She'll Grow Back: Stagger Lee Saturdays - Merle Travis

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Stagger Lee Saturdays - Merle Travis

Merle Travis (fansite wiki AMG) was a highly influential country guitar picker, born in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky (which "Paradise" would later be stripmined for coal) in 1917. He befriended Tennessee Ernie Ford, and even wrote "Sixteen Tons," which would become Ernie's biggest hit.

This is a loose, laidback version, recorded only two years before Travis' death. His voice is appropriately aged, warm and crackling. He improvises a few lyrics, such as Billy's unimpressive claim to have "one little chilluns." You'll note that this is a rare version of Stag where the gambling is over cards, rather than dice. It's also nice that in this version Billy has a gun too -- seems a little more honorable when Stag shoots him dead.

But all that pales in comparison to the real treasure here: the guitar picking. This is one man, on one guitar, but it sounds like at least two of each. I'm a supremely uncoordinated person (which is one reason I have no instrumental talent), but just think -- Travis is singing, and playing a melody line on the guitar, and a rhythm line on the guitar, all at the same time. I'm pretty sure that if I tried any two of those three things, my head would explode. Merle Travis does all three without breaking a sweat, at the age of 64 -- if I have half this much energy at that age, I'll be grateful.

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