Billboard selected Tennessee Firebird as a “Jazz Spotlight” in the album reviews for theirMarch 18, 1967 edition:
An interesting, enjoyable experiment — country music artists supporting an accomplished jazz musician — and it works. The effect is countrified, but solid jazz. Tunes country fans would recognize include “Born to Lose,” “I Can’t Help It,” and “Gone.” This album will sell well in the jazz field and many country music fans will purchase it, too.”
An interesting and effective blend of jazz and country sounds, this striking album by Gary Burton and Friends could win the approval of an extremely diverse audience. Alternately playing vibes, piano, and organ, Burton leads his group through twelve rousing instrumentals including “Gone,” “Just Like a Woman,” “I Can’t Help It,” and “Alone and Forsaken.” Deserves close attention.
Interesting to note that a few months later, Burton “was beating out melodies from his RCA Victor Tennessee Firebird LP with [Larry] Coryell’s searing guitar driving each phrase home” at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival, as reported in theJuly 15, 1967 issue of Cash Box.
Nashville’s radio clout with two 50,000-watters has had an immense effect on the music industry. Thousands of present day music business performers and executives cut their teeth on the late night offerings of WLAC or its down-the-dial counterpart, WSM, home of the “Grand Old Opry.” WSM can be heard in all 48 continental states — as a mail-in contest proved a few years ago.
And then, along came jazz.
In the late ’50s, the music scene drew a very young Gary Burton to Nashville from Indiana, and he impressed no less an expert than Chet Atkins, who won the Playboy Jazz Poll guitarist award for nearly a decade.
Monday night jam sessions were held for years in Printer’s Alley at the Carousel Club — an off night when the country musicians would sit in and play jazz. The leading picker was alwaysHank Garland, but the rest of the jazz lovers were on hand — and they included Gary Burton.
The first jazz LP to be cut in modern Nashville probably was the Tennessee Firebird album thatBrad McCuenproduced with Burton for RCA. “We used Burton’s quartet and a large number of local pickers,” recalls McCuen. “The men had a good time and this experience led to the formation of the band Area Code 615 which cut several commercially successful albums in the late ’60s and early ’70s.”
Nashville is the home of of the statewide Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society, an organizations that for the past seven years has held a Jazz Festival that has brought Nashville such attractions as Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Stan Getz and their groups.
McCuen andBruce Davidsonhave a National Public Radio network show on jazz that originates from the studios of WPLN-FM, Nashville, and is syndicated.
Burton and Garland had already worked together in the studio six years earlier on Garland’s second solo album, Jazz Winds From a New Direction, recorded August 23, 1960. Rich Kienzle explains how the musicians initially connected in his first-rate liner notes for Sundazed’s 2001 CD reissue:
“[Hank’s first] album appeared in January, 1960 on Columbia’s Harmony budget label, not a first-priority release but one that got his foot in the door. As the Carousel jams continued [i.e., after-hours improvisations with fellow Nashville A-teamers at Jimmy Hyde’s Carousel Club in Printer’s Alley], the club became a magnet for every jazzman passing through town. One night, Dave Brubeck showed up. Another night, members of Stan Kenton’s Orchestra stood awestruck as Hank tore through “Back Home in Indiana.” RCA executive Steve Sholes, Chet Atkins’s boss and close friend, brought Newport Jazz Festival producer George Wein to the Carousel. Wein booked the group, Hank, Atkins, [Floyd] Cramer, Boots [Randolph], [Bob] Moore, [Buddy] Harman and a few others for Newport in July. RCA would record the live performance [1961’s After the Riot atNewport LP].
Billboard’s Oct. 31, 1960 review: “The country acts acquit themselves with distinction on seven tracks, with honors going to vibest Gary Burton, guitarist Hank Garland and pianist Floyd Cramer.”
