Zero to Infinity: Buddy Emmons

This week we said goodbye to Buddy Emmons, one of the world’s great musicians and subject of three prior Zero to 180 piecesHere is but a *45-second live demonstration (beginning to end) of Buddy Emmons’ singular genius with the pedal steel guitar:

Four Wheel Drive” (live)     Buddy Emmons     1965

Still image from (deleted) video clip
[courtesy Steel Guitar Forum]

[*Earnestly hoping this stunning live clip returns one day to YouTube]

“Four Wheel Drive” (studio recording)     Buddy Emmons     1959     

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Billboard‘s April 4, 1960 edition awarded three stars (i.e., “good sales potential”) to the original Decca 45 release and praised “Four Wheel Drive,” an original composition, for its uniqueness of 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

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It is disappointing that (as of 2021) Discogs and 45Cat are both bereft of entries for Emmons’ outstanding sole Decca single [link to PragueFrank‘s session info].  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)

Three years prior to Emmons’ stint with Decca, Cash Box had seen fit to review “Silver Bell” b/w “Border Serenade” in their May 25, 1957 edition (two years after a head-on collision with a truck), the second of two singles recorded for Columbia as “Buddie” Emmons:

“Silver Bell” [grade: B] — The Buddie Emmons outfit takes hold of the delectable evergreen and wraps it up in a happy-go-lucky, quick beat instrumental fashion.  Bright side for deejay programming.

“Border Serenade” [grade: B] — Flip features more top-flight, light-hearted instrumental wax by Emmons and the crew.  An enticing melody and Latin beat rounds out a dandy coupler.

Music Reporter ad — Nov. 2, 1963 — Name Checks 1963 CUTTING-EDGE ALBUM

According to Rich Kienzle’s notes for Amazing Steel Guitar: The Buddy Emmons Collection, Emmons, who was a native of Mishawaka, Indiana (hometown of fellow steel wiz, Herb Remington), had been playing a lap steel for four years when he ordered his first pedal steel guitar — a triple-neck Bigsby — in 1952 when he was just fifteen, “a pure custom job, complete with an onboard ashtray, cigarette lighter and Buddy’s name emblazoned across the front.”     

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).

Kienzle notes a tragic missed opportunity to work with legendary jazz figure, Quincy Jones, on 1963 landmark album, Steel Guitar Jazz, where Emmons collaborated with Jerome Richardson (saxophone), Charlie Persip (drums), Art Davis (bass), and Bobby Scott (piano):

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.

Record World‘s November 21, 1964 report on the 1964 Country Music Association convention (the one where Dizzy Dean was made an honorary member of the Grand Ole Opry and receiving a standing ovation) rhetorically asked, “Who can ever forget the jam sessions held in the Sho-Bud room or the Emmons Guitar room?”

That same year – in a fascinating historical side note, courtesy of a news item published in the May 30, 1964 issue of Music Business – we learn that Emmons’ wife was also part of the music industry:

A. Halsey Cowan, international attorney for Nashville’s Pamper Music, conducted a seminar on copyrights for publishing firms at the Library of Congress May 15 [1964] attended by pubbery reps from a wide area.  Other speakers included … Mrs. Buddie Emmons and Walter Haynes, Moss Rose pubbery … 

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.  

Buddy Emmons-aBuddy Emmons-bBuddy Emmons-c

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 in The Nashville Scene that talks about some of Buddy’s pedal steel technical innovations, such as extra strings and pedals that raise the fretboard.

Two essential/must-have Buddy Emmons recordings – Amazing Steel Guitar: The Buddy Emmons Collection & Danny Gatton’s Redneck Jazz Explosion – are both commanding high prices on Amazon, unfortunately.

Buddy Emmons-1Buddy Emmons-2

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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.

part of all-star ensemble on Katz Kobayashi‘s undated one-off album

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 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.”

1964 SINGLE — “With Buddy Emmons & the Nuggeteers”

Buddy Emmons 45s & LP Discography

— song titles in boldface link to streaming audio

The Country Boys     “Country Boy Bounce”     1956

Buddie Emmons     “Cold Rolled Steel”     1956

Faron Young     “Sweet Dreams”     1956

June Carter     “Strange Woman”     1956

∞ “Little Jimmy Dickens     “Me And My Big Mouth”     1958

Ernest Tubb     “Half a Mind”     1958

Buddy Emmons     “Four Wheel Drive”     1959

Buddy Emmons     “Rose City Chimes”     1961

Duane Eddy     “Fireball Mail”     1962

Shot Jackson & Buddy Emmons   Singing Strings of Steel Guitar & Dobro   1963

Buddie Emmons     Steel Guitar Jazz     1963

Ray Price     “Night Life”     1963

Dolores Smiley     “Leaving By Request”     1964

Skeeter Davis     Blueberry Hill And Other Favorites     1965

Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys     Western Strings     1965

