Merle Travis’ declining years were spent in eastern Oklahoma, where he moved in the late 1970s. He continued touring, playing festivals and making television appearances as well as making records for his friend Martin Haerle’s Los Angeles-based CMH record label. In October 20, 1983, he suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 65.
Merle Travis was country music’s Renaissance man. His many talents seemed without end: guitarist, singer, songwriter, actor, storyteller, journalist, historian, teacher, cartoonist, and, as Chet Atkins once said, if that wasn’t enough, he could also fix your watch.
In speaking about Chet Atkins, Merle Travis once told journalist Mark Humphrey, “I don’t ever think that there will ever be a chance for any other guitar player to be as great as Chet. He was born at a time when turn-of-the- century music, the songs of the 1920s and big bands were still around and not laughed at. He knows it all, from that music to commercial stuff to what was recorded this afternoon in Nashville. He is the greatest guitar player that has ever been on this earth, in my opinion. I don’t think there will ever be anyone greater.” Strong words, coming
Photo by David A. Wolfram