“Hank needed a vibes player for his band that summer. Boots brought him talented 17-year-old Princeton, Indiana native Gary Burton. Preparing to begin classes that fall at the famed Berklee College of Music (where in 2001 he serves as Executive Vice-President). Burton played locally with Hank and became a Carousel regular who accompanied the group to Newport. After rioting ended the festival prematurely, they recorded an impromptu session at the rented mansion they stayed at. Two songs, “Relaxin'” and “Riot-Chous,” an extemporized bop piece that Boots and Hank created, figured prominently in Hank’s next Columbia session, scheduled for August 24.
[Incident at Newport — Billboard’s “Nashville” beat (7-11-60)
Newport Jazz Festival was musically successful but hectic for local musicians who had little to do with which way they were going when they met a milling mob of thousands head-on. Group, including Floyd Cramer, Brenton Banks, Buddy Harman, Bob Moore, Boots Randolph, Gary Burton and Hank Garland, was going one way when they met the mobbing crowd going the other. The Nashvillians joined the crowd and helplessly went along with them. They finally managed to identify themselves, however, and recorded with RCA Victor’s Chet Atlkins before leaving for home.]
“That day, Hank Garland realized his dream when he recorded the album that became Jazz Winds From a New Direction. Burton was along for the auspicious occasion. So were two established New York jazzmen: bassist Joe Benjamin and Hank’s old [Paul Howard & His Arkansas] Cotton Pickers buddy Joe Morello, now well-known as drummer with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Though listed as producer, Don Law held the title in name only. Grady Martin, Hank’s friend and friend session partner, actually ran things in the studio.”
Thanks to the late, great Charlie Coleman for singling out Ray Price’s redoubtable backing band, The Cherokee Cowboys and their 1965 Columbia debut (and sole) solo release – check out Buddy Emmons’ hot jazz steel guitar solo on “Devil’s Dream,” the kick-off tune from Western Strings:
“Devil’s Dream” The Cherokee Cowboys 1965
Ray Price: guitar & vocal Grady Martin & Pete Wade: lead guitar Jack Pruett & Charlie Harris: rhythm guitar Buddy Emmons & Jimmy Day: steel guitar Tommy Jackson, Francis Coleman & Wade Ray: fiddle Floyd Cramer: piano Harold Bradley: bass guitar Pete Burke & Buddy Killen: bass Buddy Harman: drums Johnny Bush: drums & vocal
Dec. 1964 – Columbia Recording Studio, Nashville
Mar. 1965 – Music City Recording, Nashville
The Cherokee Cowboys – 1965 [photo courtesy Buddy Emmons.com]
(Top Row) Pete Burke, Wade Ray, Buddy Emmons (Bottom Row) Charlie Harris, Johnny Bush, Keith Coleman
Western Strings would shoot to the Top 20 of the Country charts the first week of release, according to Billboard’s July 17, 1965 edition. and remain there the following week (while Dick Curless and his Tombstone Every Mile album quietly jumped ahead two spaces during that same time period to the #17 slot – just above Western Strings).
“It was no small paradox that as Price continued weighing changes in 1964, he hired two legendary swing fiddlers. Wade Ray had made his name on the West Coast as a bandleader and singer; Keith Coleman, one of the finest improvisers in western swing, had worked with both the Texas Playboys and Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys. Despite the changes, Price retained a steadfast pride in the Cowboys. With Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours making their own records, Price talked Don Law into recording a Cowboys album with Grady Martin and Tommy Jackson present along with Harold Bradley.
At the first session for Western Strings album in December of ’64, this capable group of musicians, who’d worked together continually for years, were so nervous about recording on their own that, after 45 minutes of musical inhibition, a frustrated Price sent a studio handyman out to buy some Wild Turkey. He literally ordered everyone to get drunk to loosen them up; it worked. Emmons, Ray, and Coleman played brilliantly. “Grady and I ended up drunk, and a lot of the other guys were in good shape, too,” Emmons laughed. “And when I heard [the song played] back I couldn’t believe how together it was for the condition we were in.” Because recording costs came out of Price’s royalties, the album included the original ‘Crazy Arms,’ and Price took credit for the arrangements to make back any money lost.”