Buddy Emmons     “B. Bowman Hop” (recorded live with George Jones)    1965

Johnny Paycheck     “Heartbreak Tennessee”     1965

Willie Nelson     “One In a Row”     1966

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

The Fifth Avenue Band     “Good Lady of Toronto”     1969

Buddy Emmons    “Witches Brew”     1969

Buddy Emmons     Emmons Guitar Inc.     1970

Roger Miller     A Trip In the Country     1970

John Phillips     John, The Wolf King of L.A.     1970

Denny Doherty     Watcha Gonna Do     1970

Dewey Martin & Medicine Ball     Dewey Martin & Medicine Ball     1970

Longbranch/Pennywhistle     Longbranch/Pennywhistle     1970

∞ John Hartford     Iron Mountain Depot     1970

∞ John Sebastian     “Rainbows All Over Your Blues”     1970

Michael Parks     “Lonely and Blue”     1970

Buck Owen & the Buckaroos     “Cajun Steel Guitar”     1970

Buddy Emmons    “Wichita Lineman”     1970

Ray Charles     “Wichita Lineman”     1971

Sandy Denny     “Crazy Lady Blues”     1971

69ers     “The Christian Life”     1971

∞ John Stewart     “The Road Shines Bright”     1971

∞ Jimmy Wakely     “Detour”     1971

Russ Giguere     Hexagram 16     1971

Paul Siebel     Jack-Knife Gypsy     1971

Rosebud     Rosebud     1971

Larry Murray     Sweet Country Suite     1971

Shot Jackson & Buddy Emmons     Famous Sho-Bud Guitars     1971

Rowan Brothers     Rowan Brothers     1972

Everly Brothers     Stories We Could Tell     1972

∞ John Stewart     Sunstorm     1972

∞ Jim Pulte     Out the Window     1972

Nev Nicholls & the Country Playboys     “Take My Heart”     1972

Odyssey     Country Tune     1972

Linda Ronstadt     “In My Reply”     1972

Roger McGuinn     “Water Is Wide”     1973

The Carpenters      “Top of the World”     1973

Gram Parsons     GP     1973

Doug Dillard     Duelin’ Banjo     1973

Judee Sill     Heart Food     1973

Phil Everly     Star Spangled Springer     1973

Don Everly     Sunset Towers     1974

The Cats     The Love in Your Eyes     1974

The Carpenters     Now and Then     1974

Henry Mancini Orchestra     Country Gentleman     1974

Johnny Bush    “Home in San Antone[Curly Chalker on 2nd steel]    1974

Brewer & Shipley     “It Did Me In”     1974

Kenny O’Dell     “Soulful Woman”     1974

Sheepskin Pat     From Nashville     1975

Ronee Blakley     Welcome     1975

Dottie West     Carolina Cousins     1975

Benny Martin     Tennessee Jubilee     1975

Bobby Bare     Hard Time Hungrys     1975

Buddy Emmons     Steel Guitar     1975

Billy Walker     “Don’t Stop In My World”     1975

Jeanne Pruett     “Honey On His Hands”     1975

Jackie DeShannon     “Bette Davis Eyes”    1975

Mayf Nutter     “Goin’ Skinny Dippin’”     1976

Marty Robbins     “Among My Souvenirs”     1976

Connie Smith     I Don’t Wanna Talk It Over Anymore     1976

Rosemary Clooney     Look My Way     1976

Roy Head     A Head of His Time     1976

John Hartford     Nobody Knows What You Do     1976

David Allan Coe     Longhaired Redneck     1976

Kenny Valeck     “Country Lady” b/w “Trailer Full of Love”     1976

Hargus “Pig” Robbins     Country Instrumentalist of the Year     1977

John Hughey     On and Off Stage     1977

Merle Haggard     My Farewell to Elvis     1977

Mickey Newbury     Rusty Tracks     1977

Dennis Weaver     Dennis Weaver     1977

Ray Price & the Cherokee Cowboys     Reunited     1977

The Capitals     The Capitals     1977

The Osborne Brothers     From Rocky Top to Muddy Bottom     1977

Dillard/Hartford/Dillard    Glitter Grass from the Nashwood Hollyville Strings    1977

Russ Hicks & Jimmy Crawford     Chicken Pickin’ Good     1977

∞ Buddy Emmons & Buddy Spicher     Buddies     1977

Nashville Bar Association     Nashville Bar Association     1977

Pat Garrett      “A Little Something On the Side”     1977

∞ Gove Scrivenor     “Sugar Bear”     1978

Ian Tyson     “Turning Thirty”     1978

Bobby Hicks     “Panhandle Rag”     1978

Marcia Ball     Circuit Queen     1978

Bryn Haworth     Grand Arrival     1978

Larry Gatlin     Oh! Brother     1978

Guy Clark     Guy Clark     1978

Steve Young     No Place to Fall     1978

Danny Gatton     Redneck Jazz Explosion [“Rock Candy“]    1978 [1995*]

Buddy Emmons with Lenny Breau     Minors Aloud     1978

Margo Smith     Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You     1978

Donna Darlene     Girl on the Cover     1979

Mel Tillis     Are You SincereMr. Entertainer   1979

Ricky Skaggs     Sweet Temptation     1979

Thumbs Carllile     Guitar WizardJazz Carllile Style    1979

Nashville Superpickers     Killer Joe” (live)     1979

George Jones with Waylon Jennings    “Night Life”     1979

John Hartford/Pat Burton/Benny Martin   “Slumberin on the Cumberland”   1979

Denny Laine with Paul McCartney     “Send Me the Heart”     1980

John Starling     “Long Time Gone”     1980

Levon Helm     American Son     1980

Sonny Curtis      Love Is All Around     1980

John Hartford     You And Me at Home     1980

∞ Willie Nelson & Ray Price     San Antonio Rose     1980

Curtis Potter with Darrell McCall & Ray Sanders   Texas Dance Hall   1980

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils     Ozark Mountain Daredevils     1980

