of an acoustic guitar. Bigsby’s creation was eventually manufactured and marketed by guitar maker Leo Fender. The design revolutionized the guitar industry.
Another revolution that Merle Travis had a hand in was multitrack recording. As the advent of recording tape came into usage, replacing discs, it became possible to “bounce” tracks from one machine to another. By utilizing the machine’s different speeds, Travis was able to speed up the sound of his guitar. It was first used on the 1946 Capitol release of “Merle’s Boogie Woogie,” in which Travis took blues couplets from a variety of sources (including one that he learned from blues singer Leadbelly) and interspersed them with eight-bar breaks of his “lightning guitar” sound. Although used initially as a novelty, multitrack multispeed recording techniques became familiarly associated with Les Paul and Mary Ford, who overdubbed voices and guitars, varied speeds, and created unusual effects for dozens of recordings in the late 1940s and early 1950s
In 1953, Merle Travis was featured as a singing enlisted man in the Academy Award-winning motion picture “From Here to Eternity.” The song, “Re-enlistment Blues,” which was written especially for the picture, was featured throughout the film as a background musical motif. But in one scene, Travis appeared, playing guitar and singing the tune.
For Merle Travis, the decade from 1945 to 1955 was his most successful as a songwriter. His hit compositions landed him appearances on radio and television shows throughout the country. He became a regular, familiar presence on Los Angeles programs like “Hometown Jamboree” and “Town Hall Party.” His busy recording career had him making dozens of bestselling discs for Capitol Records in addition to working as a sideman for Hank Thompson, Ernie Ford, and others. In 1955, Ford recorded Travis’ “Sixteen Tons,” which had been included on the 1946 “Folk Songs from the Hills” album. With a new, sophisticated instrumental backing arranged by musical director Jack Fascinato, Ford turned the wry lyrics of the dreary existence of a coal miner into a finger- snapping million seller. It brought Merle Travis new fame and introduced his other songs to an even wider audience than ever before.