British Columbia

Blue Smoke: B.C.'s Cousin Harley pays tribute to Merle Travis

B.C. musician Paul Pigat — commonly known by his alter-ego Cousin Harley — has released a Merle Travis tribute album.

B.C. musician Paul Pigat released album to commemorate Travis' 100th birthday

B.C. musician Paul Pigat a.k.a. Cousin Harley has released a tribute album to commemorate the music of legendary guitarist Merle Travis. (Paul Pigat)

When it comes to multi-talented Canadian musicians, there are few as versatile as guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist Paul Pigat.

Pigat often performs as his alter-ego Cousin Harley, and under that moniker he has blazed a rockabilly trail all over the world.

Cousin Harley's latest album, Blue Smoke: The Music of Merle Travis, is a tribute compilation Pigat made to honour Merle Travis 100 years after his birth.

"I was just snooping around on the Internet and discovered Merle Travis was born in November of 1917," said Pigat during the CBC Radio One program Hot Air.

"So I just dropped everything and started the record."

Travis was a prolific country and western song writer known for his unique guitar picking style called "Travis Picking." His discography is extensive and includes dozens of albums.

Guitar-picking style

When choosing which tunes to cover in his record, Pigat decided on the "sweet spot" of the 1940s and 1950s.

"The music is swinging and it's just about on the edge of rock and roll," said Pigat. 

Possibly the most famous Travis song covered in Blue Smoke is the classic 1946 song Sixteen Tons.

Pigat first heard the song when he was a young child growing up in eastern Canada. When he moved to Vancouver, and began pursuing music, Pigat was exposed to more of Travis and his guitar-picking style.

"He's one of the few guitar players that ever had a style named after him, I thought that was really important," said Pigat.

"No one ever says 'I play the Hendrix style or the Jim Hall style,' but you say Travis Picking and everyone knows what you mean."

Pigat said almost everything Travis wrote was light hearted but not without a sense of sarcasm.

Pigat is also a prolific musician himself, having lent his talents to the music of Jeff Beck, Michael Kaeshammer, Brian Setzer, Neko Case, Jim Byrnes, the Sojourners and many more.

Cousin Harley takes the stage at Pentiction, B.C.'s Dream Cafe next Friday, Feb. 23. Then, Saturday morning the band will kick off the cafe's first ever "Rockabilly Brunch," which is intended to be a continuing weekly event.

With files from Margaret Gallagher and Hot Air