Tammy Wynette     You Brought Me Back     1981

John Anderson     I Just Came Home Today to Count the Memories     1981

Tompall And the Glaser Brothers     Lovin’ Her Was Easier     1981

J.J. Cale     Grasshopper     1982

Lenny Breau     When Lightn’ Strikes     1982

Razzy Bailey     The Midnight Hour     1983

Arthur Blanch     What Do Lonely People Do     1983

John Cody Carter     When It Rains It Pours     1984

Ray Pennington & Buddy Emmons     Swingin’ From the 40s – 80s     1984

Ray Charles     Do I Ever Cross Your Mind     1984

Skeeter Davis & NRBQ     She Sings, They Play     1985

Scott Mohoric     Pancho Y Lefty’s     198?

Billy Apollo     “Coast Guard Blues”     1986

Gary Burton     “Faded Love”     1987

Buddy Emmons     Christmas Sounds of the Steel Guitar     1987

Ray Price     The Heart of Country Music     1987

John Anderson     10     1988

∞ k.d. lang     “Shadowland”     1988

The Geezinslaws     The Geezinslaws     1989

∞ Ray Pennington & Buddy Emmons     Swingin’ Our Way     1990

∞ Ray Price & Faron Young     Memories That Last     1991

∞ Lionel Cartwright     “Waitin’ for the Sun to Shine”     1991 

∞ Randy Travis     “Allergic to the Blues”     1991

Trisha Yearwood     “For Reasons I’ve Forgotten”     1992

∞ George Jones & Willie Nelson     “I Gotta Get Drunk”     1992

∞ George Strait     Pure Country (soundtrack album) + Holding My Own   1992

∞ Carlene Carter     Little Love Letters     1993

∞ George Strait     Lead On     1994

Jill Sobule     “(Theme From) The Girl in the Affair”     1995

Michael Ballew     You Better Hold On     1995

∞ Gene Watson     The Good Ole Days     1996

∞ Larry Carlton     The Gift     1996

∞ Ray PenningtonBuddy Emmons     Goin’ Out Swingin’     1997

Manhattan Transfer     “I Know Why And So Do You”     1997

The Bishops     “A Satisfied Mind”     1997

Tammy McRae     Tammy McRae     1997

Steve Wariner     Burnin’ the Roadhouse Down     1998

Jimmie Crawford     Steel Crazy     1998

Mark Chesnutt     I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing     1999

John Prine & Melba Montgomery     “Milwaukee Here I Come”     1999

Ingela Söderlund     Vågar Jag Fråga     1999

Josh Graves     Sultan of Slide     2000

∞ Gene Watson     From the Heart     2001

∞ Ray Price     Time     2002

Memarie     Memarie     2003

∞ Albert Lee     Heartbreak Hill     2003  

∞ Albert Lee     Road Runner     2006

∞ Vince Gill     “This New Heartache”     2006

George Jones & Friends     God’s Country     2006

∞ Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard/Ray Price     Last of the Breed     2007

Emmons steel guitars

Rare Solo Buddy Emmons!
YouTube audio clip (posted Dec. 2019) that features these early recordings

Song List:
【00:00】- “Four Wheel Drive” (1959)
【01:54】- “Red Wing” (1956)
【03:54】- “Raisin’ the Dickens” (1956)
【05:55】- “Cajun Steel Guitar” (1962 or 63)
【07:46】- “Silver Bells” (1957)
【09:59】- “Border Serenade” (1957)
【12:35】- “Cold Rolled Steel” (1956)
【14:40】- “Flint Hill Special” (1956)
【16:35】- “Blue Wind” (1959)
【19:15】- Buddie’s Boogie” (1956)
【21:39】- “Lily Dale” (1962 or 63)
【24:14】- “Country Boy Bounce” (1956)
【26:17】- “Rose City Chimes” (1961)

Great Value for the Money:
“Cold Rolled Steel” & Friends

1992 CD compilation Movin’ Country Instrumentals kicks off with “Cold Rolled Steel” — Buddy Emmons’ debut Columbia 45 from 1956 — along with other elusive tracks from some of country music’s finest pickers, including Joe Maphis (“Fire on the Strings“), Herby Remington (“Remington Ride“), Harold Bradley (“Sugarfoot Rag”), Charlie McCoy (“Orange Blossom Special“), Grady Martin (“El Paso“), Jerry Reed (“I’m Movin’ On“), Jerry Byrd (“Memories of Maria“), Carl Perkins (“Spanish Harlem”), and Arthur Smith (“Guitar Boogie“), the last song listed — originally recorded in 1946 while stationed in Washington with the Navy — renowned as part of a select group of candidates for “first rock ‘n’ roll recording.”

Did You Know?

Buddy Emmons was one of the featured musicians (along with Hank Garland and The Jordanaires) who performed on an LP of jingles –Ballantine Presents Music to Sell Ballantine Beer By — issued in 1960.

