Cliffie Stone Equestrian Trail
L to R: Ray Merrill, Texanne, Merle Travis, Tex Atchison and Cliffie Stone – one of the first Western groups that Cliffie put together to play at the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, which was broadcast on KXLA radio. This photo was taken during the time frame when Cliffie and Merle first met and started working together. It’s been said that a person’s childhood and early years forms their character. Since Merle Travis doesn’t have an official website and it takes patient searching to gather info about him, I thought I’d include a brief background of the beginning of his career to honor him, which Cliffie would have wanted. Merle Travis was born and raised in Rosewood, Kentucky, which was coal mining country. His father was a coal miner and many of Merle’s future songs, such as “16 Tons,” “Dark As A Dungeon,” and “9 Pound Hammer” were inspired by his childhood. He remembers his father saying on many occasions that he was “another day older and deeper in debt,” which is a key lyric line in the chorus of “16 Tons.” Merle was naturally gifted with musical talent and when he was a youngster, he became enthused with the guitar. Long ago, a native tradition of finger-picking was developed in Western Kentucky which was handed down to each generation of fledging guitar players. Country blues guitarist, Arnold Shultz learned it; later, he showed this finger-picking style to local musicians such as Kennedy Jones. Kennedy Jones, in turn, demonstrated it to a couple of coal miners who also played guitar - Mose Rager and Ike Everly (future father of the Everly Brothers). They, in turn, demonstrated it to other local guitar players who became inspired by this unique technique and Merle Travis was one of them. He became fascinated by the thumb and index finger picking method; and how to use the thumb for the bass strings while playing the melody on the treble strings. (There was a DVD called “Legends of Country Guitar” (Vestapol, 2002) wherein Merle appeared with Mose Rager and Merle expressed his gratitude to both Mose Rager and Ike Everly for introducing this picking style to him. Since Merle had a God-given talent to play the guitar, he expanded this syncopated style of finger picking and it was and continues to be called ‘Travis picking.’ When Merle was 18, he performed “Tiger Rag” on his guitar on a local amateur show in Evansville, Indiana, which led to numerous gigs with local bands. In 1937, Clayton McMichen (who played fiddle) had a group called the “Georgia Wildcats” and he hired Merle to be his guitarist. A group called the “Drifting Pioneers” (a Chicago gospel quartet) hired Merle and they moved to Cincinnati and appeared on radio station WLW, which was a major country music station north of Nashville. Merle’s finger-picking style mesmerized everyone at WLW and, in 1938, he played guitar on WLW’s “Boone Country Jamboree” radio show. He became so popular that he performed on other WLW weekday programs, such as Louis Marshall (later to be known as “Grandpa” Jones), the Delmore Brothers, comedian Hank Penny, and Joe Maphis; their musical relationships would last a lifetime. In 1943, Merle and Grandpa Jones (they used a pseudonym,“The Sheppard Brothers”) recorded a song, “You’ll Be Lonesome Too,” for a new label called “King Records” which was started by Syd Nathan, a Cincinnati-based record dealer. King Records would later become known for its country recordings by acts such as the Delmore Brothers and R&B legends such as, Hank Ballard and James Brown. Merle enlisted in the U.S. Marines during World War II and when he was discharged, he returned to Cincinnati’s WLW radio station; he rejoined his buddies - Grandpa Jones and the Delmore Brothers and they formed a gospel group called “The Brown’s Ferry Four” which had a repertoire of black & white gospel songs. They became very popular and this led to numerous recordings with the King label. In 1944, Merle left for Hollywood where his finger-picking style became more renowned; he worked in studio recording sessions, radio and live stage shows. It’s in this time frame that Merle met Cliffie Stone. It’s obvious that they had a close working relationship because Merle is in 7 of Cliffie’s Early Years photographs; they also co-wrote numerous hit songs together, which are listed below and in Later Years (Row 2, Photo #3). Merle became a member of Cliffie’s “Dinner Bell Round Up” show (which Cliffie later renamed the “Hometown Jamboree Show”); it featured other members such as Molly Bee and Tennessee Ernie Ford. Excerpts from Cliffie’s talent show book: “While taping my thoughts for this book, it occurred to me that my lifelong penchant for discovering talent truly took root a few years later during my 13 year musical variety KTLA television show, “Hometown Jamboree.” Although this wasn’t a talent show, I presented new talent. In hindsight, my show was actually a launching pad for many artists, songwriters and musicians. They include Tennessee Ernie Ford, Merle Travis, Molly Bee, Tommy Sands, Barbara Mandrell and the list goes on.” “…Merle Travis became a regular member of my ‘Hometown Jamboree’ TV show. He has always been a big influence on so many guitar players down through the years – such as Chet Atkins and Steve Wariner.” Some of the songs that Merle wrote (and co-wrote) include: ’Sixteen Tons,’ ‘Nine Pound Hammer,’ ‘Dark As A Dungeon,’ ‘Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette’ (co-writer, Tex Williams – which became Capitol Records’ first million seller); ‘So Round So Firm So Fully Packed’ (co-writers – Cliffie Stone & Eddie Kirk); ‘No Vacancy’ (co-writer, Cliffie Stone), ‘Divorce Me COD’ (co-writer, Cliffie Stone), ‘Sweet Temptation’ (co-writer, Cliffie Stone),’Steel Guitar Rag’ (co-writers – Cliffie Stone & Leon McAuliffe) and the list goes on. Merle was inducted into the ”Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame” in 1970. In 1977, he was inducted into the “Country Music Hall of Fame.”

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