Biggar, decided to start another gospel segment, Travis teamed up with three WLW other staff members to form the Brown’s Ferry Four.
The other members of this group were the Delmore Brothers (Alton and Rabon) and Louis Marshall “Grandpa” Jones. The Alabama-born Delmores had been making records since 1931. Their style was typical of brother acts during the 1930s: close harmonies with guitar accom- paniment, except the Delmores had a profound blues influence in their music. Alton would play lead, usually playing boogie-influenced picking on the bass strings while Rabon provided the accompaniment on the higher four- string tenor guitar. Alton Delmore had taught gospel singing and with his help, Merle Travis learned how to read the shape note notation in gospel hymnals. The name of the group was the subject of some irony since it came from the Delmore Brothers’ 1933 hit recording, “Brown’s Ferry Blues,” a bawdy country blues, hardly the type of song that could be associated with a straitlaced, god-fearing gospel quartet. (Note the lyrics: Two old maids layin’ in the sand, each one wishin’ that the other was a man.” But the name stuck and the quartet had a popular program on WLW.
In Alton Delmore, Merle Travis found a willing tutor, who not only taught him to read shape note notation, but spent many evenings talking to him about music and how it was written, often until after midnight. Before long, Travis was writing and arranging songs for another WLW group, the Williams Brothers (which included an adolescent Andy Williams).
In order to play a half-hour program of gospel tunes on a continuing basis, Travis, the Delmores, and Jones had to learn many songs that included not just gospel, but also hymns and spirituals. In the black part of Cincinnati, on Central Avenue, was a record store owned by a volatile, cigar-chomping entrepreneur named Syd Nathan. The shop advertised spiritual recordings and Travis and Grandpa Jones would go down there often to listen to the records. When Nathan found out that the two were performers on WLW, he suggested that they make records of their own for his new company called King Records. Since they were under contract to WLW, Travis and Jones decided to record for King under an assumed name, the Sheppard Brothers,