Link to Zero to 180 pieces tagged as Music in advertising

Joe Maphis Also Had a Doubleneck

Joe Maphis – “The King of the Strings” – was the ace picker of the top-notch house band at the Town Hall Party, a radio and television show filmed in Compton and broadcast over the West Coast airwaves in the 1950s.  The success of the Friday and Saturday night broadcasts led to a Sunday afternoon program, Town Hall Ranch Party, hosted by Tex Ritter.

Joe Maphis [who, you might recall, once witnessed Dave Bunker’s Duo-Lectar up close] really demonstrates his facility for playing stringed instruments on a song that can only be found here – as Tex Ritter points out in his introduction – on the Town Hall Ranch Party:

“Town Hall Boogie”     Joe Maphis & the Ranch Party Gang     1958

What a pleasant surprise to see such a talented steel guitarist with great stage moves, who also happens to be a woman – Marian Hall – as well as a thread on the The Steel Guitar Forum dedicated to “Marian Hall on Joe Maphis’ ‘Town Hall Boogie’.”

In addition to Joe Maphis and Marian Hall, the 10-piece Town Hall Party band would also include Merle Travis (guitar), Billy Hill & Fiddlin’ Kate (violins), Pee Wee Adams (drums), Buddy Dooley (bass), Ray Cline (accordion), and Jimmy Pruett on piano.

“Joe Maphis Guitar” by Ellen – originally posted to Flickr

Joe Maphis doubleneckAs Billboard would report in its July 30, 1955 edition:

“Town Hall Party (NBC and KTTV), Los Angeles, recently opened a new park operation in the Santa Monica Mountains just outside of L.A.  Known as Town Hall Ranch Party, the venture has been getting a big play on Sundays and holidays.  This is in addition to the unit’s regular Friday and Saturday night operations out of Town Hall, Compton, Calif.  The cast includes Tex Ritter, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Travis, Wesley & Marilyn Tuttle, Johnny Bond, Joe & Rose Lee Maphis, Skeets McDonald, The Collins Kids, Mary Jane Johnson, Bonnie Sloan, Mary Lou, Tex Carman, Bobby Charles, Gary Williams, Les (Carrot-Top) Anderson, and Freddie Hart.”

Maphis would also write “Town Hall Rag” and “Town Hall Shuffle,” but alas, “Town Hall Boogie” appears to exist outside of his official recorded canon.

Photo of Marian Hall that accompanied Cindy Cashdollar’s interview

Vintage Guitar Magazine — September 2004 issue

Marian HallMarian Hall:  A Tribute to “The First Lady of the Steel Guitar”

“Marian deserves to be better known for her many accomplishments as a live television pioneer, resourceful and innovative steel guitar soloist, vocalist and songwriter.  Marian became a familiar face on live TV in Los Angeles in the 1950s as part of the Town Hall Party cast along with “superpickers”, Joe Maphis and Merle Travis.  Marian spent time gigging with Tex Ritter’s Ranch Party, Tex Williams band, and even Spade Cooley’s all-girl orchestra.

She was a neighbor and close friend of Paul Bigsby and was one of the few for whom PA would gladly do the chore of changing strings.  Marian played while seated on a high stool with her Bigsby pedal steel raised up on its leg extensions giving the illusion that she was playing while standing.  She had a wonderful, self-deprecating sense of humor and roared with laughter when she told me how the stool once collapsed on live television yet she somehow finished her solo while lying on her side on the stage.  And play she could: red-hot, yet always tasteful steel runs and bell-like harmonics tumbled out of her amp while she flashed that girl-next-door-smile to the camera.  That she was respected by musicians of the caliber of Travis and Maphis speaks volumes of her abilities.

I’ll remember her as a whip-smart, gracious lady who was modest about her abilities yet quietly proud of her accomplishments and her rightful place in the history of California Country and Western Swing music.  No doubt feeling the same way, last year, the Seattle Western Swing Society inducted Marian into its Hall of Fame.  Not bad for a career that began on live TV at age twelve as one half of the sister duo, The Saddle Sweethearts.  I join Cindy Cashdollar and all who knew her in remembering a great lady. R.I.P. Marian.”

Written by Andy Volk Posted on Steel Guitar Forum in 2006

Photo of Marian Hall courtesy of Dave Schroeder

Arif Mardin @ Muscle Shoals

Arif Mardin is a renowned producer, arranger, and music executive who also – surprisingly enough – recorded a couple solo albums for Atlantic.  This hard-hitting instrumental arrangement of Lennon’s “Glass Onion” (from the Beatles’ “White Album“) would be used as the (1) kick-off tune, (2) title track, and (3) debut single for Arif Mardin as a solo artist:

“Glass Onion”     Arif Mardin     1969

Wait a minute, it’s 1969:  wasn’t Arif Mardin legally obligated to record this album in Muscle Shoals using local musicians?  Billboard confirmed this to be true in its August 9, 1969 edition:

“Five musicians — Jimmy Johnson, guitarist; Eddie Hinton, guitarist; David Hood, bassist; Roger Hawkins, drummer; Barry Beckett, keyboards — have grouped to open the new Muscle Shoals Sound Studios at 3614 Jackson Highway.  They have already backed up Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, King Curtis, and Sam & Dave, as well as Arif Mardin’s Glass Onion album for Atlantic.”

