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(part one)

As originally printed in Now Dig This. Used by permission of Ray Campi.

"How about getting up with the band and singing 'San Antonio Rose'?"

Those words said to me by the great guitarist, writer and singer Merle Travis really made me feel good on that hot summer night in August of 1952 in Buckholtz, Texas.

Ray and Merle
Merle Travis           Ray Campi

I got up and sang that famous Bob Wills classic backed by the finest nine-piece band I'd ever heard play, which included Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, Fiddling Kate and others from southern California. (A few years later I got to perform on stage with many of these professionals at the broadcasting of one of the "Town Hall Party" TV shows in California.)

These were a couple of occasions I got to spend some time with Merle over the years.

In August of 1952, the Merle Travis band was on a tour of the southwest and came to Dessau Hall in Austin, Texas. That same day I went to the Commodore Perry Hotel in Austin to meet the great Capitol Records producer Ken Nelson at the invitation of Capitol artist Jimmy Heap (you've possibly heard his Capitol recordings on the Bear Family CD "Release Me" - BCD 15617).

Jimmy had been a friend for several years and helped me get my demo tapes to Lew Chudd of Imperial Records a year before. I met him at station KTAE where he had a live show with The Melody Masters and I had a live show with The Ramblers on Sundays.

"Come up to the hotel and give your tape to Ken Nelson," Jimmy advised. "We are planning a new session and Ken will go with us on our gig tonight."

Ken Nelson was very friendly to me and I mentioned I was going to go to see Merle Travis and his band that evening. Ken asked that I invite Merle to return to the hotel after the show for a visit with himself and Jimmy Heap.

This was great! I was going to meet Merle Travis with a personal message to him from his producer Ken Nelson. This 18-year-old was "flying high"!

When I entered Dessau Hall I saw a sight I would always remember. It showed me that although I had this "superstar" image of Merle Travis - which he was to me and others - he was quite a "regular" guy. Merle was sitting on a chair with a small screwdriver repairing his guitar cord. I thought, "That's funny. Even the big stars have problems like this!" - one I had often and still have today. In fact, only last night I to use one of Ronnie Mack's cords at the Palomino club when mine wouldn't work.

I introduced myself to Merle and give him Ken Nelson's invitation to visit after the show and then I sat down to enjoy a great country music show. The dual guitar solos of Merle Travis and Joe Maphis were very much like the ones they recorded together on the CMH albums in the late 1970s.

I left Dessau Hall in the wee hours and told Merle I'd be at his next show in Buckholtz, Texas, the following night. Buckholtz was a very small farming town north of Taylor, which had a large circular hall outside the town limits.

Cecil "Butterball" Harris and his father had leased this place to put on country music shows. People would arrive from miles around and many of the "Louisiana Hayride" acts were booked there. In the early 1950s I saw performers like Slim Whitman, Webb Pierce, Red Sovine, Goldie Hill and Faron Young at Buckholtz Hall. I even played there myself with The Ramblers.

It was the Merle Travis show that I will always remember and that magic moment he said to me, "Get up and sing!"

The following Saturday of that week, Merle and the group were going to be in Dallas at The Bob Wills Ranch House. He invited me and my friend Fred Taylor to come to Dallas and be his guests at the show.

This would work out well for me for I had arranged an appearance for myself on "'The Big D Jamboree" in Dallas that same night.

"You've got to be kidding!" Fred said to me. "You're not going to get into that place without paying! I don't believe anything you're saying!" Well, Fred had to eat those words!

After the appearance on "'The Big D Jamboree," we both drove to the Ranch House. To the very large man at the door I mentioned my name and that I was Merle's guest. He wrote down my name, walked away and in a couple of minutes he returned and directed Fred and myself to Merle's personal table right in front of the bandstand.

Fred and I enjoyed two sets of great country music, had ample time to talk with Merle and the other musicians, and I was able to laugh at Fred's shocked expression most of the evening.

I did not see Merle Travis again until I moved to California in September of 1959 - but that's another story.

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