Sixteen Tons

By Merle Travis

Travis2Merle Travis was virtually without peer as a guitarist and songwriter. A unique stylist, he was respected and prominent enough to have an instrumental style ("Travis picking") named after him. As a songwriter, he wasn't far behind, with originals such as "Sixteen Tons" crossing over as popular standards in the hands of other artists. Credited with playing a role in the development of rock & roll, he was no slouch as a recording artist, with his own share of chart hits and novelty songs.

—Many of the songs selected for this feature are available from the Labor Heritage Foundation at