Arif Mardin solo LPThe Guardian ‘s Garth Cartwright points out the album’s ageless appeal in his 2006 obituary for Mardin:

In 1969 he released the first of two solo albums, Glass Onion, whose relaxed jazz flavours found British popularity in 1996 when the song ‘How Can I Be Sure?’ became a UK lounge hit in clubs.

In 1974 Mardin was paired with a struggling Scottish soul group, the Average White Band.  His production emphasised their bright brass and dynamic rhythms, taking them to the top of the US album and singles charts.”

Beatles 1967 Trivia Funfest!

It only occurred to me recently that legendary 1967 Beatles album, Sgt. Pepper’s, did not yield a single 45 – the only (legitimate) Beatles album to do so.  The greater truth, however, is that (1) “Strawberry Fields” b/w “Penny Lane” would have been included on the album had the band not have felt pressured to release these two tracks as a single to maintain their standing in the marketplace and (2) Italy, of all places, just might be the one and only country to issue a single in 1967 using Sgt. Pepper material:  the title track as the A-side with “A Day in the Life” (naturally) as the flip side [45Cat contributor informs us:  “juke box promo with unique edit of title track”].

The only 7-inch Sgt. Pepper single release from 1967?

Beatles Italian 45Other fun and interesting Beatle-related moments from 1967 would likely include:

= This whimsical German 45 picture sleeve, whose design gets high marks for creativity:Beatles 45-e= This Italian 45, whose picture sleeve is likewise imaginative and befitting of the music:

Beatles 45-l= This South African 45 picture sleeve, conversely, whose depicted moptop is easily (and hysterically) two years behind the beat:

Beatles 45-h= These two other German singles, whose photos are strangely and humorously out of sync with the song titles listed on the picture sleeves:

Beatles 45-a1Beatles 45-a1a

= This Norwegian single, whose playful design features Beatle Sgt. Pepper heads cut by hand using pre-digital technology:

Beatles 45-c = This Argentinian single, whose “Penny Lane” would require no translation, while its flip side – “Strawberry Fields Forever” – would find itself re-titled, amusingly, as “Frutillas!

Beatles 45-bbBeatles 45-b

= This picture sleeve for the “Hello Goodbye” / “I Am the Walrus” single that was issued, fascinatingly, in the Democratic Republic of Congo:

Beatles 45-f= This Yugoslavian 45 picture sleeve, whose design accurately conveys the historic importance of “Our World” – the first live international satellite television production, for which The Beatles performed “All You Need Is Love” – albeit in an oddly quaint Soviet style:

Beatles 45-dThis Bolivian EP for “Penny Lane” and “Frutillas”, whose sleeve wins (by a whisker) the award for least accurately depicting the artists themselves at the time of release:

Beatles 45-iSadly, no one told Austria that “go go” was out, and “hippie” was now officially in:

Beatles 45-j

Hop Wilson’s Steel Guitar Blues

Rolling Stone released two compendiums of Record Reviews in the early 70s, back when Lenny Kaye, John Mendelsohn, Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Bud Scoppa, Ed Ward, Richard Meltzer, Al Kooper, Ralph J. Gleason, Paul Gambaccini, Stephen Davis, Jon Landau, Jann Wenner, and (occasionally) Nick Tosches, and even Peter Townshend (Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy album) were writing reviews for the (formerly) underground ‘rock’ publication.  Tip of the hat to Record Review’s Vol. II for pointing out Hop Wilson‘s distinctive steel guitar-driven rockin’ blues sound, as on masterpiece, “Chicken Stuff:

“Chicken Stuff”     Hop Wilson & His Chickens     1958

As Peter Guralnick would write in the Rolling Stone Record Review:

“Especially enterprising but a little further afield is Chicken Stuff:  Houston Ghetto Blues, an English album available on Flyright.  This is made up of six cuts by Hop Wilson from his legendary Ivory sessions and a side of live recordings.  Wilson, one of the few bluemen to master steel guitar, employs a driving bottleneck-style technique which shows traces of Robert Nighthawk and Elmore James.  With his deep brooding voice, stunning guitar work, and the overwhelming power of his blues, he is a singer who deserves much wider recognition.”

Sadly, too few recordings feature Hop Wilson (who also went by “Poppa Hop” and also “Poppy Hop”).  John Broven, thankfully, provides some helpful historical background in South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous

“As word spread that there was a recording studio in Lake Charles, a few blues artists, mainly from Texas, started arriving at Goldband.  Hop Wilson was easily the best.  His first recording, ‘Chicken Stuff’ in 1958, was a startling instrumental that had all the bounce of an old country dance number … At the time Hop was touring Texas and Louisiana with Ivory Semien’s band.  He had a second Goldband release, the stark ‘Broke and Hungry,’ before recording three impressive singles for Ivory Records in the early 60s.”

Goldband’s Eddie Shuler would note how “[“Chicken Stuff”] is unique in the blues field” in that “he played a Hawaiian guitar — six strings of blues soul.”

