Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: While reading your informative story on the mining songs of Merle Travis, I flashed back to an album of his I once owned, then lost, and would like again. The title is along the lines of “Two Greatest Guitarists.”

I could almost swear the two are Merle Travis and Hank Snow.

Even a CD would be fine but all my searches result in a dead end. Perhaps you can do better.
—Roy Sokolow, Evanston, Ill.

DEAR ROY: Your efforts are being hindered by a match up mix-up.

Merle Travis and Hank Snow were indeed two great guitarists, each of whom recorded with other Gibson guitar legends. But they did not record together.

Merle's primary pickin' partner would be Joe Maphis. Together they made “Country Music's Two Guitar Greats” (Capitol 2102), first issued in 1964, then reissued in 1978.

Good news! The same 12 tracks are currently available on CD (Sundazed NFLK4)

Over 20 years later, these friends reunited for a double album of string burners, “Country Guitar Giants” (CHM 9017). This too can easily be had on a 30-track CD (CMH 8V60S).

Like with Merle and Joe, 1964 is also when Hank Snow teamed with Chet Atkins for “Reminiscing” (RCA Victor 2952).

Their second collections of tunes, “C.B. Atkins & C.E. Snow By Special Request,” (RCA Victor 4254) came along in 1970.

DEAR JERRY: I read with great interest your piece on Merle Travis, his songs about coal mining, and the miners who were so much a part of his life.

Merle, the son of a coal miner, came from Muhlenburg County in western Kentucky.

My mom is also from Muhlenburg county and her family and the Travis family grew up literally a stone's throw from one another.

She shared many stories with me about the pride that the people of Muhlenburg county held and still hold for Merle.

I had the pleasure of knowing him in his later years and he was a genuinely nice man whose humility and self-deprecating wit helped distinguish him in ways well beyond his talent and his legend.
— Bill Yarbor, Haubstadt, Ind.

DEAR BILL: Coming from one who knew Merle, your comments are truly appreciated.

DEAR JERRY: Though I worked in number nine coal for 30 years, I didn't have to work for script. However, my father did and he had many bad memories about the company store.

Unfortunately, I still have several of those coal tattoos on my body. They are caused by miners getting cuts or scrapes while working, then having coal dust get in the wound.

Miners could never get all the black out regardless how hard they scrubbed the affected area. When the wound finally healed, some of the coal dust remained inside under the skin.

Coal tattoos exist in all sizes and shapes. After healing, they usually turn a shade of blue, rather than black.

Thanks for bringing back lots of old memories.
—Jim Scott, Morganfield, Ky.

DEAR JIM: Other miners shared their black and blue memories, though your account is irresistibly informative.

Never again will I hear the Kingston Trio's “Coal Tattoo” and not think of your letter. Thank you!

DEAR JERRY: Among the northwest bands of the '90s, Soundgarden, featuring Chris Cornell, is probably my favorite.

I always thought this was Cornell's first group, but now I hear he recorded several years earlier with another band.

Can you confirm this? If so, who, when, and where?
—Florence Platt, Bellevue, Wash.

DEAR FLORENCE: With the details comes confirmation, so here we go:

Named the Center for Disease Control Boys, or C.D.C. Boys, they performed their Western Swing tunes around Seattle in 1986. Chris Cornell was among C.D.C.'s ever-changing personnel, which at times also included: Dean Wartti; George Hackett; Ben McMillan; Tamara Jones; Gary Heffern; Tim Bowman; Artie Palm; Orville Johnson; Bob Maguire; and Jonathan Poneman.

Their 1986 record couples “We're the Center for Disease Control Boys” with “Who We Hatin' Now, Mr. Reagan?”

IZ ZAT SO? It is not only collectors of Chris Cornell and Soundgarden who seek C.D.C.'s only single (Fin de Siecle Records).

After C.D.C., Ben McMillan teamed with Daniel House, Jack Endino, and Matt Cameron to form Skin Yard.

Jonathan Poneman joined Bruce Pavitt and together they launched Sub-Pop Records, signing, among others, Nirvana — earning a few awards of the gold, platinum and Grammy variety along the way.

All of these factor into why “We're the Center for Disease Control Boys,” with picture sleeve and insert, can command $500.

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