Canadian rockabilly guitar master Paul Pigat was in the process of recording a new solo album when he suddenly realized country guitar virtuoso Merle Travis would've turned 100 this year.
"When I discovered his birthday was November 29, 1917, I decided to put my solo record on hold and do a Cousin Harley album instead," Pigat said, referring to his longtime band. The album, Blue Smoke: The Music of Merle Travis, will be released November 25 via Little Pig Records.
You can get an early taste of the new disc below, courtesy of our premiere of Cousin Harley's rocking cover of Travis' "Deep South."
"This tribute is important because [Merle Travis] is such a huge influence on me. I'm also a firm believer that most guitar players are somehow influenced by Merle—they just don't realize it. He influenced Chet Atkins and Scotty Moore for starters, so I rest my case."
Blue Smoke: The Music of Merle Travis, Cousin Harley's sixth studio effort, was recorded at Heavy-o-Sonic Studio in Vancouver and features Pigat on guitar and vocals, Keith Picot on upright bass and Jesse Cahill on drums. Marc L'Esperance engineered the project and contributed harmony vocals. The disc includes new spins on 11 Travis classics, including "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)," "Sixteen Tons," "Divorce Me C.O.D.," "Blue Smoke" and "Cincinnati Lou."
Pigat also contributed an original song, "Rosewood, Kentucky," as a tribute to Travis' birthplace. Travis died in 1983.
"Merle's swinging fingerstyle playing, driving backbeat and wry sense of humor are cornerstones of the Cousin Harley sound—always has been, always will be," Pigat says in the album's liner notes. "And, although we've taken some liberties and added a bit of the trademark Cousin Harley flair to Merle's original recordings, we didn't veer too far off track. Our goal was to pay homage and respect to this inspirational American music icon. Why mess with the best?"
Blue Smoke: The Music of Merle Travis is sponsored by Bigsby, whose founder, Paul Bigsby, worked with Travis in 1948 to build the first modern solidbody electric guitar. In 1951, Travis challenged Bigsby to design a vibrato unit that would work and keep his guitar in tune; the result was the Bigsby True Vibrato.
"Dinah and I are delighted to sponsor Cousin Harley's Merle Travis tribute album," said Fred Gretsch, president of the Gretsch Company, which owns Bigsby these days. "There's an historic connection between Bigsby and Merle Travis, just like there's an historic connection between Bigsby vibratos and Gretsch guitars."
Speaking of Gretsch, these days Pigat often can be spotted playing his Bigsby-equipped Gretsch Synchro-Club prototype, which he played on the new album and at Gretsch's rockabilly blowout at this year's Winter NAMM Show. Designed with Stephen Stern, head of the Gretsch Custom Shop, the Synchro-Club is a fusion of a thin-bodied early Sixties Gretsch Country Club and a 1939 Gretsch Synchromatic. It features a blonde top, cats-eye soundholes, block inlays and custom TV Jones pickups.
A CD-release event honoring Travis' 100th birthday will take place November 25 at the Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver. Blue Smoke: The Music of Merle Travis will be available from several online partners, including iTunes and CD Baby.
Cousin Harley (from left): Jesse Cahill, Paul Pigat and Keith Picot.