Now there was a song

ZZ Merle Travis

Merle Travis/photo submitted

By Doug Davis

This week in 1946: The Atomic Energy Commission was created in the U.S.; President Truman approved 2.4 billion dollar bill for GI leave pay; two B-17 bombers flew from Hawaii to California without a crew—controlled entirely by radio; and a singer/songwriter from Rosewood Kentucky had his first hit record.

According to Merle Travis, his 1946 hit song “No Vacancy” came to mind late one night  while to trying to find an empty motel room.

Travis commented, “No Vacancy” signs were everywhere back in those days. Veterans returning from World War II were having a hard time finding a place to live because everything was full. I was driving back from a show with Cliffie Stone. It was late and we drove a couple hundred miles just looking for a motel room to spend the night. And every motel we passed had a “No Vacancy” sign in the window or on the door. And that’s what gave me the idea to write the song.”

Merle Travis Capitol Records single “No Vacancy” made the country music charts in June 1946—as the flipside of “Cincinnati Lou,” which peaked at number two while “No Vacancy” made it to number three. The two were Merle’s first charted songs and stayed on the charts for a total of 20 weeks.

Merle Robert Travis was born November 29, 1917 in Rosewood, Kentucky. His music career began at age 18—when he performed on a radio amateur show in Evansville, Indiana—which led to working with several local bands. As a recording artist—he placed 13 songs on the country music charts between 1946 and 1966.

Travis wrote “Sixteen Tons” which became a ten week number one for Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955 and was a regular on TV’s “Town Hall Party” and “Hometown Jamboree,” but is best known for his unique syncopated style of guitar finger picking—which has influenced hundreds of guitar players.

He was inducted into The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and to The Country Music Hall of Fame in 1977.

Merle Travis died October 20, 1983 at age 65.

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