1977 would see the release of a Ray Price & the Cherokee Cowboys album on ABC-Dot entitled Reunited, a Top 50 Top Country album and one that would yield a Top 30 single — “Different Kind of Flower” b/w “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” (as well as their take on Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”). Recording the album in Nashville would be Price, along with Moises “Blondie” Calderon, Buddy Emmons, Pete Wade, Tommy Jackson, Harold Bradley, and the two Buddys – Harman & Spicher.
Saving Country Music has a nice piece of history – “The Ray Price Cherokee Cowboys Proving Ground” – that pays tribute to the musical personnel that have passed through the ranks of Ray Price, who took over Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys before putting together his own ensemble.
This week we said goodbye to Buddy Emmons, one of the world’s great musicians and subject ofthree prior Zero to 180 pieces. Here is but a*45-second livedemonstration (beginning to end) of Buddy Emmons’ singular genius with the pedal steel guitar:
Billboard‘sApril 4, 1960 editionawarded three stars (i.e., “good sales potential”) to the original Decca 45 release and praised “Four Wheel Drive,” an original composition,for itsuniquenessof sound:
“Four Wheel Drive” — A swinging instrumental, has a country and jazz quality. Ununsual item for jocks.
“Blue Wind” — This one with a Hawaiian flavor plus a touch of blues orientation.
Only image of this 45 I can find online — scary
It is disappointing that (as of 2021)Discogsand45Catare both bereft of entries for Emmons’ outstanding sole Decca single [link toPragueFrank‘s session info]. This gaping historical hole is in stark contrast to the high regard in which Emmons is widely held:
Three years later in 1955, Emmons made a big splash with the addition of his Bigsby to the trademark twin lead guitar sound of Jimmy Dickens as a member of his backing band, The Country Boys, points out Kienzle, who got the opportunity to display their considerable musicality at Nashville’s Music City Recording Studio in January, 1956 on such blazing instrumentals as “Country Boy Bounce,” “Raisin’ the Dickens,” and “Red Wing.”
A partnership with Shot Jackson led to the founding in 1957 (possibly 1955) of Sho-Bud Guitars, a top name in pedal steel, especially after Bigsby stopped their steel production. Emmons left the running of the company to Jackson in the late 1950s so that he could join one of country’s finest backing bands, The Texas Troubadours, an experience that led to the oddly ambiguous recording session with Owen Bradley on October 5, 1959 that produced the extraordinary “Four Wheel Drive” and “Blue Wind” 45 for Decca (plus two unissued tracks).
Emmons stayed with [Ernest] Tubb until 1962, when he made two major changes: leaving the Troubadours and, after disagreements with Shot Jackson, leaving Sho-Bud. He and North Carolina inventor Ron Lashley formed the Emmons Guitar Company shortly after that, creating a steel that included many of Emmons’ design ideas that Shot had rejected. Early that year, when Jimmy Day left Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys, Emmons replaced him in the band. Again, Buddy was working with one of the premier country road bands.
Off the road, he often played jazz with other musicians around Nashville. When Ernest Tubb’s son Justin, a successful singer in his own right, heard Buddy at one of these jam sessions in 1963, he suggested that Emmons try an all-jazz steel guitar album and soon interested Mercury Records in the concept. Jazz arranger, Quincy Jones, working as head of pop A&R at Mercury, suggested some tunes, and was originally set to produce the session. Jones couldn’t do it, but Buddy, who’d wanted to record in Nashville, was set to record in New York on July 22, 1963 with a jazz rhythm section.