Hop Wilson & Steel Guitar     1963

Hop Wilson on steel guitarHop WIlson’s soulful steel-based blues sound would set the stage for ground-breaking album, Sweet Funky Steel, released by Freddie Roulette (pictured below), coincidentally enough, around the time of this Rolling Stone Record Review‘s publication (as featured previously on Zero to 180).

Freddie Roulette & pipe

Jeremy Wakefield: SpongeBob’s Stellar Steel Support

Biller & Wakefield sound like a modern-day Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant on 1999 album, The Hot Guitars.of Biller & Wakefield:

“Martian Guts”     Biller & Wakefield     1999

Coincidentally or not, 1999 would also be the year SpongeBob Squarepants would make its television debut.  And just as Los Straitjackets would spearhead a movement to revitalize the instrumental, Jeremy Wakefield – virtuoso musician – would similarly use Nickelodeon’s broad commercial platform to reintroduce the gloriously warm sound of the (pre-pedal) steel guitar to the millennial generation and beyond.   Wakefield, along with the other musicians and SpongeBob Music Director, Andy Paley, have done an outstanding job of incorporating western swing, hillbilly boogie, surf & spy guitar, Hawaiian steel music, and Hot Club-era gypsy jazz into the show’s soundtrack in all manner of ways.

1999 would also find Jeremy Wakefield and Dave Biller playing their respective guitars on Wayne Hancock’s Wild, Free & Reckless album, while Wakefield would peel off that same year to play steel guitar with Smith’s Ranch Boys on More Barnyard Favorites.  The year prior, Wakefield would also play his Bigsby steel guitar on (future Los Straitjackets collaborator) Deke Dickerson & the Ecco-FonicsNumber One Hit Record!.

Wakefield’s musical contributions to the SpongeBob television show have earned him a reputation for upholding an older analog “vintage” sound, thus it is especially intriguing to learn that some of Wakefield’s earliest album credits would include digital keyboard sequencing for The Style Council, of all people, on 1985’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” EP.  Wakefield would continue to work with The Style Council over the next 20 years or so.

other Albums on which Jeremy Wakefield plays steel guitar

  • Wayne Hancock     A-Town Blues     2001
  • The Lucky Stars     Stay Out with The Lucky Stars     2005
  • The Bonebrake Syncopators     That Da Da Strain     2008

Tracks on which Jeremy Wakefield plays steel guitar

“Hawaiian Blues”     music used in 2 episodes “Jellyfish Jam” & “SB-129”

Link to incidental SpongeBob steel guitar music clip posted on YouTube.

Freddie Roulette’s Sweet, Funky Steel

Freddie Roulette coaxes all manner of sweet, funky feeling out of his doubleneck lap steel guitar on the track “Joaquin” from his debut solo album:

“Joaquin”     Freddie Roulette     1973

Steel Guitar:  Freddie Roulette
Bass, Acoustic Guitar:  Victor Conte
Drums:  Paul Lagos
Guitar:  Coleman Head
Saxophone:  Richard Aplanap
Mixed by Fred Breitberg
Produced by Harvey Mandel
Recorded by Baker Bigsby

Prior to Sweet Funky Steel, Roulette had played with Charlie Musselwhite and the Chicago Blue Stars, whose 1969 debut LP kicks off with the “Fred Roulette” composition, “I Need Your Loving.”

Freddie Roulette

Billboard included this album as an “Also Recommended” pick (under ‘jazz’) in its September 29, 1973 issue with these words of praise:

Title is a perfect description of a truly charming, contemporary jazz-blues session on talking steel guitar.  Best cut:  “Smoked Fish

How fascinating (and sad) that Freddie Roulette would release his groundbreaking album Sweet Funky Steel in 1973 — and then issue no other recordings for over 20 years.  One gets the sense that this album may have been a bit ahead of its time and had to wait for the rest of the world to catch up.

With the release of Psychedelic Guitar Circus (1994), Back in Chicago (1996), Spirit of Steel (1999), Man of Steel (2006) and Jamming with Friends (2012), it would seem that the artist and his audience have, at last, found each other.

Photos of esteemed “guitar client” Freddie Roulette can be found at Berkeley’s renowned Subway Guitars.

Sweet Funky Steel LP

“Roly Pin”: Slide Guitar & Synth

Did this synth-and-slide-guitar instrumental B-side enjoy much UK radio play when it was released in 1978?  Likely not, I suspect – but who knows:

Roly is a side project by RobRolyDavis & Ray Stiles of UK glam rockers, Mud.  Released on Logo.

This discography of Logo releases from 1978-1982 rendered in a “dot matrix” typeface reveals a curious assortment of artists:  Mick Farren & the Deviants, Duncan Browne, Dave Swarbrick, Bert Jansch, Good Rats, Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias, The Tourists, and Gerry Rafferty.

Formed in the mid-1970s by British music industry executives Geoff Hannington & Olav Wyper, Logo was originally funded and part-owned by UK publishing firm Marshall Cavendish.   A “digital timeline for Logo Records posted on WhenInTime plots out the founding of the record label in 1977 and five of its significant long-playing releases:  Vampires Stole My Lunch Money by Mick Farren; Reality Effect by The Tourists; I’m a Rebel by Accept; Smiddyburn by Dave Swarbrick & Heartbreak by Bert Jansch.

