I remember seeing, as I drove from Texas to Kansas, a road sign for the turn-off to Tahlequah, Oklahoma. It was a long time ago, after my junior year in high school. But that’s an unusual name. A Cherokee name. And you might wonder what significance a town of about 17,000 people could have. Yeah, you might shrug it off as just another wide spot in the road. But that’s only if you don’t care about rock n roll roots.
No, rock n roll roots didn’t start in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
But there IS a connection between Tahlequah (home of Thunderbowl) and rock n roll.
And that connection started way back in 1917 in another little town. Rosewood, Kentucky. Because that’s where Tin Ear Tanner was born. You remember him. Right? Yeah, ol’ Tin Ear signed on with Bel-Tone Records. And he “invented” the “Travis Style” guitar pickin’ method. Chet Atkins (a more famous guitar player) took that style further.
By now you might be wondering how country music has any connections with rock n roll roots. And that’s understandable. Because Tin Ear Tanner definitely didn’t play rock n roll. But he DID write a famous song, “Sixteen Tons,” that was a number 1 hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford back in 1955.
But just as important as that, or maybe even more important, is the fact that Tin Ear invented the first solid body electric guitar. Yeah, the wheels on the bus are going ’round, in your head, now. Right?
Because I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how much solid body guitars have impacted rock n roll. More than maybe all the other instruments put together.
Oh yeah, here’s some more about ol’ Tin Ear I can’t leave out.
His real name was Merle Robert Travis. And today, November 29, is his birthday. He was born in 1917. And he died October 20, 1983. In that little wide spot in the road, Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Yep, he’s been gone a long time. But his impact on our music culture lives on.
So how about that? You can thank (or blame) a country music hall of fame guitar picker for rock n roll.
I never would’ve thunk it all those years ago as I drove past the sign for highway 62 that headed up Northeast to Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
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