #5 country
Johnny Bond1947 #4 country
Carl Smith1965 
Boxcar Willie1980 

"Fat Gal"

Merle Travis1947 #4 country

"Guitar Rag"

(written with Mose Rager)

Merle Travis1950 

"I Am a Pilgrim"

Merle Travis1947 
The Byrds1968 
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band & Merle Travis1972 
Johnny Cash2003 

"Kentucky Means Paradise"

Merle Travis1947 
Glen Campbell & Green River Boys1962 #20 country
Ricky Nelson1966 
Barbara Mandrell1982 

"Merle's Boogie Woogie"

Merle Travis1948 #7 country

"No Vacancy"

(written with Cliffie Stone)

Merle Travis1946 #3 country
Glen Campbell & the Green River Boys1962 
Ricky Nelson1966 

"Sixteen Tons"

Merle Travis1947 
Tennessee Ernie Ford1955 #1 country, #1 pop
Johnny Desmond1955 #17 pop
B. B. King1955 
The Platters1960 
Bo Diddley1961 
Jimmy Dean1961 
Stevie Wonder1966 
Johnny Taylor1967 
Tom Jones1967 #68 pop
Don Harrison Band1976 #47 pop
Johnny Cash1987 
The Nighthawks1993 
LeAnn Rimes2011 

"Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)"

(written with Tex Williams)

Tex Williams1947 #1 country, #1 pop
Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen1973 #97 country, #94 pop
Thom Bresh1978 #78 country
Doc Watson1980 
Sammy Davis Jr.1982 #89 country

"So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed"

(written with Eddie Kirk, Cliffie Stone)

Merle Travis1947 #1 country
Johnny Bond1947 #3 country
Ernest Tubb1947 #5 country
Ricky Skaggs1981 

"Steel Guitar Rag"

(written with Leon McAuliffe, Cliffie Stone)

Merle Travis1947 #4 country
Hank Thompson1961 

"Sweet Temptation"

Merle Travis1946 

"That's All"

Merle Travis1945 
Tennessee Ernie Ford1956 #12 country, #17 pop

"Three Times Seven"

(written with Cliffie Stone)

Merle Travis1947 #4 country

"Too in Love"

(written with Ned Fairchild)

Hank Thompson1963 #22 country

"Walkin' the Strings"

Merle Travis1949 

"What a Shame"

(written with Tex Atchison, Buck Nation)

Merle Travis1949 #13 country

Merle Travis

Induction Year: 1970