That same year – in a fascinating historical side note, courtesy of a news item published in theMay 30, 1964 issueof Music Business – we learn that Emmons’ wife was also part of the music industry:
A. Halsey Cowan, international attorney for Nashville’sPamper Music, conducted a seminar on copyrights for publishing firms at theLibrary of CongressMay 15  attended by pubbery reps from a wide area. Other speakers included … Mrs. Buddie Emmons and Walter Haynes,Moss Rosepubbery …
Emmons’ tenure with Ray Price’s backing band, The Cherokee Cowboys, was an artistically fertile time – with frequent jam sessions on the tour bus, says Kienzle – that peaked with the recording of the Western Strings LP for Columbia in 1965. Price would subsequently make a conscious effort to de-emphasize the country elements in his live band, however, a move that impelled Emmons to join Roger Miller (himself an ex-Cherokee Cowboy) in relocating to the West Coast, where he began playing steel as a session player.
How cool that my all-time favorite steel guitarist played with one of my top groups (NRBQ) and guitarists (Duane Eddy). Steel Guitar Forum, no surprise, already has a thread devoted to Buddy’s memory, while Edd Hurt penned a nice tribute to Emmons inThe Nashville Scenethat talks about some of Buddy’s pedal steel technical innovations, such as extra strings and pedals that raise the fretboard.
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’sTexas Troubadoursthe 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 Willie 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 Materialas ahidden trackduet 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.”
Yesterday’s piece about Noel Boggs made reference to Roy Lanham, who would later play guitar in the Sons of the Pioneers to pay the bills, yet sought much more fulfilling challenges in his own music’s attempt to straddle two distinct musical styles – country and jazz – despite the frustration of being considered too country for jazz fans and too jazzy for the country crowd.
“Eager Beaver” Roy Lanham 1958
Roy Howard Lanham: Lead Guitar James Leon P. ‘Jimmie‘ Widener: Rhythm Guitar Arthur Douglas ‘Doug‘ Dalton: Mandolin Donald ‘Dusty‘ Rhoads: Bass
Rich Kienzle, in the liner notes for the Roy Lanham two-album CD reissue for 1958’s Sizzling Strings and 1963’s The Fabulous Guitar, points out Lanham’s unique contribution that set him apart from the other country-jazz guitar giants:
“The Lanham style, harmonically richer, combined both single-note passages with luxuriant chord melodies. The vibrant four-part harmonies he created for his chord solos were his own idea, an improvement upon three-part harmonies he heard Western swing guitarist Sheldon Bennett play.”
This televised performance allows you to see Lanham’s complex chordal work in action:
“Lover Come Back to Me” Roy Lanham
From Kienzle’s liner notes I learned the following fascinating facts:
− In 1943 Lanham would be drawn to Cincinnati’s 50,000-watt powerhouse, WLW, where he would work as a staff musician for the station’s various acts and later befriend Joe Maphis, Merle Travis, and Grandpa Jones. Lanham would augment his income as a staff musician by playing on King recording sessions, most notably the Delmore Brothers, with “Freight Train Boogie” being the preeminent track.
− WLW would also bring Roy Lanham together with Chet Atkins, and the two would unite in 1946 for a ‘Chester Atkins’ one-off single release, “Guitar Blues” b/w “Brown Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain,” on Nashville’s new indie label, Bullet. Says Billboard, in its Nov. 30, 1946 edition: “Majority of ‘Guitar Blues’ side allotted to guitars, with melody carried by twin guitars playing in bass and treble clef respectively. It’s a swingy, pungent side for folk music, the brief sax solo adds little.”
− Roy Lanham would also replace a hot-headed Jimmy Bryant, who had stormed off the Hometown Jamboree television show in 1955 for the last time. Lanham would play instrumental duets from Bryant’s long-time partner, Speedy West, on “Hometown Jamboree,” but sadly, the two would never record together.
Speedy West & Roy Lanham use Fender guitars exclusively
− In 1959 Roy Lanham would overdub guitar parts onto a tape previously recorded by three Seattle high school teens, the Fleetwoods, accompanied only by car-key percussion. This song, “Come Softly to Me,” would put the tiny Dolton label on the map.
