Wednesday, November 10, 2004



Merle Travis, I Am a Pilgrim.

A crossover soul record? Merle Travis learned this song from another Kentucky musician, Mose Rager, who in turn had learned it from a blues singer. Travis' guitar playing is also far more bluesy and syncopated than the typical country style--his trademark was to use his thumb to play rhythm on the bass strings, and his forefinger to pick the melody on the treble strings. This is similar to what Robert Johnson had been doing in the '30s, but it was revolutionary for the country music world. Chet Atkins and Scotty Moore, just to name two country guitar legends, owed much of their style to Travis.

This is a bit of an anomalous record for Travis, who mainly was known for novelties like "Fat Girl," "Divorce Me C.O.D.", "Sixteen Tons" and "So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed." His singing here is wonderful--nostalgic and vibrant, with a sense of mourning lost time. The postwar era is already well underway, and the country camp meeting was quickly becoming a piece of the past (although it would be reincarnated in the televangelist shows and Promise Keeper rallies).

Recorded in Hollywood on August 13, 1946. Later notably covered by the Byrds on their "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" album. It can be found on this collection.

The Pilgrim's Progress.

"So I saw in my dream that the man began to run. Now, he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children, perceiving it, began to cry after him to return; but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, Life! life! eternal life! So he looked not behind him, but fled towards the middle of the plain."

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