This week we said goodbye to Buddy Emmons, one of the world’s great musicians — and the subject of three prior Zero to 180 pieces. Here is but a 45-second demonstration of Buddy Emmons’ singular genius with the pedal steel guitar:
“Four Wheel Drive” (live) Buddy Emmons 1965
It is a little distressing to see that 45Cat and Discogs.com (and YouTube) do not include any of the 45s Buddy Emmons recorded in the 1950s for almighty Columbia, nor his one outstanding 1960 single for Decca, “Blue Wind” b/w “Four Wheel Drive.” This gaping historical hole is in stark contrast to the high regard in which Emmons is widely held:
“… world’s foremost steel guitarist” (Rolling Stone)
“… steel guitar innovator” (The Tennessean)
“… fabled steel guitarist” (CMT)
“… influential pedal steel guitarist” (Reuters)
How cool that my all-time favorite steel guitarist (Emmons) played with my favorite group (NRBQ) and guitarist (Duane Eddy). Steel Guitar Forum, no surprise, already has a thread devoted to Buddy’s memory, while Edd Hurt writes a nice tribute to Emmons in The Nashville Scene that talks about some of Buddy’s pedal steel technical innovations as co-founder, along with Shot Jackson, of Sho-Bud Guitars.
Two essential/must-have Buddy Emmons recordings – The Buddy Emmons Collection & Redneck Jazz Explosion – I’ve noticed are both commanding high prices on Amazon, unfortunately.
Steel Guitar Great Buddy Emmons Dies
Pedal steel player backed up artists from Ernest Tubb to Linda Rondstat
By Stephen L. Betts – Rolling Stone – July 30, 2015
Musician Buddy Emmons, widely regarded as the world’s foremost steel guitarist, hailed for his unique playing style and innovations with regard to tuning, has died at age 78.
Born Buddie Gene Emmons in Mishawaka, Indiana, and nicknamed “the Big E,” his guitar work was heard on countless recordings by acts ranging from Ray Price and Ernest Tubb, to Linda Ronstadt and the Carpenters.
At 11 years old, Emmons studied on lap steel guitar at the Hawaiian Conservatory of Music in South Bend, Indiana, learning to play country music by listening to the radio. As a teenager, he joined his first bands, relocating to Illinois then to Detroit, before moving to Nashville in 1955 to join Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens’ band at 18 years old. Christened the Country Boys, Dickens’ band recorded several instrumentals, including three of Emmons’ original compositions. After Dickens dissolved his band in 1956, Emmons and fellow guitarist Shot Jackson formed the Sho-Bud Company, which designed and built steel guitars. Emmons also began extensive Nashville studio work, and joined Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours the following year, remaining with Tubb until 1958.
Four years later, Emmons became a member of Ray Price’s band the Cherokee Cowboys. By 1967, he was living in California, and after joining Roger Miller’s band, landed more high-profile studio work in Los Angeles, appearing on records by Nancy Sinatra, Gram Parsons, John Sebastian and others.
A 1974 return to Nashville continued his studio work, on LPs by George Strait, Mel Tillis, Gene Watson, June Carter Cash, Ricky Skaggs and many more. Emmons was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1981. He toured with the Everly Brothers in the Nineties and would later be heard occasionally on radio’s A Prairie Home Companion.
Emmons retired in 2007 after the sudden death of his wife Peggy. In 2013, a tribute LP was released. The Big E: A Salute to Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons, featured Wllie Nelson, Little Jimmy Dickens, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and several steel players including Randle Currie, from Brad Paisley’s band. A rare bit of Emmons songwriting, “Are You Sure,” also appears on Kacey Musgraves’ Pageant Material as a hidden track duet with Willie Nelson. As the story goes, he and Nelson penned the 1965 song together after a confrontation with a bar patron.
Fellow steel player Steve Fishell, who cites “The Big E” as a chief inspiration and is currently on the road with Emmylou Harris, summed up Emmons’ death to Rolling Stone Country as nothing short of a tragedy: “It’s a towering loss in the pedal steel community and to music lovers everywhere.”
Highly Selective Discography of Buddy Emmons on Steel Guitar
∞ Nancy Sinatra Country My Way 1967
∞ Gary Burton Tennessee Firebird 1967
∞ The Dillards The Wheatstraw Suite 1968
∞ Judy Collins “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” 1968
∞ John Phillips John, The Wolf King of L.A. 1970
∞ Denny Doherty Watcha Gonna Do 1970
∞ John Sebastian “Rainbows All Over Your Blues” 1970
∞ Sandy Denny “Crazy Lady Blues” 1971
∞ Rowan Brothers Rowan Brothers 1972
∞ Odyssey Odyssey 1972
∞ Roger McGuinn “Water Is Wide” 1973
∞ Gram Parsons GP 1973
∞ Judee Sill Heart Food 1973
∞ Henry Mancini Orchestra Country Gentleman 1974
∞ Benny Martin Tennessee Jubilee 1975
∞ John Hartford Nobody Knows What You Do 1976
∞ Hargus “Pig” Robbins Country Instrumentalist of the Year 1977
∞ Ian Tyson “Turning Thirty” 1978
∞ Ricky Skaggs Sweet Temptation 1979
∞ Levon Helm American Son 1980
= k.d. lang “Shadowland” 1988