“I Am a Pilgrim” goes back at least as far as the American Civil War, where it was popular in the south with weary travelers who looked forward to what awaited them in the afterlife.
Merle Travis took that traditional gospel and re-worked it into the song we know today for his 1947 album Folk Songs of the Hills. Most bluegrass pickers came to know it as an instrumental featuring Clarence White on the Kentucky Colonels’ iconic 1964 album, Appalachian Swing!. It has also been recorded by The Byrds, Johnny Cash, and was a favorite of Doc Watson’s.
It’s one of those songs that slides easily between folk, blues, gospel and bluegrass, but tossing in that seventh note right before you jump to the IV chord is an essential nod to its bluesy heritage.
“I Am a Pilgrim” lyrics and chords
We provide chords that can be applied to any key using the Nashville Number System.
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Iconic: Kentucky Colonels
Old school: Merle Travis
Also good: The Byrds