− Lanham, who had found plenty of work throughout his life as a session guitarist, once played a recording session with The Monkees. Lanham would also perform on the final album of Tex Williams before his death in 1985.
Roy Lanham played in the Sons of the Pioneers from 1961 through 1986
How inspiring to see that OrvilleJ. “Red” Rhodes – the legendary steel guitarist who, by the late 1960s, was one of the most in-demand session musicians on the West Coast – got his start on Crown.
Once a day – 1961 blue blue day – 1962 Steel Guitar Rag – 1963
“Pony Tail,” from 1965’s Guitars Go Country LP, sounds – most intriguingly – like some long-lost Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant number:
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play ”Pony Tail'” by Red Rhodes.]
Red Rhodes would go on to release a live album on indie label, Happy Tiger, in 1969 — Red Rhodes & the Detours + Live at the Palomino — and his backup band, interestingly, would include Jerry Cole, another Crown alumnus.
Everyone Loves Red: A Selected Red Rhodes Sessionography*
The Ventures in Space – The Ventures – 1964 Begin – The Millennium – 1968 Notorious Byrd Brothers – The Byrds – 1968 The Wichita Train Whistle Sings – Michael Nesmith – 1968 Bubble Gum, Lemonade & Something for Mama – Cass Elliot – 1969 Instant Replay – The Monkees – 1969 It’s Not Killing Me – Mike Bloomfield – 1969 John Phillips – John Phillips – 1969 Hand Sown, Home Grown – Linda Ronstadt – 1969 Nancy – Nancy Sinatra – 1969 Weeds – Brewer & Shipley – 1969 The Blue Marble – Sagittarius – 1969 Magnetic South – Michael Nesmith – 1970 Loose Salute – Michael Nesmith – 1970 Sweet Baby James – James Taylor – 1970 Tom Rush – Tom Rush – 1970 Nevada Fighter – Michael Nesmith – 1971 Possum – Possum – 1971 Lead Free – B. W. Stevenson – 1972 One Man Dog – James Taylor – 1972 Rhymes and Reasons – Carole King – 1972 Son of Schmilsson – Harry Nilsson – 1972 A Song for You – The Carpenters – 1972 Summer Breeze – Seals & Crofts – 1972 Tantamount to Treason – Michael Nesmith – 1972 And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’ – Michael Nesmith – 1972 Willis Alan Ramsey – Willis Alan Ramsey – 1972 Five & Dime, 1973 – David Ackles – 1973 Pure Country, 1973 – Garland Frady – 1973 Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash – Michael Nesmith – 1973 Valley Hi – Ian Matthews – 1973 Calabasas – B. W. Stevenson – 1974 L.A. Turnaround – Bert Jansch – 1974 Black Bach – Lamont Dozier – 1974 The Prison – Michael Nesmith – 1974 Diamonds & Rust – Joan Baez – 1975 Marriott – Steve Marriott – 1975 Midnight on the Water – David Bromberg – 1975 Sweet America – Buffy Sainte-Marie – 1976 Frolicking in the Myth – Steven Fromholz – 1977 Road Songs – Hoyt Axton – 1977 The Way I Am – Billy Preston – 1981 Tropical Campfires – Michael Nesmith – 1992
In this 1979 performance from TV’s Austin City Limits, Buddy Emmons (steel guitar) and Phil Baugh (electric guitar) take The Nashville Super Pickers for a test drive using the Benny Golson jazz standard, “Killer Joe,” as their vehicle:
Buddy Emmons: Steel Guitar & Vocals Phil Baugh: Lead Guitar Russ Hicks: Rhythm Guitar & Steel Guitar Johnny Gimble: Fiddle & Vocals Charlie McCoy: Harmonica & Vocals Henry Strzelecki: Bass & Vocals Buddy Harmon: Drums Hargus Robbins: Piano
Buddy Emmons flanked by Phil Baugh (left) and Russ Hicks (right)
From the liner notes on the back cover —
Buddy was recently voted best steel guitarist in a reader’s poll, and he has done more for the instrument, technically and musically, than any other player. As a studio musician, he has graced the records of Ray Charles, Judy Collins, and John Hartford, among many others. His own Flying Fish records include Steel Guitar, Buddy Emmons Sings Bob Wills, Buddies (with Buddy Spicher), and Minors Aloud (with Lenny Breau).
