Saturday, October 30, 2010

Walkin' the Strings

Walkin' the Strings was the first solo acoustic guitar album by Merle Travis, released in 1960 but recorded in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when Travis was at the peak of his performing abilities. It is widely regarded as one of Travis's finest musical achievements.

Travis began playing solo guitar numbers on his radio shows as early as the late 1930s, but it was only in the mid 1940s that Travis began using his Martin D-28 acoustic guitar to record various vocals and instrumental numbers for Capitol's Electrical Transcriptions series. These recordings were originally intended for radio broadcast. Capitol's A & R executive, Lee Gillette, wanted instrumentals of varying lengths and would ask Travis to play something for a specific amount of time, typically quite short; the shortest of the numbers included on this album, "Travis Trot", lasts just 29 seconds. (The vocal numbers were of standard length.) The instrumentals could thus be used as fillers and breaks between program segments. The performances were unrehearsed, and it was said that Travis could start and stop anywhere he chose in order to meet the time constraints.

Keeping his eye on the clock as he played, Travis drew on his rich repertoire of Muhlenberg County guitar licks, blues, old standards and gospel songs. Some songs were untitled when they were recorded and were only given titles by Capitol later. These songs were still lying in the vaults when Travis' fame as a guitarist began to reach a wider public in the 1950s. Following an initial instrumental album played on electric guitar, The Merle Travis Guitar (Capitol 1956), the radio transcriptions were collected and published as the present LP album in 1960.

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