Roly Pin

It’s True: Noel Boggs Once Played on a King Record

Hank Penny‘s first recording session for King Records took place at the Wurlitzer Music Company in Cincinnati sometime mid-1944.  Roy Lanham – pioneering guitarist who was too “hillbilly” for the jazz crowd and too “jazzy” for country fans – would play on this session, as well as Louis Innis, it’s worth noting.  Penny’s next session for King would be recorded in Hollywood a year later and yield five songs – including “Steel Guitar Stomp:

“Steel Guitar Stomp”     Hank Penny (featuring Noel Boggs & Merle Travis)    1945

Penny’s steel guitarist, Noel Boggs would soon get the call up from legendary bandleader, Bob Wills and then later, Spade Cooley.  This “Dean of the Steel Guitar,” according to Brad’s Pages of Steel, “appeared on some 2,000 recordings as a soloist, with Bob Wills, Spade Cooley, Jimmy Wakely, Hank Penny, Bill Boyd, Sheb Wooley, Les Anderson, Merle Travis and the Cass County Boys.”  Boggs, backed by the Day Sleepers, would go on to release a couple singles on almighty Columbia under his own name, as well as a couple recordings as “The Noel Boggs Quintet” on the Shasta label.

Noel Boggs singleNoel Boggs album

Check out all the cool sounds that Noel Boggs coaxes out of his (pre-pedal) steel guitar in this driving version of “Alabamy Bound:

Extra Credit:  Name That Guitar

Q:  What guitar is Noel Boggs playing in this clip of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ‘performing’ the song “Ida Red” in the 1945 western talkie, Blazing the Western Trail — that’s the question posed a few years back on the Steel Guitar Forum.

Answer:  Epiphone “Rocco” 7/8-string doubleneck steel guitar – thanks to Jody Carver (of Hot Club of America fame) for providing an autographed photo of this impressive and stylish guitar being held by its namesake, Anthony Rocco, about which too little is known.  Says Mark Heller, “Rocco was one of the earliest electric steel guitar players, and he carved out a career for himself in the New York City area, playing Hawaiian-style steel guitar with big bands and orchestras around the city.  In addition, Rocco befriended Epi Stathopoulo, who manufactured Epiphone guitars, and Rocco came on board as advisor to the company.  Based on Rocco’s designs and inventions, Epiphone began manufacturing a whole line of Rocco devices in 1937, including a Rocco double-neck steel guitar, a Rocco signature steel bar, and the innovative Rocco Tonexpressor, a combination volume and tone pedal.”

Anthony Rocco

Lloyd Green: “Mr. Nashville Sound”

When we last checked in with Nashville All-Star and pedal steel guitarist extraordinaire, Lloyd Green, he had signed with Aubrey Mayhew & Johnny Paycheck’s label, Little Darlin’.  However, Green would be ready to switch labels just two years later to go with another indie, Chart.

1968’s Mr. Nashville Sound would be his first of three albums for Chart Records and one that would climb all the way to the #37 position on the Country chart.

Lloyd Green IS Mr. Nashville SoundThe flurry of notes in crisp staccato fashion that open the track “Promises Promises” are characteristic of the late 1960s country steel sound, particularly of the truck-driving variety (“Wave Bye Bye to the Man” – is that you, Lloyd Green?).   I still hold out hope that today’s steel players will rediscover this commanding approach and supremely rocking sound:

“Promises Promises”     Lloyd Green     1968

Steel Guitar:  Lloyd Green
Electric Guitar:  Wayne Moss
Bass:  Jr. Huskey
Drums:  Buddy Harman
Piano:  Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins
Vocals:  Anita Kerr, Hurshel Wigenton, The Nashville Edition
Arranged by Lloyd Green
Produced by Joe Gibson & Slim Williamson
Mastered by John Eberle

As it turns out, “Promises Promises” would be a near instrumental cover of the top 10 country hit by labelmate, Lynn Anderson — I can only presume Green played on that version, as well.  According to Walter Stettner, proprietor of the Lloyd Green Tribute website, it is.  Says Stettner, “Lloyd was the session leader on almost all of the Chart recordings. I only know very few recordings where Pete Drake got to play; otherwise if you hear something on Chart or Little Darlin, it is most likely Lloyd.”

As this chart alphabetically illustrates, Lloyd Green played steel on an astounding 116 number-one hit recordings.  Of course, you may not be surprised to know that Green would release a baker’s dozen or so singles under his own name, including a cover of Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Sally G” (on which he originally played).  But you might be flabbergasted to learn, as I was, that this tireless, upright master of the steel would join the rogue’s gallery of artists who made the dubious decision to release a backwards b-side!  That’s right, just before he signed to Chart, Green would release a one-off 45 on Big A:  “Panic (A Trip)” as the A-side with “Cinap (Pirt A)” as the flip(ped out) side:

Oh, Lloyd – why’d you do it?