Buddy Emmons 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. Although both he and the instrument are indelibly associated with country music, Emmons makes it work for several reasons. He’s surrounded by some top players, including Bobby Scott, Jerome Richardson, Art Davis, and Charlie Persip; he also interacts with the band rather than overdoing the special effects available to him, especially the horn-like sounds obtained from his use of the slide. Emmons also chose an intriguing mix of material. Obvious highlights are the loping treatment of “Where or When,” featuring Richardson’s delicious soprano sax trading off with the leader, and Emmons’ hot playing of “(Back Home Again In) Indiana.” Equally rewarding are the jazz classics: Ray Brown’s soulful “Gravy Waltz,” an intricate romp through Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo,” and Horace Silver’s toe-tapping “The Preacher.” This was pretty much a one-time affair for Emmons, who returned to country music, though he did record some additional jazz with guitarist Lenny Breau during the 1970s. Although the instrument never really caught on in jazz, this highly recommended album, which was finally reissued on CD in 2003, is well worth checking out.
I had a nice laugh when I realized that this fiery little instrumental in the key of C was, indeed, not the world’s first waltz to be played outside of 3/4 time but instead an error in the track listing on the album jacket. Thus, despite this song being listed as “Gravy Waltz,” I’m pretty certain this is actually the next track in the album’s running order — the jazz standard, “C Jam Blues” by Duke Ellington:
Track comes from 1974’s double album, Hillbilly Jazz, by the “Father of Hillbilly Jazz” himself, Vassar Clements – who first appeared on the Grand Old Opry in 1949 fiddling with Bill Monroe – joined by D.J. Fontana on drums, Doug Jernigan on steel guitar, David Bromberg on guitar, and other musical friends.
Vassar Clements: Fiddle, Viola & Vocals D.J. Fontana: Drums Doug Jernigan: Steel Guitar, Resonator Guitar David Bromberg: Guitar Michael Melford: Guitar, Mandolin & Piano Ellis Padgett: String Bass Kenneth Smith: Electric Bass Benny Kennerson: Piano Gordon Terry: Vocals
Hillbilly Jazz was issued on Flying Fish. While Clements’ music mostly enjoyed release on independent, folk-oriented labels (Rounder, Old Homestead, Mind Dust, Flying Fish), Vassar did manage to release a few 45s on a couple major labels of note:
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:
“Raisin’ the Dickens” Redneck Jazz Explosion 1978
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.
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 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 Heintze on keys, and Steve Wolf & Dave Palamar on bass and drums, respectively.
“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
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.”
Guitarist Billy Byrd – according to Ernest Tubbs‘ biographer, Ronnie Pugh – ”came from a pop and jazz background, and there were some people who were leery of the notion that he could play country with Tubb. [But] he did it and did it well. The ten years Billy was in the [Texas Troubadours] band, (1949-59) he did practically all of the instrumental breaks.”
Sometime in October 1961, Billy Byrd recorded six songs at the Starday Sound Studio in Nashville – including “Gibson Girl“:
“Gibson Girl” Billy Byrd 1961
Billy Byrd + Hank Garland = Gibson Byrdland
With the input of guitar greats, Billy Byrd and Hank Garland, Gibson’s then-President, Ted McCarty, developed and debuted the Gibson Byrdland electric archtop guitar in 1955, three years before the better-known ES-335. Gibson.com points out that the Byrdland was reintroduced as a limited run in 1977, 1978 & 1992 – primarily as a result of the popularity of Ted Nugent, who himself wielded a Byrdland in tribute to Jimmy McCarty of Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels.