Merle Travis was a quadruple threat … guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and bandleader. A book should be written about him! If fact, one is. Sixteen Tons: The Merle Travis Story by Deke Dickerson is due in May 2022.
Merle appears in three series of Soundies, two under his own name and one with his pal Jimmy Wakely. From the last session, September 1946, we feature Merle, vocalist and accordion player Betty DeVere, and a group billed as the Bronco Busters.
Betty DeVere had been playing with the “Fiddlin’ Linvilles” in Salinas, and was brought to Los Angeles by Merle for this session. The band, composed of musicians who Merle knew here on the West Coast, includes an unidentified trumpet, probably James McTaggart; Darol Rice, clarinet; Ozzie Goodson, piano; Frank Buckley, accordion; Eddie Martin, guitar; Herman the Hermit, banjo; Tex Atchison, fiddle; and Merle Hunter, string bass. (In our clip the clarinet is sidelined by trumpet player McTaggart, and “Hi” Busse is seen on string bass.) The song, Old Chisholm Trail, is a Western classic and this version is a favorite of mine.
Almost everyone gets solo space, everyone but Merle. But he is there on the vocal, and his presence helps make the Soundie a real swinging affair.