In 1975, I played my first of many gigs at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, a legendary venue in Santa Monica, California. This was a very exciting event for me, mainly because I was opening for one of my all-time favorite guitarists, the great Merle Travis.
When I went in for the soundcheck I was, of course, quite nervous about meeting my hero. I walked into the room and there was Merle, standing on stage looking like a million bucks. He was wearing snakeskin cowboy boots, a sequin jacket, and was wearing a big Stetson hat. He was holding his famous Bigsby guitar, with "Merle Travis" written in bold mother of pearl inlay up and down the fretboard.
When his soundcheck was finished and before I started mine, I got up all my courage and nervously went up on the stage to introduce myself to him. I stuck out my hand and said "Merle it's a great honor for me to meet you. I've been a hero of yours for years!” I realized immediately that I said something that wasn't quite right but couldn't quite figure out how to correct myself. He just looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, shook my hand, and said, “Well Happy, I've been a hero of yours for years as well.” We both had a good laugh at that.
A few years later, Jane and I got to hang out with Merle at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS. He was delightful and regaled us with great stories over dinner at a local diner. I wish I had taped that conversation! Sometime during that weekend, we had this photo taken of me with Merle, Doc Watson, and guitar builder Stuart Mossman. It’s a photo I treasure.