Chart Records:  Property of Gusto

As Jon Hartley Fox points out in King of the Queen City:  The Story of King Records,   “Moe Lytle bought the King and Starday companies in 1975 and has now owned King Records for longer than [Syd] Nathan did.”  In 1978 Lytle would launch Gusto Records, a budget label that issued albums, tapes, and (later) compact discs, and go on to acquire a number of other labels for the purpose of reissuing their back catalogs.  As Gusto’s website indicates in its banner, Lytle’s enterprise – GML – owns the catalogs of all the King-related labels (except for James Brown’s recordings), Scepter and subsidiary, Wand (except for Dionne Warwicke’s recordings), Starday, Musicor – and Chart Records, not to mention Little Darlin’.

Chart Records ad

“Mountain Mambo”: Latinbilly

Joe Goldmark is not only a musician but also a scholar, whose International Steel Guitar and Dobro Discography – “a resource book that attempts to list every steel guitar and Dobro instrumental ever recorded” – is a fascinating reference tool for those interested in Syd Nathan’s King Records legacy.

Jerry Byrd – one-time steel guitarist for Hank Williams – recorded four songs at Cincinnati’s King Records studio on October 29, 1954 as part of The Country Cats (with Al Myers on guitar).  “Mountain Mambo,” is the A-side of a King 45 that playfully incorporates Latin elements within a hillbilly jazz framework:

“Mountain Mambo”     The Country Cats (featuring Jerry Byrd)     1954

Audio clip includes excellent B-side, “Hot Strings.”

Thanks to The Jerry Byrd Fan Club website, I now know that “during the 1950s, Jerry Byrd upgraded to a seven-string, pre-war model of the same Rickenbacker Bakelite steel guitar (as pictured below).  He was playing this fine instrument while on WLW radio in Cincinnati, Ohio, and recorded his popular Decca album, Hi-Fi Guitar, using this guitar.”

Jerry Byrd - 1950sJerry Byrd - Hi Fi Guitar LP

Steel Guitarists – and the Music Historians Who Love Them

Listed below are the other King/Federal/Deluxe/Audio Lab recordings referenced in The International Steel Guitar & Dobro Discography, with the names of the featured steel guitarists – where known and/or applicable – indicated in parentheses:

New!   Streaming audio for many of the recordings below:

Paul Blunt & His Islanders
              Golden Goodies of Old Hawaii   1960   [King LP]

The Buckeye Pals
              "Buckeye Boogie"   1952?   [Deluxe 78 & 45]

The Country Cats (featuring Jerry Byrd) 
              "Mountain Mambo" / "Hot Strings"  [King 78 & 45]
              "Sun Shadows" / "Hop Scotch"  [King 45]

Eddie Chamblee Orchestra
              "Blue Steel"   1950?   [(leased) Federal 78]
  
Cowboy Copas (featuring Slim Idaho)
              "Jamboree"   January, 1948   [King 78]

Mel Cox (featuring Lefty Perkins)
              "Guitar Jump" / "No Suh"   1950   [King 78]

King Curtis
              "Steel Guitar Rag"   1962   [King & DeLuxe 45s]

Andy Iona & His Islanders
              Hawaiian Interlude   1950   [King EP]

The Kiddie Ka-Dees 
              "Remington Ride"   1959   [King 45]

Freddie King 
              "Remington Ride"   1965   [King LP]

Krazy Kris (featuring Floyd Smith)   [rec. October, 1956 in NYC] 
              "Floyd’s Guitar Blues" / "Wishy Washy"   [King 45]

Eddie Martin & His King Serenaders
               Echoes of Hawaii   c. December, 1946   [King EP]
              "Pineapple Polka"   November, 1947   [King 78]

Leon McAuliffe (featuring Leon McAuliffe)
              "Faded Love" / "Panhandle Rag"  [Starday-King 45]

Hank Penny & His Radio Cowboys 
  ~ featuring Noel Boggs (c. early 1946): 
              "Steel Guitar Stomp" / "Counting the Days"  [King 45]
              "Steel Guitar Stomp" / "Merle’s Buck Dance" [King 45]
  ~ featuring Bobby Koefer (1947):
              "Hillbilly Jump" / "Kentucky"   [King 78]
  ~ featuring Ralph Miele (October, 1946): 
              "Penny Blows His Top" / "Locked Out"   [King 78]
              "Steel Guitar Polka" / "Won’t You Ride..?"  [King 78]
  ~ featuring Herb Remington (March, 1950):  
              "Jersey Bounce" / "Wham! Bam!"   [King 78]
              "Remington Ride" / "Have My Picture Took"  [King 78]
  ~ featuring Speedy West (March, 1949): 
              "Hillbilly Bebop" / [b-side from 1947*]  [King 78]

Webb Pierce (featuring Shot Jackson)
              "New Panhandle Rag"   1960   [King 45]

Charlie Ryan (featuring Neil Livingston)
              Hot Rod King LP - includes 1960 track "Steel Rock"

Cecil Surratt & Smitty Smith
              "Liza Jane" / "The Words You Say"   1960   [King 45]

T. Texas Tyler  (featuring Noel Boggs)
              "Tell Your Lies to the Man in the Moon"  1946 [King LP]
     
Jimmie Widener (featuring Earl "Joaquin" Murphy)
              "Jimmie’s Jump" / "She’s Left Me"   1948   [King 78]

King-a-Paul Blunt LPKing-b-Charlie Ryan LPt-texas-tyler-lp-amoon-mullican-lp-a