In addition, his heretofore revolutionary guitar style, which had taken a back seat to his novelty vocal hits, now began to be recognized as well. This started with the 1956 Capitol album, “The Merle Travis Guitar.” It is interesting that in light of the fact that Travis had written and recorded so many hit songs, from “No Vacancy” to “Three Times Seven,” etc., that his first long-playing album would be entirely instrumental. Country musicians were already admirers of the “Travis style” of guitar playing, as it was called even then. Now, with Ernie Ford’s recording of “Sixteen Tons” zooming up the charts and breaking sales records, Capitol decided to exploit Travis’ new-found fame and test the market by releasing the instrumental album. The record included five original Travis compositions, “ Blue Smoke,” “Walkin’ the Strings,” “Rockabye Rag,” Black Diamond Blues,” and “Saturday Night Shuffle.” It also showcased his expertise in mastering the style he learned from Mose Rager and Ike Everly in songs like “Tuck Me To Sleep in My Old ‘Tucky Home” and “The Waltz You Saved for Me.” The album has since become a primer for fingerstyle guitar picking, and probably the most revered instrumental album in country history.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Merle Travis’ career went on a downward spiral, due in part to the threat on country music’s young fans by rock and roll and also by Travis’ own personal problems with alcohol and pills. He joined the Grand Ole Opry for a brief period and appeared in a movie, “That Tennessee Beat.” During this period, Travis continued recording for Capitol, but the hit songs had ceased, and he eventually settled for the role of elder statesman and idol for budding guitar players. With his good friend Johnny Bond, he paid tribute to his old partners the Delmore Brothers on a 1969 Capitol album. He participated in several history-making album projects, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1971 “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” which honored Travis, Roy Acuff, Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs, and Doc Watson. He also teamed up for the first time with Chet Atkins, who had patterned his own style after Merle’s. Their 1975 album for RCA, “The Atkins-Travis Traveling Show” won a Grammy for the two ranking legends of country guitar, an honor that was followed two years later by Travis’ election to the Country Music Hall of Fame.