Danny Gatton & Buddy Emmons: Kings of Steel

DC Week (actually, fortnight) concludes its special run with a joyous instrumental romp from the Federal City’s formidable guitarslinger, Danny Gatton, joined by pioneering pedal steel virtuoso, Buddy Emmons, from their short-lived incendiary partnership, The Redneck Jazz Explosion:

This performance of Buddy Emmons’ composition, “Raisin’ the Dickens,” was recorded live at DC’s legendary Cellar Door between the years straddling 1978-79 (i.e., New Year’s Eve show – ain’t I a stinker?) with bassist, Steve Wolf, and drummer, Scott Taylor, rounding out the rhythm section.

Redneck Jazz Explosion - Live

The roots of The Redneck Jazz Explosion were laid in Nashville where the Danny Gatton Band went to record in 1977 and were joined by Emmons in the studio for “Rock Candy” – inspired by Brother Jack McDuff’s 1963 recording featuring a young George Benson on guitar.  The inclusion of this one track on Gatton’s subsequent 1978 LP, Redneck Jazz, garnered strong word-of-mouth from players and fans alike, as well as enthusiastic praise from the likes of Guitar Player magazine and the Washington Post, who would write in their review, “In sheer technical terms, Gatton has few peers on the electric guitar … in good company, he is asserting his position as the preeminent guitarist of the post-World War II generation.”

Danny Gatton's Redneck Jazz LP

Danny and Buddy reunited for two nights in Nashville at Randy Wood’s Old Time Pickin’ Parlor on July 28-29, 1978 joined by Buddy Spicher on fiddle, Bucky Barrett on guitar, Dick Heintz on keys, and Steve Wolf & Dave Palamar on bass and drums, respectively.

                             Emmons       spicher      Palamar       Wolf      gatton

Redneck Jazz ExplosionAs Steve Wolf recounts in “Some Gatton History” on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website:

“The Redneck Jazz Explosion quartet traveled the East Coast from Boston & New York, to Atlanta and consequently attracted the interest of Atlantic Records. A serious offer was made by Atlantic, but for his own reasons Danny chose not to accept it. Those negotiations in part, prevented the release of the live Cellar Door sessions at the time.  A trio version of the band, minus Buddy, also performed regularly around the DC/Baltimore area.”

New York Times critic, John Rockwell, on February 6, 1979 wrote:

“Sunday night Mr. Gatton was at the Lone Star Cafe for a single evening and drew a big crowd.  Partly that’s because his latest band … includes Buddy Emmons, the pedal street guitarist who’s something of a cult figure at the Lone Star.  But Mr. Gatton deserves his own cult.”

As Brawner Smoot (Gatton’s manager/booking agent) details in the CD liner notes of the Cellar Door concert:

“Carol Posnick [booking agent for DC’s sadly-defunct Cellar Door], a devoted Gatton supporter, always graciously scheduled the band for a three-to-five-day stay (unusual as most artists made a one- or two-day appearance there).  She also allowed me to add the guitar duo of the aforementioned Tom Principato and another hometown picker, Pete Kennedy to share the bill as the opening act.  The combination created cohesive and magical evenings showcasing the area’s finest guitar talents.”

The title track of the Redneck Jazz album, it bears pointing out, was written by vocalist/guitarist, Evan Johns, who coined the term and was joined in the Danny Gatton Band by John Previtti on bass and Dave Elliott on drums.

Danny Gatton                                          Evan Johns

Danny Gatton & Evan Johns II

 Steel Guitar Jazz vs. Redneck Jazz

Buddy Emmons, as Ken Dryden points out in his AllMusic review, “wasn’t the first musician to be featured playing a pedal steel guitar in a jazz setting, but it is unlikely that anyone else recorded an entire date playing one prior to this 1963 session.”  Brawner Smoot, in the liner notes to the Redneck Jazz Explosion Live at the Cellar Door reissue adds that “Buddy Emmons was no stranger to the [jazz] idiom having recorded his instrument’s first jazz album in New York City on July 22, 1963 for Mercury Records.”

Steel Guitar Jazz - Buddy Emmons