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MOSE RAGER The key disseminator of the style of music now known as “Travis Picking” was a Kentuckian named Mose Rager (1911-1985). Although neither the creator of the style nor its most famous ambassador, Rager was the chief influence on Merle Travis, who popularized it throughout the world. Rager was born on April 2, 1911 in Smallhous, located in Ohio County in western Kentucky. Rager learned to play banjo and guitar when he was seven. In interviews given later, Rager credited two men for introducing him to the style.

The first was Arnold Shultz (1886-1931), a black coal miner from the Cromwell precinct of Ohio County. Shultz’s reputation as a guitarist was such that he was welcomed in white homes as well as black. In addition to his work in the mines, Shultz played guitar and fiddle at local house dances. In bands numbering as many as five pieces, Shultz was often the only black member. It was recalled that he would teach the other musicians chords in addition to the standard G, C, and D. On one such occasion, Forrest “Boots” Faught, who played with Shultz, recalled him adding an “A” chord to the pop standard “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” (The song later became a staple in Merle Travis’s own repertoire.)

During the mid-1920s, Shultz abandoned playing at house dances and would entertain his fellow coal miners on payday. Hearing the music, the miners would automatically walk up and throw money at him. Soon, young musicians began following Shultz around, picking up whatever they could from him. One of these youngsters was 12-year-old Bill Monroe, the future father of bluegrass. Monroe would later marvel at Shultz’s ability to make smooth transitions between chords and also his ability to play blues. Another guitarist who learned to play chords from Shultz was Kennedy Jones of Cleaton. Born around the turn of the century, Jones, who was white, became acquainted with Shultz through Shultz’s earning money by meeting passenger trains and playing for the disembarking passengers. It was Jones who was the chief direct influence on Mose Rager.

Although Mose Rager never met Arnold Shultz, he learned Shultz’s style through Jones, who he met in 1925 when Rager was 14 years old. Jones adapted Shultz’s style


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